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This ode to self-imprisonment and internal conflict is the first single by American singer-songwriter and pianist Fiona Apple, from her upcoming fourth studio album The Idler Wheel…. Apple debuted the track, along with a couple of other new tunes, during a pair of performances at South By Southwest in March 2012. They were her first performances outside of Los Angeles in over five years. The song was released May 8, 2012.
Apple began recording new material for The Idler Wheel… in the late 2000s, keeping her sessions secret, even from her label, Epic Records. She opted to produce the album with her touring drummer, Charley Drayton, rather than her longtime collaborator Jon Brion. Executives at Epic only discovered that Apple had recorded an album in early 2012, when she presented it to them.
The album's full title is (deep breath) The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw, And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
. Apple has a history of long poetic titles. The name of her second album started off (deeper breath) When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing Fore He Enters the Ring…
and continued for over 400 characters of text. The songstress admitted to Pitchfork
that she came up with the name, "in a total rush." She explained: "After having stayed up all night on deadline, it just came to me right after the sun rose. I didn't realize people would be like, 'Oh s--t, another poem.' It just came out to be what it was - sorry."
Apple explained the meaning of the album title to Pitchfork: "If you think about it, the driver of the screw has one job and he is always trying to change things. But the idler wheel is there and has this great effect on what the gears do; the idler wheel knows the machine much better than just this one thing that's performing this one task.
For the second line, I had read about whipping cords in a nautical book that my last boyfriend had. I read that when ropes get frayed at sea, you can repair the frayed ends of the ropes with whipping cords that are very strong. This goes right back to the parenting thing - if I had a kid, and I had a choice between teaching somebody how to avoid trouble, or teaching them how to get out of it, I'd teach them how to get out of it."
Filmmaker Joseph Cahill (Raul Paz, Emily Loizeau) directed the song's music video. It was Apple's first clip in over six years, her previous one being the 2006 visual for "Not About Love."
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