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New Music: Fiona Apple's 'The Idler Wheel...'

 Musician Fiona Apple performs live in Central Park.
Musician Fiona Apple performs live in Central Park.
Scott Wintrow/Getty Images

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Music critic Drew Tewksbury brings a new album from indie darling, Fiona Apple.

For most artists, seven years of silence can kill a career. But, for Fiona Apple, it’s only built anticipation for her fourth album.

She’s back with a collection of songs called “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.”

The long title may seem familiar to Fiona fans, but the skeletal and stark sound of this new effort is something new.

Fiona fans will also recognize that she continues to mine heartbreak and articulate feelings left unsaid. She’s sung about her troubled past since her first emotionally charged album, "Tidal," which came out 16 years ago. Back then, her smoky voice, confessional lyrics and power at the piano made her a rarity in the pop music world. She sounded much older than she looked, and explored the emotional complexity of someone twice her age. Now on this effort, she seems to have caught up with herself, providing a mature and self-realized vision.

She’s left behind the lush orchestration that she developed with producer and frequent collaborator Jon Brion. This album is much more like her live performances, where with just a piano and a voice, Fiona can blow your house down.

On this effort we hear her dabble in other sounds from America’s musical history. She runs up and down jazz scales on the ivories, and her voice ranges from sultry piano bar crooner to a sort of native American chant, at times.

This album is more than just an album. It’s a piece of art, and it’s not for everybody. It’s intense. And you can’t just throw on in the background during a dinner party. Fiona demands your attention, and if you give her the time, she rewards it too.