The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do.
It’s a long title for an album (well, maybe not for Fiona Apple, but still). And we’ve been waiting an even longer time for the album to come out (seven years, specifically). But on my first listen, I can tell you most emphatically—it was worth the wait.
Like the lengthy title of her record, it’s hard to describe Apple’s broad appeal in a few words. She’s counter-cultural and chic all at once; she’s eccentric without being nuts. She’s extremely creative, yet somehow accessible. But most of all, she’s brutally honest. She’s not afraid to talk about anything. And I think that’s what people like most about her—it’s certainly what I like most.
However you describe Fiona Apple, it’s obvious she’s doing something right to have taken a seven-year hiatus before releasing what is only her fourth full-length recording, and have it be met with this much anticipation. It’s like we’ve all been waiting with baited breath to see what she would say next.
With The Idler Wheel…, we can collectively exhale now. This ten-song collection represents Fiona Apple at her finest; the years have been good to her, musically speaking. Apple’s range as a vocalist isn’t really found so much in her pitch as in her tone; she can easily go from coy, flirty tones (a la Regina Spektor) to bold bellowing (a la Florence + the Machine) to hoarse growling tones (a la how your voice sounds after you scream for an hour) to tense whispers—sometimes all in the same song. Rarely is her voice what I’d call beautiful—but the beauty is in the sheer rawness of it all.
“Raw,” in fact, is probably a good adjective for the record as a whole. Compared to her earlier records, The Idler Wheel… is far more sparsely produced. You have the trademark piano and messy, banging percussive sounds (and some occasional unusual background noise, like the yelling in the song “Werewolf”), but very little beyond that. It’s like they stripped back all the veneer to make the “real” Fiona Apple even, um, more real. It’s like you can imagine her performing these songs without makeup.
As for the songs themselves, they are pretty raw, too. Apple is processing a lot of emotions in this album, from desire and excitement to regret, and from self-loathing to unbridled anger. Prime example of the latter: “I ran out of white doves’ feathers /to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me”, from the song “Regret.” (I can’t imagine any guy wanting to be on the receiving end of that lyric.) Apple also gets very introspective with lyrics like “Every single night’s a fight with my brain” (on “Every Single Night”) and “How can I ask anyone to love me / when all I do is beg to be left alone?” (on “Left Alone”). Perhaps my personal fave on the record is the ironically poetic “Werewolf”: “We can still support each other / all we gotta do’s avoid each other / Nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key.” And of course, the song does. (End on a minor key, that is. Have I mentioned I love this album?)
For someone who’s been mainly out of the public eye for the past seven years, Fiona Apple has put forth a collection of songs that sound almost like they’ve been aging in a barrel like fine wine all this time. The Idler Wheel… could easily be the masterpiece of her career.
ALBUM RATING: 5 Stars (out of five)