Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

by Erica Moser (Journalism), published July 6th 2012

Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!

Think of Florence Welch’s heavy contralto, Regina Spektor’s whimsical flourishes, Amy Winehouse’s dark soulfulness and St. Vincent’s hideous-but-beautiful grating notes. Fiona Apple evokes these elements on her newest album, The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do,  except she came first. That makes her queen bee of female baroque pop and alternative rock, and her emotional maelstrom of a fourth album justifies her reign.

Supposedly, fans and producers “begged” Apple to release another album following her hiatus post-Extraordinary Machine, released in 2005 to critical acclaim. The themes of The Idler Wheel (for short) allude that this is not due to listlessness, but to suffering that makes music so vital yet so painful to create. On the opening track, she sings, “every single night’s a fight with my brain,” which succinctly captures her tortured, broken essence. Yet she comes off not as angsty, but as harrowingly real and full of depth. In a word, this stuff is raw.

“Daredevil” illustrates her songs’ wild, scatterbrained, nearly insane quality. “Look at me, I’m all the fishes in the sea,” she half-sings, half-growls as a plea for attention. Amid forlorn, vulnerable and bitter statements, Apple displays mature reflectiveness, evidenced in the line, “say I’m an airplane and the gashes I got from my heartbreak make the slots in the flaps upon my wing and I use them to give me lift.”

The next few songs are samples of what goes wrong in love. “Valentine” speaks to the heartache of watching the one you desire fall for another. Apple expresses the need for a man to tolerate her on “Jonathan.” On “Left Alone,” she laments the contradiction of wanting to be loved and left alone. “Regret” is a fierce kiss-off, culminating in Thom Yorke-like wailing.

The last two tracks, “Anything We Want” and “Hot Knife,” are an uncharacteristically bright and optimistic turn for her. On the latter, she sings “He excites me / must be like the genesis of rhythm / I get feisty / Whenever I’m with him.” She harmonizes with her sister, cabaret singer Maude Maggart, and the song ends in a sassy whirlwind of layered vocals.

This is not to mention the skillfully crafted piano parts, diverse percussion, range of dynamics and pauses in phrasing that build suspense. Fiona Apple doesn’t need gimmicks. She doesn’t need publicity. She doesn’t even need musical training or knowledge of other musicians, because her music is a natural output of her very self. The Idler Wheel can be difficult to get through – and more so to comprehend – but the result is immensely rewarding.

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