The Idler Wheel Is Wiser . . .
Artist: Fiona Apple
Genre: Rock(Sony Music)
Reviewer: CHESTER CHIN
TO say that Fiona Apple merely sings would be an understatement, because the Los Angeles singer-songwriter and pianist doesn’t just carry a tune with her voice, she moans, groans, whines, wails and grits her teeth throughout a song.
It’s a style which fuses music and pandemonium, telling stories that evoke a sense of vivid physicality. It’s also a style that only caters to a narrow palate, one which brings listeners through a cornucopia of human emotions.
Thus, it’s only fitting that Apple should return after a seven-year hiatus with the single Every Single Night. The stirring opening track – about self-observation – is just as complex as the extended title of her fourth studio album, which takes the form of a 23-word-rhymed couplet.
“These ideas of mine percolate the mind/Trickle down the spine/Swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze,” Apple sings over a sparse melody in the opening track.
In many ways, the song paves the trajectory for the kind of album The Idler Wheel would be. For all of Apple’s poetic prowess, her ideas often bring forth images which are either brutally tender or candidly riotous.
The songs here are both confessional and mercurial. In other words, they are capricious at best.
Most of the time though, the record unapologetically dives head first into dark and complicated waters. And when the few chirpy songs sneakily crop up in the album, you can’t help but smile and rejoice for Apple’s labyrinthine triumph.
Daredevil starts off unassumingly enough, with sporadic mid-tempo march-like melodies before escalating into an exhilarating middle as Apple vehemently commands you to pay attention to her. If you weren’t listening before this, you definitely will now.
Valentine is very much reminiscent of Not About Love from 2005’s Extraordinary Machine. Only, this time around, Apple disguises a lover’s anguish behind a not-so-literal title.
“You didn’t see my valentine/I sent it via pantomime/While you were watching someone else/I stared and cut myself,” begins Apple before delving into an ironically buoyant chorus.
Safe to say, most of the songs on The Idler Wheel deal with heartbreak. But instead of lamenting over a broken heart, Apple metamorphoses the heartache into insights, which are refreshingly cerebral.
Werewolf for one, is a coruscating showcase of Apple’s crafty metaphorical wordplay. “I could liken you to a werewolf the way you left me for dead,” the songstress laments to a lover before admitting that she “provided a full moon”.
Most of the time, she directs her anguish at herself. But on the self-explanatory Regret, Apple plays the blame game over tribal-like drums to the point where it comes across as sublimely sinister.
However, the subject of love lost is stretched too thin on Jonathan. The song, an obvious love letter to Apple’s former beau Jonathan Ames, is a challenge to sit through. It also doesn’t help that the track is one of the album’s longest at over five minutes.
It isn’t until the song Periphery that listeners are served with the elusive singer’s trademark quirkiness. Featuring the sound of feet shuffling on gravel, the song is a charming throwback to Apple’s theatrical flair.
One of the album’s highlights also proves to be one of the singer’s most fun offering. Anything We Want, much like the career-launching Criminal from her debut album Tidal, is casually lascivious. And just when you thought the songstress has teased enough, she strides back with the equally libidinous Hot Knife.
With The Idler Wheel, the enigmatic Apple sets a new convention for the definition of pop ingenuity. But if you’ve been following her work for the past 16 years, that observation probably doesn’t come as a surprise.