Fiona Apple’s ‘The Idler Wheel…’ shows strength, emotion and vulnerability
Fiona Apple is back with her first album release in seven years and “The idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do” is a welcome reprieve from canned pop that is devoid of emotional punch. Apple is not afraid of words, and if “When the pawn…”did not convince you of that, this album will.
Granted Apple’s music isn’t trying to make you feel good, but its crisp honesty speaks of someone who is deeply in touch with who she is and doesn’t like everything she sees. It is hard to find something to disparage in Apple’s music. She has strong vocals, beautiful words and can create images that speak to the emotional state rather than to the imagination.
The strengths of this album lie in its powerful piano, simple musical arrangements, interesting instruments and Apple’s unadulterated vocal quality – too many other singers rely on synthesizers to “improve” their voice. There isn’t anyone who sounds like her and who can convey emotion the way that she can.
“Every Single Night” – This song starts with the sounds of something like a child’s musical mobile hanging over the crib. The accompaniment grows, Apple chants like a native American and even sings a phrase reminiscent of Popeye: “I am what I am ‘cause I does what I does.” Apple’s strong vocals carry this song as they carry this album.
“Daredevil” – Reminiscent of the speed and sound of “Extraordinary Machine,” Apple’s singing goes at a tempo that the background beat does in triple time. It sounds like she may be mad at herself more than anyone.
“Valentine” – The backgrounds feature the ocean and a heartbeat. The lyrics are more revealing about Apple than the casual listener may realize. Apple offers the kind of openness that most people try to hide. This is a simple song with complicated undertones.
“Jonathan” – Quiet industrial background noise and piano compliment evocative lyrics that draw a picture.
“Left Alone” – Opening with drums that sound like an arrangement of the swing dance song “Take Five,” this song switches to something best described as speed Jazz. This song shows that Apple is not afraid of words. As a self-reflective piece, Apple explores the duality of all of us. We want to be loved and left alone. She hits some sweet high notes.
“Werewolf” – I am not sure what it is with werewolves considering Shakira’s “She Wolf” and now Apple’s werewolf, but where “She-Wolf” is about sex, “Werewolf” is about loss and blame. This may never become a Halloween song even
with the screaming in the background; it’s not danceable enough, but it is good nonetheless.
“Periphery” – If anything that Apple sings could be said to be whimsical, this song is it. It has a jouncy beat that reminds me of the scarecrow in the “Wizard of Oz.” Listen to the first three words. If it weren’t for “Hot Knife”, this would be my favorite song on the album.
“Regret” – The throat singers in the background make for a great texture to the song. The lyrics are strong, honest and could be offensive. There aren’t any cuss words, but the way Apple uses them, they might as well be.
“Anything We Want” – This track makes the best use of stereo with sound bouncing from ear to ear. It is a little softer than anything else on the album, and it deals with Apple’s desires in a different way than the visceral “Criminal” dealt with her desires. I love the idea that she looked like a neon zebra and that the rivulets had him riveted – I don’t know why. This is my third favorite track on the album.
“Hot Knife” – This is one of those WOW! songs. Haley Reinhart’s “Oh My!” and her cover of Led Zeppelin’s “What is and What Should Never Be” fall into this category as does Shakira’s “She Wolf.” There is a strong drum beat and layered vocalizations. This is the anti-Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe.” This woman isn’t going to wait for the man to call; she is going to grab him. Someone in the relationship is butter, and someone is a hot knife – it doesn’t matter which person is what.
“Largo” – Apple yodels? It certainly sounds like it. Strong piano and Apple’s voice carry this song just as well as everything else on the album. This is a bonus track, so be sure to choose the right CD to get this track.
Read about Fiona Apple, rape and life