The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
(June 2012, Epic Records)
Fiona Apple has an utterly sincere charm and presence that has always permeated her music, so to find that same allure once again on July’s The Idler Wheel… was no surprise. What was striking was how raw she sounds, four albums and sixteen years in. Lesser songwriters have succumbed to fatigue in a fraction of that time, but within seconds, ‘Every Single Night’ opens the album with a precise and tempestuous aggression. It’s a rare and joyous treat that her fans have been eagerly awaiting ever since hearing ‘Criminal’ on her 1996 debut.
Apple’s voice is at once both welcoming and unnerving, which is important when her music leans so entirely upon it. She has a warmth that somehow carries itself to you even amid the most jarring chords and the most vitriolic lyrical admissions – both of which The Idler Wheel… has in spades. This is the true fruit of her labour. She willingly paints herself in a brutally personal light that makes her tales of loves lost all the more relatable. In that sense, she’s not alone in the singer-songwriter field, but in her minimalistic arrangements and unique delivery something more memorable emerges.
She has an energy on her records that most can only produce live, akin to tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus or Karen O. The comparison is never more apt than on the album’s closing track, ‘Hot Knife’. With just a distant timpani for percussion, a swirl of looped vocal snippets are spun into a round that flows with mesmerising effect. But ultimately, it is Apple’s talent as a raconteur that demands your attention and justifies her five-year absence. Especially when she brings so much of that patented Apple charm back with her every single time.
Highlights: ‘Every Single Night’, ‘Werewolf’ & ‘Hot Knife’.