Fiona Apple is no stranger to challenge. Even in the surface unconventional naming methods when it comes to her album’s titles. Her second album was titled When the pawn hits the conflicts he thinks like a king What he knows throws the blows when he goes to the fight And he’ll win the whole thing ‘fore he enters the ring There’s no body to batter when your mind is your might So when you go solo, you hold your own hand And remember that depth is the greatest of heights And if you know where you stand, then you know where to land And if you fall it won’t matter, cuz you’ll know that you’re right. For her long awaited fourth album, we were cut a break with the much more shortened The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, or The Idler Wheel for the silently agreed.
The Idler Wheel is easily Fiona’s most challenging album as she approaches her writing in such a distinct way. Never holding back and allowing the torment she faces to come through in her lyrics. What might come across as someone having a tantrum instead is more suitably a gut-wrenching honest album with blunt, to-the-point and raw lines of isolation and heartache. But what The Idler Wheel doesn’t do is ask for pity or throw blame at the ex-lover. She admits the problem is more-so with herself than with him. In Werewolf, she admits “you are such a super guy ’til the second you get a whiff of me,” resembling herself to a full moon providing the cause for his behaviour. “We can still support each other/all we gotta do is avoid each other.”
With Left Alone, she craves the isolation, evidence that this craving overpowers any other aspiration, “How can I ask anyone to love me/When all I do is beg to be left alone?” The same desire to be of her own and isolated that pushes away her lovers while in Periphery, she attributes her own failures to that of the people and culture on the conventional outside for stealing him away. “Oh, the periphery/I lost another one there/He found a prettier girl than me.”
Fiona’s album writes like a teen angst diary but written like a pro, disguised in music that sometimes can sound charming but with vocals not holding back. She swoons delicately one minute and snarls her vocals the next, though never staying too angry for too long. Her emotions stay in check for most of the album, rarely varying too far from the norm of self-blame she’s been accustomed to. Admitting that she needs help, like in Daredevil, “And don’t let me ruin me/I may need a chaperone,” she’s not quite reached that point yet. The one light at the end of the tunnel comes through with Hot Knife, the closing track that stands apart from the rest of the record with its playful yet sexual lyrics and singable melody. Supported by a distant bellowing of drums and playful piano with a chorus of vocals that shows even Fiona can have fun with her music as well.
The Idler Wheel isn’t as accessible as her last record, Extraordinary Machines, but rather than focus on creating a melody, Fiona dedicates absolute attention into the lyrics and presenting where she has been these past few years, laying out her thoughts and admitting her faults. You won’t immediately be rewarded when listening to this record as Fiona doesn’t make it easy but you can learn over time a bit about the thought processes that comes with being both mature and just plain bitter.
1. Every Single Night
5. Left Alone
9. Anything We Want
10. Hot Knife