When Fiona Apple announced her return to mainstream performing and subsequent upcoming studio album release, the indie music blogosphere was infused with a rush of excitement. One I will admit I was swept up in myself before I realized I wasn’t really all that familiar with Apple’s works outside of “Criminal” and really had no intention to be. When a live recording of “Anything We Want” from Fiona Apple’s SXSW visit, I was intrigued but not impressed and as more and more people seemed to indicate that I should be anticipating Apple’s first album after 7 years, I found myself disenchanted more and more by the idea of it. Enter Dave at Rawkblog who convinced me to actually listen to When The Pawn… to get an idea of Apple’s style and hopefully understand new single “Werewolf”, where Apple rattled out metaphor after metaphor, better. A feat that actually worked while also making me realize I had heard far more of Apple than I thought I did.
Album opener “Every Single Night” is exactly when I realized I was indeed hooked, as Fiona puts her knack for poetic lyricism at the absolute forefront along barebones accompaniment. It’s also a surprisingly perfect introduction to Apple as a songwriter for the uninitiated and/or unfamiliar – even virtually acapella there’s still hints of the jazzy lilt Fiona imbues in her music and her bold fearlessness as she suddenly swells to slightly subdued shouts before floating down light as a feather.
“Daredevil” expounds on this, Fiona’s musical equivalent of a high wire act plodding along daringly slowly adding sultry temptation, an air of danger, and slightly more in terms of instrumentation – it’s the first true instance of Fiona’s steely-eyed flippant disregard for pretty singing as she howls and yelps and twists her voice with little regard for judgment but instead of emotional release.
There’s also Apple’s clever little phrases that don’t draw much attention to themselves as Fiona coos “I don’t cry when I’m sad anymore” while double bass strokes envelope her and she in turn turns to tuneful shrieks in “Left Alone” or “All that love must’ve been lacking something if I got bored trying to figure you out” in the piano pop romp of the occasionally humorous “Periphery”.
While each song works in its own individual way towards the inevitable tension release, The Idler Wheel... is not without obvious highlights – “Jonathan” with its peril-invoking piano lines and foreboding percussion Apple expunges yet another one of her demons in the form of her ex; and exceptional album closer “Hot Knife” as Fiona turns a nursery rhyme-esque simple lyric into a contrapuntal masterpiece – layering vocals on top of vocals turning her and her sister Maude’s vocals into a full on round with an remarkable pop twist punctuating her slightly veiled sex reference with primal percussion ensuring that you’ll be humming it for days after.
The Idler Wheel… is the kind of album you treasure once you get the full scope of it, an album sure to be as cathartic for the listener as it no doubt was for Fiona to write and create. It’s an album of unflattering self-awareness that deals with those swarms of negative emotions we rarely champion; breakups are the standard but on The Idler Wheel..., Fiona outlines her own neuroses and flaws and in turn helps you feel a bit more comfortable with your own. Apple’s lyricism seems almost overwhelming in its deluge of thoughts and ideas but the truly important points stand there like buoys in the ocean of Apple’s stream of consciousness writing-style.
Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel... is currently available for streaming as part of NPR's First Listen before it's June 19th shelf-date. Listen here.