Winslow Approved Listening: Fiona Apple’s ‘The Idler Wheel…’

The “bad, bad girl” is back, and make no mistake: Fiona Apple has a lot to say. On The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, her fourth outing and first since 2005’s Extraordinary Machine, Apple struggles with inner torments inside her brain, a yearning to be left alone, and chilling viewpoints of failed relationships. The songstress grants us an all-access pass to her deepest, darkest secrets. And though listening to the record can feel bizarrely uncomfortable, like creeping in on a private therapy session, the album shines in every possible way: musically, lyrically, vocally, emotionally. Breaking her almost seven-year silence, Apple has once again delivered a beautiful and compelling work of art.

That said, the album is as puzzling as it is gratifying. A scorned woman simply sitting at a piano, this is not. Harps, marimbas, and timpanis add layers throughout, along with a litany of other rare instruments, and even a few that are almost definitely made up (truck stomper, anyone?). The arrangements are even wackier. The songs overcome you, unraveling erratically and wildly, unable to be caged. To truly hear it all, headphones and liner notes must be involved.

On the surface, this collection of songs is depressing as hell. Apple’s strength as an artist lies in making us feel her pain. The transference here is terrifying, yet her honesty and bravery are strangely soothing. But Apple is done with teenage angst. In place of sulking, she celebrates who she is and makes no excuses. In “Left Alone,” she sings: “How can I ask anyone to love me when all I do is beg to be left alone?” She shows vulnerability in “Every Single Night,” admitting: “I just want to feel everything.” On “Daredevil,” she takes introspective stock: “I guess I just must be a daredevil. I don’t feel anything until I smash it up…I may need a chaperone.”

But isn’t that what’s so great about her? She’s unbridled to the point of unease. The Idler Wheel isn’t easy to listen to, and it’s certainly not for everyone. Yet, rarely do we experience such forthcoming bravado and courageousness in the landscape of modern popular music. Wheel is the kind of album that must be applauded and heard now because it may be another seven years until Apple peeks her head out of her shell again.

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2 Responses to “Winslow Approved Listening: Fiona Apple’s ‘The Idler Wheel…’”

  1. Gail says:

    She looks like she needs to eat a few sandwiches.

  2. [...] shake or match that excitement. I praised it left and right in conversation, at live shows and here on the blog. What Apple accomplished tops anything else she’s ever done: it’s musically complex and [...]

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