Ah Fiona Apple and your album titles. Not quite out doing When the Pawn…, this time we’re going just for (deep breath) “The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do”. Exhale.
This time Fiona is very stripped back. Opener single “Every Single Night” showcases the fact that just simple instruments like a Celeste can utterly fill a speaker system with Fiona’s distinctive vocal delivery, packed with a lot of words and flex in between. The chorus line “I just wanna feel everything” is so sparsely given that when everything else still has that guttural angst, it’s simply disarming. “Daredevil” has a honky-tonk feel to it as the percussive playing and various drum loops take over for a stodgy march. Again its an exercise in only playing what’s needed and everything has much more impact for it. “Valentine” returns to the saucy minx turns that Apple can do, as well as her penchant for throwing in a random chord change in a fun place. It’s fresh, welcome and full of passion.
“Jonathan” reminds me a lot of her previous album. It’s all very glitzy and cabaret yet broken down at the same time. Fiona’s vocal’s are particularly venomous here before it leads you to the awesome “Left Alone”. The track starts off with a fun drum solo before letting loose with a fun but insanely catchy piano riff. Fiona waxes lyrical almost at hyperspeed before reaching for the higher register for the swing out chorus. It’s a perfect example of why we happily wait years between album for this amount of energy.
“Werewolf” proclaims “nothing wrong with a song that ends in a minor key” and we quite frankly agree with that wholeheartedly. “Periphery” has some inventive percussive loops over its purposely clumsy piano production. It’s the Apple equivalent of the comedy in a drama. Of course the whole the track is drama but you can’t help but smile with the simple fun of the riff. “Regret” continues the interesting play on looping percussion over a more downcast track. It slowly broods and sparks until Fiona literally explodes into an angry spewing mass across the speakers in the chorus.
The final two tracks are wonderous. “Anything We Want” is such a warm reprise. It’s full of plunks and clomps and the kitchen sink as Fiona manages to bend her voice to whatever slightly off key notes she fancies bending to. It’s also the most single material the album really gets to. The closer “Hot Knife” is unlike anything else as a backup punnet of Apples sing a clever little ditty while a foreground Apple sings over the top of it. How she makes something that should sound cheesy sounds so fantastic is down to pure talent and hard work.
“The Idler Wheel” is all about being visceral with the least amount of fuss as possible, whilst still pushing boundaries. Those boundaries may be vocal styles or may be using instruments in unusual ways. It may just be pushing all the emotional buttons. Mostly though, it’s brutally honest and that’s why listen after listen, more of your heart sinks into the album and the more you fall in love with it. Timeless.