A great fourth album in a career not lacking for high points.
James Skinner 2012
That The Idler Wheel… is Fiona Apple’s first album in seven years should not be a surprise at this point, nor should its unwieldy title. Nor, really, should it be a shock that following the protracted release of 2005’s Extraordinary Machine, Apple began recording it in secrecy, keeping even her record label in the dark. And finally, it shouldn’t be at all strange that anticipation surrounding this release is high: Apple is one of those artists who inspires devotion in their followers, her songs sometimes mixed-up and strange, often limpid and beautiful, always searing in their honesty.
By some measure her sparsest work to date, The Idler Wheel… eschews the lush, tricksy instrumentation of its predecessor in favour of jazzy, sometimes wild percussion (sourced in one instance from a machine in a bottle-making factory), Apple’s bounding piano lines and typically expressive vocal performances. It is punchy, vibrant, compelling stuff: on songs like Daredevil and Periphery she veers from guttural roar to girlish falsetto with breathtaking ease.
“I just want to feel everything,” she whispers on glockenspiel-led opening song, Every Single Night, which more or less sums up her approach to songwriting, and, one imagines, her attitude to life. In an uncharacteristically direct move, one song here is named Jonathan in honour of ex-boyfriend (author and Bored to Death creator) Jonathan Ames, detailing the memory of a trip the pair took to Coney Island. It is discordant, cluttered and sweet all at once, faithful to the LP’s restless nature. Left Alone is unnervingly frank (“How can I ask anyone to love me / When all I do is beg to be left alone?”), while the closing Hot Knife explores lust and giddy romance in a staggering medley of multi-tracked vocals.
Apple is often contented here, or at least kind of contented, like when she resigns herself to the fact that there is “nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key” on the jaunty exercise in pleasing simile Werewolf, or notably on album highlight, Anything We Want. Its lyrics could be sketching out a dream, a recollection or a fantasy; whatever, it is hopelessly romantic, lyrically deft and one of the very best in a career not lacking for high points. Miss Apple, it is a pleasure to have you back.