It’s hard to believe the wait is finally over. After seven years of laying low, not playing shows and not releasing any new material Fiona Apple has finally bestowed upon us the album we’ve all been waiting for. The fact that she was able to wait so long to release it and that people still remember/want to hear it is amazing. In this day and age it’s career suicide to take ONE year off, let alone the better part of a decade.
If there’s one thing Fiona has always been, it’s honest. If she didn’t have anything to write about she wasn’t going to waste her time and ours by singing some drivel she didn’t really believe in. Her albums have acted as her personal diary that she opens for everyone to read. She is probably the most intimately revealing artist working in the past couple decades (along with Lauryn Hill), and that kind of open vulnerability can be emotionally exhausting, so if she needs to take off huge chunks of time between albums (as she always has), I’m cool with it.
Back in March we went to see Apple perform at one of her sold out shows at Lincoln Hall. I walked away pretty impressed that she could still pull off some of the material after such a long hiatus. She played three of the new songs at that show: “Every Single Night,” “Valentine,” and “Anything We Want.” Of those, my favorite was “Valentine,” because it felt like a real departure for her-more plain, with just the piano and vocals instead of all the production notes that litter Extraordinary Machine.
The Idler Wheel kicks off with “Every Single Night,” and while it isn’t my favorite song, it is a good opener for the album. It lays out the same kind of character traits that Apple always sings about-always in bad relationships, only happy when she’s sad, unable to trust anyone.
I remember hearing the first lines of “Valentine” and thinking “Christ that’s dark.” I also thought that it was great because it showed me that she still has that morbid side to her that makes for great songs.
You didn’t see my valentine
I sent it via pantomime
While you were watchin someone else
I stared at you and cut myself
The song that really showed me she’s still got it is “Werewolf.” it’s easily the best song on Idler Wheel in my opinion. It is perfectly written and performed as a fairly simple song, until it’s not. Toward the end of the song there’s added sounds of children playing, but the way it’s used is oddly affecting. It almost sounds like people running from a fire or some other catastrophic event. The album was produced by Apple and her drummer Charley Drayton, and they’ve done magnificent work with this one.
I was talking about this record with my friend over the weekend and he told me that on Metacritic it’s getting a 96/100. It struck me that the best way to get a huge critical rating is to not release an album for a really long time, and make one that is just really solid. You’re guaranteed at least a 90. The idea that absence makes a heart grow fonder must certainly be true for some music critics. In my case I’m not ready to lay down that kind of praise. It’s a good record, definitely worth listening to a bunch of times. But it’s no better than her previous three albums.
The one thing that is different, and something I enjoy about the record, is Apple’s new focus on vocals. Maybe it’s always been there and I just didn’t notice, but there are a lot of different uses on display here. Sometimes it’s multiple tracks of her voice, other times it’s just unique sounds that she’s never made before. Regardless, I find it interesting. Especially on a track like “Regret” where she’s howling the line “I ran out of white doves feathers to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth everytime you address me.” I’ve never heard her voice quite so raw and unhinged.
Obviously there isn’t a lot I could say or do that will change your mind on getting this record. In fact, your mind was probably made up the day it was announced. If you’re like me you probably decided shortly after the last track on Tidal ended for the first time that you would be buying everything she ever releases. For fans that fall in either camp, you won’t be disappointed. This is very much a recognizeable Fiona Apple album. There is no other artist out there quite like her. She only speaks up when she has something important to say, and when she does we all need to pay attention.