Despite its full unwieldy title, Fiona Apple’s fourth album The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is one of the most refined and focused albums to emerge in the sixteen years since Apple’s debut album Tidal. Opening beautifully, the emotionally strained (and slightly disturbing) ‘Every Single Night’ promises an album full of pain and anxiety. Commencing with some slow and simple notes, the track builds up to a spine-tingling release of jittering vocals and intensely captivating lyrics.
‘Daredevil’ follows in much the same style. With simple beats and uncompromising piano, it’s as angry as it is emotive. ‘Valentine’, a sweet ballad by all accounts, changes the tempo slightly but still manages to harness that ever-present malice that has become so synonymous with Apple’s work. Never an artist to shy away from the dark or unpleasant subject matter, the singer expresses herself with an insecure honesty that is as endearing as it is off-putting.
The record’s fourth track ‘Jonathan’, written about former lover Jonathan Ames, lets us know that nothing is out-of-bounds. Singing “I don’t wanna talk about / I don’t wanna talk about anything”, Apple bears her life and loves for all to see. More than that, she does it honestly, without the presence of the familiar rose-tinted glasses favoured by other artists. With lyrics like “how can I ask anyone to love me” (‘Left Alone’) and concepts like “I could liken you to a werewolf the way you left me for dead / but I admit that I provided a full moon” (‘Werewolf’). Idler could be termed a break-up album of sorts… but one more akin to Tori Amos’ Boys of Pele than anything else we’ve seen in the last two decades.
Opinions may vary, but one thing is certain; The Idler Wheel will never be classified as easy listening. Apple doesn’t just disturb you with her pain, she does so vocally as well, embracing the contortion and daring you to turn away. For an artist whose work is so wrought with pain and suffering, Apple’s albums have always had an inexplicably alluring quality. This is no different – it draws you in with its sweet sincerity only to chew you up and spit you back out again. The pain comes in early and often and you soon realise that you’re no more protected from it than Apple herself is.