Arriving some seven years after her third album, Fiona Apple’s June 2012 release of The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (commonly and understandably abridged to The Idler Wheel…) made sure its beautifully unique sound resonated in the minds of listeners, within both the alternative rock and art-jazz genres of music.
With this particular album, Apple worked closely with Charley Drayton, a touring drummer. Instead of leaving a harsh signature on the album’s overall sound, Drayton’s contributions are subtle and unfussy, easily fusing with Apple’s enjoyment of percussion on her records. Instead, the focus is on Apple’s raw vocals (untouched by reverb or otherwise) and, by extension, the uniquely crafted verses – making the connection between her and the listener even more electric and intense. Apple has always loved the idea of sounds that are homemade saying, “I just like that feeling of “I’m in charge, I can do whatever I want.”” Evidently, according to the credits of the album, included among the instruments and sounds used were a pillow, thigh slaps, and truck stomps.
Mixing those creative and original lyrics with rhythmic chaos, she explores the struggles of being over analytical and prone to anxiety in any kind of relationship. Her comfortable, but assertive, raspy, alto voice with dashes of passionate vibrato throughout the album demand that the listener pay attention. The Idler Wheel… is an excellent portrayal of Apple’s artistic profile; organized disorder.
The complicated and conflicted inner monologue of Fiona Apple is also represented by her self-drawn album cover. The confusing lines connecting with one another, the lawless use of colour, and the one very specifically drawn eye give the impression of her mind being vividly confusing and almost frightening. The conflict between cynicism and naivety is clearly indicated in the very first track of the album. Using playful tones throughout, ‘Every Single Night’ communicates Apple’s desire “to feel everything” yet each time she begins to feel anything at all, every night turns into “a fight with [her] brain.” Another example of her unique awareness of sound is demonstrated by adopting an ever so faint heartbeat sound into the background of the third track ‘Valentine’, forcing the listener to pay close attention to how a simple human heartbeat noise could contribute to the overall meaning and sound of the recording.
Apple’s musicality is unparalleled; exhibited by the spontaneous children’s laughter included towards the end of ‘Werewolf’, the ambiguously sampled sound pulling the listener further into the album itself. Also presented in ‘Werewolf’ is Apple’s ability to conjure up a perfect image of a crumbling bond between two people using particularly specific metaphors.
One of the most unforgettably meaningful tracks on the album is ‘Regret.’ Stylistically simple, but intricately layered with emotionally moving content, the track expresses a person’s disgust at how they’ve been treated by a significant other. Apple nearly blows her voice out fervidly singing, “I ran out of white dove feathers / To soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth / Every time you address me.” In the angst and drum infused ‘Left Alone’, Apple further differentiates herself from other artists by recognizing that blame can be placed on both sides of a dysfunctional relationship instead of just one, suggesting she can’t ask anyone to love her when she begs to be left alone. The jazz style piano riffs blended with hip-hop tempo verses draw attention to Apple’s appreciation for expression through a mixture of styles.
It may not be an easy album to understand for first time listeners and it’s certainly not an album that can be put on for background noise. While being simultaneously aggressive yet vulnerable, The Idler Wheel… is a truly wrenching and honest masterpiece to add to her collection of idiosyncratic albums.
Words By Mary Helen Josephine