“Every single night I endure the flight/Of little wings of white flamed butterflies in my brain/These ideas of mine percolate the mind/Trickle down the spine swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze.” Fiona Apple sings these words all in about ten seconds flat on “Every Single Night,” the gentle opener to her new LP. And just like that, she’s back. Like she never left.
Only seven years have passed since there has been a new Fiona Apple record, but it may as well have been an entire lifetime. Even longer ago was when Fiona first hit the scene, at the age of nineteen, sweeping the entire world away with her debut album, Tidal. Despite all of the time that’s passed– all of the new technology, the media, wars, iPods, whatever– Fiona has remained as intact as ever, almost entirely untouched by the things that so pollute the rest of us. The now thirty-four-year-old claims to have no ties whatsoever to social media, computers, or even recent music trends; with one listen of her 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, you definitely believe her.
The Idler Wheel is Fiona at her most pure. It’s an acoustic fantasy, and Fiona is traveling with just the bare necessities: her piano and her voice. Then, of course, there are her lyrics; just like she does on “Every Single Night,” Fiona has always been the master of injecting heaps of meaning into a very small amount of space. Her words are her ultimate weapon, and she uses them to protect herself. She builds little safe havens within her songs in the most scarily intimate sorts of ways. “That’s when the pain comes in/Like a second skeleton/Trying to fit beneath the skin/I can’t fit the feelings in,” she continues on “Every Single Night.”
Loneliness seeps out of the songs on The Idler Wheel, but there is also an undeniable optimism layered beneath (or above, depending on the track). Sort of like life. As jazzy and tumultuous as ever, Fiona’s voice soars on “Left Alone,” “Hot Knife,” and “Werewolf.” Her raw emotive quality– unlike any other singer alive– makes it hard to choose where and when she sounds best, because there are so many choices. Lyrically, she’s as bizzar-o as ever, which is just where we like her. She effortlessly shifts from mature and satirical on “Valentine,” to bitter finger-pointing on “Regret.” On “Jonathan,” Fiona offers a rare, more revealing glimpse into her personal life, as she so obviously references her writer ex-boyfriend Jonathan Ames. However, she perfectly combats the intimacy of the song’s title by singing, “I don’t want to talk about anything.” As ever, just when you think you’re getting closer to figuring Fiona out, she throws you for a loop. And then another.
Whatever it was that Fiona’s been doing for the past seven years– besides getting her heart broken, I mean– it definitely worked. The Idler Wheel was well worth the wait. Unlike on some of her earlier songs, like the sassy late-90s hit “Criminal,” the songs on The Idler Wheel are sparse, mature, and devoid of any extraneous noise. At nineteen, she opened “Criminal” with the line, “I’ve been a bad, bad girl.” Now, all grown up, she whimpers, like a injured dog, “I just want to feel everything.” Because that’s the thing about Fiona Apple. She may be strange, or mysterious, or even make you cringe at times with her brutal and frustrating honesty. But if art is pain, we’re all artists, because pain is universal. It’s probably worth it when the end result is a perfect work of raw sincerity like The Idler Wheel.
5 / 5 bars