Pain is pretty.
2012, Epic Records
9.4 / 10.0
Fiona Apple has been associated with a bad girl image for much of her career. There was that incident around the release of her first album, Tidal, where made the following statement at the MTV Movie Awards, “This world is bullshit, and you shouldn’t model your life on what we think is cool, and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying,” upon winning an award for Best New Artist. MTV wasn’t a fan of her blunt words, even though they rang true then and especially today in a world of girls getting reality TV contracts for simply getting knocked up.
She would follow that up with her scantily clad video for “Criminal”, kind of funny in retrospect when paired with her MTV outburst. Then after releasing her second album, When The Pawn…, she suffered an onstage meltdown at the NYC Roseland Ballroom that concluded in Apple storming offstage and fans not hearing a new album until six years later with Extraordinary Machine. Apple toiled over the album with a “no deadline” clause, which was put to use after she scrapped the album’s first recorded version. Amazingly, Fiona Apple fans awaited the new material, even believing that Epic Records was the cause for that album’s delay.
Now here we are seven years later after Apple’s latest album, The Idler Wheel (abbreviated from its equally lengthy When The Pawn … title), has been released, held up by Apple (?) or her label (?), but here nonetheless. Extraordinary Machine was considered worth the wait by fans and critics alike, touting it as a triumph. Does The Idler Wheel roll on the same success, taking into account the even longer waiting period? Short answer; YES.
The Idler Wheel could be the best Fiona Apple album, even surpassing Tidal, an album very dear to me. The Idler Wheel finds Fiona Apple at her most confessional, detailing her relationship struggles from her affliction of overanalyzing the person she’s with to purposely picking fights to cause the affair’s demise, then feeling the effects of regret, pain, and shame afterwards. “Valentine” even alludes to Apple cutting herself after taking one breakup particularly hard.
The Idler Wheel maintains Apple’s signature piano-rock/jazz instrumentation, sounding more minimalist than ever. Her voice has always been a marvel, but she takes it to a new level on the album – conveying agony and agony, almost writhing as sings. “Regret” particularly comes to mind as a vocal performance that isn’t traditionally pretty, but it feels brutally honest and real. Apple’s songwriting remains sharp, perhaps more serrated, featuring lyrical wordplay from Apple that’s performed with impeccable flow that many rappers would envy.
If what I am is what I am
Cause I does what I does
Then brother get back cause my breast gonna bust open
The rib is the shell and the heart is the yolk
And I just made a meal for us both to choke on
Every single nights a fight
With my brain
Apple continues her poetic approach to her songs’ lyrics, metaphorically referring to herself as a daredevil, “I don’t feel anything until I smash it up”, on “Daredevil”. “Werewolf” stands on its hind legs as the alpha song, “I could liken you to a werewolf / the way you left me for dead / But I admit that I provided a full moon”. However, the most surprising moment of the album is its closer, “Hot Knife”, which is about a new romance, and not one ending. Apple sounds happy, layering her voice several times to reach near ‘pop’ levels. Why, Fiona, I didn’t know you had it in you.
The Idler Wheel surprised me in that it’s so good and stands as the best Fiona Apple album to date. At a sleek ten songs, the album flies by without filler, which is something Extraordinary Machine had. Fiona Apple proves she still has plenty left to say. I just hope we don’t have to wait seven more years to hear it.