It’s taken seven years, but Fiona Apple’s 4th album, The Idler Wheel…, is finally out. The album is much more stripped back than her previous work, but it will not disappoint the committed fans who waited patiently. The experimental piano and percussion backing that dominates the record provides a perfect canvas for Apple’s voice to paint with colour and depth. This isn’t the catchiest album in the world, nor do I think it will be particularly commercially successful, but it is skilfully and thoughtfully composed.
All in all, the reduced instrumentation on the album transforms Apple’s earlier, carnival-esque style into an intelligent cabaret piece. The Idler Wheel… sounds like it was recorded by a jazzier, more accomplished Dresden Dolls. Tracks like the bouncy, yet dissonant ‘Periphery’ are particularly reminiscent of the aforementioned act.
However, despite this bounciness, The Idler Wheel… is incredibly down-beat. The album seems to be wholly written in a minor key, but as Apple sings in ‘Werewolf’ – the best track on the album – there’s “nothing wrong with a song in […] in a minor key”. Of course some listeners may dispute this, and if so they’d probably spend the whole album begging for an upbeat and catchy song, but, as a registered member of Melancholics Anonymous, I loved it.
The album also delighted me as it was so full of surprises. ‘Left Alone’, in particular, is an energetic song, but every time that you think it may take off and become upbeat Apple drops in a well-timed minor suspension. A similar technique is employed in ‘Valentine’, as whenever Apple increases the pace she reverts back to exposed, semibreve length chords. Although you come to expect these erratic changes, as the album goes on, they never cease to impress you. The non-conventional, make-shift percussion used in tracks like ‘Anything We Want’ and ‘Regret’ is also another way in which Apple filled the album with moments that defy expectation.
I would whole-heartedly encourage readers to get their hands on this album and give it a listen. Jazz isn’t everyone’s thing admittedly, it isn’t even mine, but The Idler Wheel… is well worth a listen. It’s intelligent, excellently produced, actually feels like an album as opposed to just a collection of songs and it’s musically accomplished. If you think it’s a bit of a risk to buy, then why not preview it? The album can be found here: