Thursday, 12 July 2012

Album review: FIONA APPLE - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser...

Highlights: Every Single Night, Jonathan, Left Alone, Anything We Want

Obviously that is not the whole of this album’s title, but I would feel like an idiot if I spent half a minute typing all those words…

I will start this by saying that the first listen to Fiona’s newest makes absolutely no sense. It just sounds like a pretentious, wordy, fairly stylish but somewhat unengaging mess. Bizarre vocal hooks do not jump at you, and the twisted, jazzy melodies just go nowhere. And it’s not like the second listen drastically changes your perception – it’s just that bit by bit, second by second, you start disclosing all the intricacies, craft and Fiona’s amazing ambition behind this album. Suddenly it all starts falling into place: vocal hooks, melodies, everything.

The first song is the best. Instrumentally, “Every Single Night” is pretty minimalist, but vocally Fiona is all over this thing – reminding you perhaps of the stuff Kate Bush did so masterfully on albums like The Dreaming. The Idler Wheel… is all jazz with an experimental twist – some of it is more difficult (the lengthy, dark “Regret”; “Jonathan”) and some of it almost easily accessible (slightly waltzy “Werewolf” that sounds like a contemporary ballad written by someone who is too smart and talented to do that sort of thing). 

Besides that remarkable voice, piano is Fiona’s main instrument, and she makes great use of it – playing seemingly random notes that keep revealing themselves as clever, creative and completely cohesive. The whimsical, faux-playful mood of the record is masterfully accentuated by inventive, intense percussion.

So how does The Idler Wheel… live up to its long title and raving reviews? Well, it really is an exceptional piece of work, one that you are bound to come back to. Granted, it may put you off if you’re not in the mood for such a demanding, challenging experience. Whatever the case, you certainly shouldn’t give up – rich layers of sound and Fiona’s restless emotions are well worth your attention.


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