Apple sweet to the core
THE Idler Wheel . . . is a stark and skeletal offering.
Multiplatinum- selling ’ 90s pop star Fiona Apple is back after a long break with a delightfully strange album.
Written with percussion guru Charley Drayton, Apple’s record is appealingly raw and unfussy.
Most often these tunes were made with just pianos, drums and some found sounds that were turned into abstract percussion pieces for her unorthodox rhythmic flourishes.
That meant recording the sounds of pebbles falling down a garbage chute, or the noises inside a bottle- making factory.
This technique gives a light free- jazz feel to a song like Jonathan, which would have been a straight- bat love ballad without the off- kilter drums.
Fans of this tortured singer will know all about the original version of her last album with producer Jon Brion, which leaked online while the record was being reworked ahead of its release. His version was thin and chilly but more complexly detailed than the version that ended up in stores.
It’s an odd feeling but that album and this new one were definitely cut from the same cloth. They could be cousins.
It’s a fuzzy memory, in this age of attention- lovers like Lady Gaga and the Jersey Shore oompa loompas, but Apple has always been awkward and uncomfortable with the spotlight.
Importantly, her talent rises to the top and pop music rarely sounds this artful, uneasy, emotional or menacing.
Across these 10 songs, 34- year- old Apple delivers sweetly- cooed vocals. She also yells and growls and spews her words, almost like a rap- style delivery. Her lyrical imagery is vivid and dramatic throughout.
Although commonly painted as a sullen, freaky loner, some of these new songs come across whimsical and happy . . . as well as sad, insecure and occasionally insane.
The closer, Hot Knife, shows off her playful, light- hearted side to perfection, with its gentle, chanting rounds and sunny melody.
Apple has made a career of writing songs to exorcise her demons. On Left Alone she sings: ‘‘ I don’t cry when I’m sad any more’’ and on Every Single Night she reveals: ‘‘ Every night’s a fight with my brain.’’ Perhaps, to a fault, she’s an open book.
She’s also not the easiest act to be a fan of. Two albums in the past 13 years and just four in total, Apple is essentially a recluse who pops up once or twice a decade to say: ‘‘ Remember me?’’.