“Everybody sees me as this sullen and insecure little thing. Those are just the sides of me that I feel it’s necessary to show because no one else seems to be showing them.” -Fiona Apple
“If I respect myself and believe in what I’m doing, no one can touch me.” -Fiona Apple
Certain artists are just weird, any way you cut it. Many of these artists seem to relish in their weirdness, sometimes doing it in a gimmicky way, being weird for the sake of being weird. Other artists just understand themselves in a way that few people ever will. They aren’t weird for the sake of being weird, they’re weird because that’s just who they are and they don’t care what you think about them.
Of these 2 types of artists, Fiona Apple is the latter.
I don’t want to overuse the word “weird” here, but doing a quick glance over all the albums I’ve written about in these past few months, I’m pretty sure that this is the weirdest one. I’d also like to take a moment and make it clear that “weird” is in no way synonymous with “bad”. Things that are weird are just kind of outside of the norm. In terms of art, being weird just means that something possesses some qualities that make it unlike what is popular or commonly accepted. The upside to this is that “weird” art tends to be better at effecting an emotional response, and while a smaller number of people find themselves resonating with the art, the people that do get way more out of it than anybody does with the formulaic radio pop singles. That’s the double edged sword Fiona Apple’s 2012 album, fully titled The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Like I said, weird) walks on. It’s packed to the gills with emotion and honesty, and that either strikes a chord with you, or you just don’t get it. The whole point of the Musical Training Plan is to help people appreciate and discover more music, so let’s hope more people like this one than dislike it. We’ll just have to see though, won’t we?
Fiona’s unique and impressive voice shines on this album, as it does on all of her projects. Her use of range and ability to inject each note with emotion is staggering. There are moments in which she seems to snarl more than sing, packing each note with rage before pushing it through gritted teeth. At other times, Fiona seems sing right along the brink of breaking down and sobbing. Of course there are happy moments, as well. Moments filled with nostalgia and love which stand starkly against the moments of anger, sadness, and self-resentment. Surely the vocal performance and poetry of Fiona’s lyrics make this album as great as it is, but she also has a real talent for crafting interesting and unique instrumentals which seem to fit the tone and themes of her lyrics. On this record, more so than her others which I have experience with, Apple shows a level of restraint in her compositions. The instrumentals on The Idler Wheel… are made up almost entirely of piano, guitar, and drums. Even knowing this, it feels like there’s a lot more going on here. The mileage that Apple gets out of each instrument, each note carefully and meticulously crafted to support the chaos that is Fiona Apple, is staggering. But again, the whole reason each instrumental works so well is that they fill out the sonic landscape surrounding Fiona Apple and her vocal parts.
In some ways The Idler Wheel… plays like a modernized equivalent of Joni Mitchell’s Blue. The albums reflective and honest, but Fiona seems to take things from a different angle. There’s much more anger than can be found in Joni Mitchell’s album, and while on Blue Joni is self critical and accepting of her mistake, The Idler Wheel… revolves around Apple’s fight within her own brain. She launches attacks against those who have wronged her and has no problem directing sharp distaste for any of her famous ex-lovers, but as usual she reserves the greatest vitriol for herself. At a certain point it feels dangerous, as though this is person in need of serious help, but what many people won’t realize is that, to Fiona Apple, much like Joni Mitchell, the music is therapy. Fiona’s ability to look in the mirror and use what she sees to create deeply personal and cathartic musical experiences out of it is unmatched. In reality Fiona Apple believes in herself and is going to do what she does regardless of whether or not anybody listens to the music. In that way, she’s a real artist and, like it or not, her music seems to resonate with a lot of people.
So what am I getting at with picking this album as a poster child for women’s empowerment? I’m getting at that it’s okay to have regrets. It’s okay to not like yourself sometimes. It’s okay to be different, and to feel emotion, and to have as many bad experiences as you have good ones. Fiona Apple is not weak for striking those nerves. She shows us that the strongest thing that a person can do is to be honest with themselves, accept the things that they don’t like, and be themselves despite it all.
At the risk of rambling more and talking about things that I’m not qualified to talk about, thats the end of the blog.
Hope you can have some positive takeaway from this album. If not, oh well.
There’s nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key.