Four albums in sixteen years aren’t enough to keep oneself in the spotlight, but they do assure that each release will become a landmark. Especially for an artist like American Fiona Apple, with a fan base that is becoming increasingly indignant as they watch poor-quality female soloists become extremely well-known, while she fails to get her fair share of recognition during her seven-year hiatus, the time that has passed since “Extraordinary Machine”.
These faithful followers will continue to have nourishment to feed their cult. Unless there is a major surprise, “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do” (simplified as “The Idler Wheel” from now on, if you’ll forgive me) is in no danger of becoming a blockbuster like “Tidal”, her 1996 debut album. At least, nothing seems to be further from her mind. Sweet and serene in general, with a production based on elegant, organic percussion - but intriguingly dissonant in its harmonies and with a markedly jazzy air - the album requires repeat listening for the uninitiated to penetrate its mysteries, as it is far from easy listening for all audiences.
As usual, her piano loops mark the mood of her songs, whether the lovely “Jonathan”, the playful “Periphery” or the jazzy and sensual “Left Alone”. But it is her wonderful voice that transmits dramatic emotional changes without a need for flourishes. The advance, the passionate “Every Single Night”, is a good demonstration of her variety of registers. Another performance highlight is “Regret”, where she manages to go from an elegant falsetto to heartrending emotion with only a slight contraction of the vocal chords. And in “Anything We Want”, the loveliest, most pop melody on the album, her performance is prodigiously subtle. “The Idler Wheel” is, in short, an album cooked over a low flame. Swallowing it up and moving on to the next item on your to-do list without giving it enough time for all of its aromas to permeate the air would be a lack of respect for this unusual artist, with an unyielding talent, committed to her art. And only to her art.