Before Fiona Apple's first album in seven years, "Idler Wheel...," was released, it was streaming on NPR.org and in the comments section, Stephen Cage (JazzProphet1) said:
"I still love you Fiona, but California is beginning to drag you down. I found this album painful to listen to and beneath your abilities. Take the challenge: Write a song or songs without using the words 'I', 'Me' or 'Mine' and free yourself from yourself. It may open up a new world for you."
Asking Fiona Apple to not write about herself would be like asking Kurt Cobain to not write about being depressed and Jim Morrison to not write about sex. Apple is her subject and that translates to happy songs when things are going well, or when she, at least, finds the resolve to carry on ("Extraordinary Machine," the title track, featured the lyrics: "Be kind to me, or treat me mean/ I'll make the most of it, I'm an extraordinary machine.") and more often, sad songs when times are troubled. But when someone can articulate their pain so well, why complain?
Consider this phrase from "Every Single Night," the lead single and first song on the new album: "That's where the pain comes in/ Like a second skeleton/ Trying to fit beneath the skin/ I can't get the feelings in." It's so creative and, honestly, she just sounds like she's having fun with her misery.
Someone said that truly depressed people don't create anything and that's probably true. So, Apple must be at least giving herself enough time (she recently told The Los Angeles Times that she follows her "circadian clock," whatever that means) to be somewhat removed from her pain in order to transform it so whimsically.
The video for the song, directed by Joseph Cahill (who worked on puppet construction for the wonderfully weird film "Little Otik," which everyone should see), reinforces this notion and it seems to take its cue from the slimy strangeness of Apple's skeleton image. Rolling Stone called it "'Criminal' if it took place at a wildlife preserve." At different points, Apple sings with an octopus on her head, while lying on the a floor covered in snails and while cuddling with what looks like a rotted corpse (a disfigured skeleton perhaps trying to get into her skin?).
Some of her fans aren't feeling the fun and are calling the album "difficult" and "meandering" but they're just not paying enough attention. Apple's songs are deceptively simple - several of them begin similarly as plain piano ballads but are animated by subtle shifts, inspired fillers and layered vocals. The stuttering drums that run through "Jonathan" give the impression that the song is fighting with itself and the understated crowd chatter that appears in "Werewolf" opens it up and gives a new dimension to Apple's chamber folk.
But the most impressive thing is when these accents halt and we're left hanging with what's naturally the heart of the album, Apple's voice. Sometimes the singer repeats a word or phrase over and over, adding emotion until she sounds fiery, unhinged and spectacularly alive.
Those who make it to hear the way Apple shouts "I ran out of white dove feathers/ to soak up the hot piss that comes through your mouth/ Every time you address me" (romantic, right?) on the eighth song, "Regret," will realize that Apple has accomplished something special with this record.
DOWNLOAD NOW: "Regret," "Every Single Night."