Tangy Apple: The Anti-Gaga Bad Girl Returns

Evolution of a pop star

She has her favorites. “I am the baby of the family, it happens, so / Everybody cares and wears the sheep’s clothes while they chaperone,” she sang on the sly, twinkly Extraordinary Machine title track. The closest “Daredevil” on Wheel … has to a chorus is a multitracked Ms. Apple rumbling, “But don’t let me / Ru-in me / I may need a chap-er-one.” Each repeat of those last three syllables brings more relish. “Seek me out,” she taunts in the same song, “Look at, look at, look at me / I’m all the fishes in the sea.”

The effect is stark, and startling—petulance with a devastatingly adult punch.

Elsewhere, “Left Alone” is a moody free-jazz freak-out that wonders, “How can I ask anyone to love me / When all I do is beg to be left alone?” “Every Single Night” fills in the hypnagogic details the 19-year-old Fiona left out when she declared that she didn’t go to sleep to dream: “Every single night / I endure the flight / Of little wings of white-flamed / Butterflies in my brain.”

The Idle Wheel … might be called relentlessly experimental if it weren’t so alarmingly, alluringly immediate. Indeed, the woman who wrote “Criminal” in 45 minutes retains the knack for a pop hook, whatever her more protective fans may think. With its roiling repetition and tribal drums, album-closer “Hot Knife”—“I’m a hot knife / he’s a pat of butter …”—could easily be repurposed as a club hit; I thought immediately of Beyoncé’s “Girls.”

Fiona Apple may not be one, but a decade and a half into a bizarre career, it’s still her world.

editorial@observer.com

Article continues below
More from Politics
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 12:  Green party nominee Jill Stein speaks during a campaign rally at the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture on October 12, 2016 in New York City. Jill Stein and her running mate Ajamu Baraka are campaigning in New York.
Jill Stein Says Midwest Recounts for Communities ‘Shafted Through Electoral Racism’