Love isn’t something that Fiona Apple, the perennial relationship little-engine-that-could, had to prove to anyone. It was obviously a given that her latest album would stew in the topic relentlessly. Without relationship turmoil Apple would likely dissolve into crumbs (and maybe be the happier for it, who knows).
Actually, The Idler Wheel… makes its announcement prominent and unmistakeable that it’s going to be another sonic insurrection into the mind of the underdog lover, so much so that I just couldn’t even palate it at first. I wanted it to be light, it was an 18-wheeler.
But this isn’t what I’m writing about exactly. I mean, if Apple had teamed up with say something like Brooklyn Afrobeat and put out something loungey and schmaltzy, light and easy to swallow like a caramel latte, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I’d also, though, be more likely to ascribe to the universe some level of order and sanctity, which obviously it’s without… I mean listen to this woman.
Anybody who makes this grand of a flat-out attempt at love deserves to be heard. This is not your big-picture humanitarian hedging… this is catharsis toward “building a body,” to quote Marnie Stern — one body.
So when she screams and squawks like a little girl that she wants to get taken to Coney Island and proclaims that “I don’t wanna talk about / I don’t wanna talk about ANYTHINGGG…” we can’t hate her, we just can’t. We’re holding something too heavy in our hands already. Acknowledgement is the conduit to real human aid, but paradoxically pop music quells such a thing, it’s a shot in the arm (Stereolab’s stupefying album closeur “Anonymous Collective”: “You and me are shaped by some things / Well we own our acknowledgement”), et. al. How can the human mind be virtuous, really, if it’s steeped in free will?
Or let me put it this way: how can a photon help itself, how can a gerbil spinny-ball-thingy spin itself? Isn’t it more “punk” to ADMIT that you’re a whiney little girl who just wants to Coney Island, than to try to impress someone with your worldly compassion?
But here’s the trick Apple’s playing on us: I don’t think she really WANTS to go to Coney Island at all. She just didn’t want us to bear the emotional burden of ascribing to her some ungraspable virtue. She is trying, in her own futile way, to set us free, and she’s also telling us that we’re stupid, by telling us that SHE’S stupid. Coney Island is her symbol of stupidity.
So with the lack of even a semblance of humanity’s concern, we’re left scratching our heads a little bit, since in a way Apple is the forerunning sociological spokeswoman in America. TRY caring about humanity, she’s saying. Just try it. See what happens. HEAR what happens. Or, as a man as wise as her once said, “I’ve got rhythm / I’ve got music / I’ve got my gal / Who could ask for anything more?” Maybe there is virtue in apathy? Or is this just the miraculous metamorphosis of a singular artist who can thresh these issues out in pop music, so as to get them off her chest and have room for actual real-life pertinence in everyday interaction. I sure hope so.