spin it again: fiona apple's "the idler wheel"

You can listen to the album here.

For me, the summer of 2012 belongs to this album. Being a melancholic teen at the time, Fiona's lyrics seemed to be the first time I found words that sounded like my own. How much I related to Every Single Night, from the list of people I could write right now that I thought of while listening to Periphery. Whether or not I keep this album in such high regards for nostalgia, it also was viewed with high regards by critics.  It was nominated for best alternative album at the 2013 Grammy awards, and was named top album of the year by Time Magazine.

Raw, bare, stripped back, real, are words critics have brought up when discussing the album. Not just in instrumentals, but in the emotional subjects of the songs. Even as this album is acoustic, there is no place where it feels musically lacking. The acoustic sounds are the perfect backbone for Apple’s poetry. Heavy emphasis on implied mental anguish, heartbreak, and cynicism are the centre of the work. The difference between needing to be alone and needing companionship is also a contrast found in the album.

Track Dissection

Every Single Night

As an album opener, this track isn’t the “feel good, welcome to my album” song you might expect. Beginning with music box-like chimes, the tone is immediately dark and creepy. Perhaps the most personal song on the album, Apple uses the first track to set the tone. Cynicism, pain, and deep self thought are immediately brought to mind with the lyrics. Even the simplest of lines, “Every single night’s a fight, with my brain” so easily displays constant, repetitive struggle, another theme within the album. This song also does a great job of slowly incorporating all musical elements we will hear later on. Dissonant chords, Apple’s deep voice and her vocal emotion, and irregular percussion are all introduced in this track. Apple immediately takes the blame for her pain in this song, “what I am is what I am cause I does what I does”, but also lets us know she wishes for more, “I just want to feel everything.” For anyone who has experienced these thoughts and feelings, this song hits close to home.


This track has a similar theme and feeling as the opener, but seems to take it even further. As if her thoughts from the first track have progressed, the music speeds up and has a more prominent percussive drive, which opens the song. As an acoustic album, this track shows us just what Apple can do with acoustic sounds, and the depth of her writing. The contrast between needing attention and hating it, comes into play in the bridge of this song. As the first track makes us picture her as a lone figure, “Look at look at look at look at me I’m all the fishes in the sea”, does the exact opposite. She pleads for our attention and begs us to keep listening.


Starting with heartbeat-like percussion, this song pulls back from the intensity of the last. This track showcases Apple’s piano talent. In between verses and chorus, there are various instrumental breaks that bring out the conflict of the piece. Even though she is trying, her love seems to not be enough. “I made it to a dinner date, my teardrops seasoned every plate.” A song of unrequited love, focusing on self-blame.


This track opens with another gradual instrumental build. This is the first track on the album where Apple addresses someone other than an anonymous “you” or herself. It is a plea for love, again seeming unrequited, “If she’s part of the reason you are how you are that’s alright with me.” She craves attention from this man but also doesn’t want him to truly get to know her. Perhaps she is afraid of what he will find. She craves a release from daily life, an escape, but yet she is still distant from the whole experience, inside her mind, “I like watching you live.”

Left Alone

Another more upbeat track, taking on characteristics of swing music and jazz, you can hear Apple’s musical influences. Perhaps the most straightforward message of the album is on the chorus, “How can I ask anyone to love me, when all I do is beg to be left alone?” Even while she sings such a simple message, her shaking voice proves it is not simple.


Werewolf is the first track where Apple blames someone else for her pain. Beginning the shift in theme in the album, the imagery is large and dangerous (werewolves, sharks, volcanoes). This track is not as big instrumentally, but shows itself as a possible stand-alone piece that can be viewed within the album and outside of it.


Possibly my favorite song on the album, on this track Apple begins to distance herself from others in a more positive way, taking down the metaphorical “periphery” she sees certain people living in. Stating “I care in a different capacity”, she accepts the fact that she deserves to be appreciated, and is often not. The overall message is that strong emotion and differences from the norm are worth it, as opposed to pushing these things away. “If he wants her, he should get her, cause I think he thinks she’s worth it” A harsh line, but also a way of understanding that she deserves someone who appreciates her fully, which is a lesson we often all need reminding of.


This song is the perfect example of Apple’s story-telling ability. Regret is a learned lesson, and we hear exactly how she learned it. Even with two lines, “‘member how I was so sick and you didn’t believe me, then you got sick too and guess who took care of you”, we can understand the complete dynamic of the relationship. The dissonant chords and harsh words, “Now when you look at me you’re condemned to see, the monster your mother made you to be”, show a life she is never going back to, the song even ending with the sound of a slamming door.

Anything We Want

Ending on a lighter note than the rest of the album, Anything We Want is a more positive story of the beginnings of a romance. Incorporating the chimes from the first song, with percussion and warmer tones, this track automatically feels lighter. Apple pleads for something she has not received in the other songs, the ability to do anything.  This track brings a certain kind of innocence that we have not seen yet in the album, a story of love and hope. “And we try not to let those bastards get us down.” Instead of fighting the demons alone as in previous tracks, it seems she has found someone to fight with her.

Hot Knife

This is a perfect closing track for the album. It involves layers of music and deep percussive sounds that keep you listening. “He excites me, must be like a genesis of rhythm” on these lines, we hear the soul and passion of Apple’s voice, as it shakes with the words. This rhythm she mentions is also deeply present, driving the song forward. This track expresses the slow rising but quick road of desire. Adding layer upon layer, incorporating all musical aspects we have seen in the whole album to make a bigger, more enticing sound. Letting the percussion and music drop out for the end of the song, leaving only the layers of Apple’s vocals, the album ends with the strong reminder of Apple’s pure, raw, talent.

These are songs you can listen to many times and still discover new things. This is one of the albums I may have listened to the most in my life, and even listening for this article, I heard new sounds and instruments I never noticed before.

What I found while dissecting this album, is that it is a journey of emotion. Beginning internally with Every Single Night, Daredevil, and Valentine, making the switch into negative interpersonal from Jonathan to Regret, and ending with positive interpersonal relations with Anything We Want and Hot Knife. While each of these tracks are great stand-alone, listening to the full album takes us on Apple’s intended journey. All emotions and situations expressed in the album are universal and never ending, and shall continue to exist with humanity. This leaves the album the ability to withstand the test of time. ✉

article by: ellen grace

visual by: fiona apple



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