Front page photo by Dan Monick
So faint you think you've imagined them, some kids' playground screams drift into the mix two-thirds of the way through Fiona Apple's "Werewolf". They sound sepia-toned, like they've floated in from memory's open window; their manic, unruly energy clashes with the song's sparse arrangement, which is all plinking keys and gently brushed drums. What are they screaming about? What are kids ever screaming about? The sample has that quality, that youthful drama, that makes the shouts sound both playful and chilling, and it feels equally plausible that they are either playing the most awesome game ever invented or that there's a cannibal loose among them.
You grow up and that drama never quite quiets down, but "Werewolf" is a song about one of the superpowers you get as you grow older: it gets easier to see things from both sides. "I could liken you to a werewolf, the way you left me for dead," Apple sings, and then the next line feels like something that nobody would have written as a teenager (especially not Fiona Apple), "But I admit that I provided a full moon." Though they occasionally bubble up with moments of volcanic emotion (as on "Werewolf"'s bridge), the songs on The Idler Wheel... come out of an almost zen-like acceptance of sadness, pain and anything else that leaves a bite mark; Apple's finally realized that those experiences make for the best songs. Which is maybe why her voice lightens a little as she reaches the chorus's epiphany: "There's nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key."