Fiona Apple’s long anticipated fourth album, The Idler Wheel…, is due out June 19, but her fans are already going nuts for the quirky new tracks she’s been performing at shows all across the U.S. Earlier this spring, during her concert at the Bowery Ballroom in her native New York, the diminutive 34-year-old singer-songwriter could barely pause between songs without someone in the packed crowd screaming, “We love you, Fiona!” or “Welcome back, Fiona!” Notoriously introverted onstage, Apple meekly replied, “Thank you for wanting me back,” provoking another avalanche of applause.
Despite all this fuss and frenzy, Apple’s comeback is being complicated by an unexpected flu. It’s had her holed up for four days in her room at the Soho Grand Hotel, and when she finally comes down to the lounge in combat boots, a floor-length black skirt, and a camisole that reveals sinewy arms, she looks exhausted. But if you’ve ever assumed, based on her past behavior, that Apple is a willful brat, think again. Even when sick, she’s sweet, with the scattershot earnestness of, say, a weirdly intense 8-year-old prodigy. And she’s funny. “Whole stretches of time have passed in a fugue state,” she rasps of her recent viral incarceration. “For a while, my ex-boyfriend [the magician] David Blaine was bringing me soup from Souen,” a nearby macrobiotic restaurant. “But then both he and my brother Brandon, who travels with me, had to leave town. And I don’t take care of myself very well.” She also misses her beloved pit bull, Janet, back home in Venice, California.
Still, the flu’s but a blip in what’s shaping up to be a very good year. Ever since she debuted in 1996, at 19, with Tidal and its smoldering hit single “Criminal,” Apple’s had an adoring fan base of dark-witted girls and the boys who fall for them. She cemented that base further with 1999’s When the Pawn..., one of the most musically daring, critically acclaimed albums of that decade, and again with 2005’s Extraordinary Machine—a record that was delayed due to creative differences between Apple and her label until her fans mounted a “Free Fiona” campaign, which essentially expedited the album’s release. The lengthy intervals between records only seem to stoke her acolytes’ appetites. Apple, however, wouldn’t be Apple if she weren’t freaked out by the new love vibes. “It’s really disconcerting,” she says. “Because all that good stuff is just setting you up to fail. But then I’ll be on a message board and scroll down to the comments, and somebody will write, ‘Ugh, she looks like a meth addict, I wouldn’t fuck her with a 10-foot pole.’ And then,” she adds, laughing, “I’ll be relieved.”