Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Apr 17, 2020 (updated Apr 17, 2020)
Fiona Apple is back with a vengeance.

She’s fed up and for good reason. Fiona Apple has never had it easy in the industry that she was thrust into at a young age. Whether it being shamed by the media for an honest-to-god acceptance speech or having to re-record an album in its entirety just to see it released, she’s never seemed to catch a break.

Her life has also been troubled outside of her career too. Due to a traumatic event that occurred to her at the age of 12 (look it up if you wish), she’s endured both physical and mental health issues for multiple decades. These dark subjects come up scarcely, if at all in her music, as she explained in 2000:

“It [my trauma] doesn't get into the writing. It's a boring pain. It's such a fuckin' old pain that, you know, there's nothing poetic about it.”

That all changes with “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”, one of those albums that is an entire career in the making, the moment in her discography where her personality and talents as a musician come together perfectly. Both of these elements of her identity are presented in their rawest form on her new album, making for one of the most emotionally potent records I’ve heard in a while.

I listened to all of her prior albums yesterday and assumed that her previous release, “The Idler Wheel” was going to be the peak of experimentation for her. I sit here typing a day later feeling like a fool. This album surpasses that and more.

“Fetch the Bolt Cutters” isn’t the easiest of albums to digest, due largely to the unorthodox production and instrumentation choices throughout. What stands out the most to my ears are the various types of percussion across the majority of the tracklisting. They have a very natural sound to them, mixed and panned in a way that they sound like they’re being played in the same room as you. Listen to the first 30 seconds or so of “Newspaper”, close your eyes and you can almost feel like you’re in the studio with her.

The vocal arrangements are intricate too, for example on the hook of “Relay” but especially on “For Her”, the latter of which is most akin to “Hot Knife” from “The Idler Wheel”.

A fair share of these songs are not immediately accessible, but none of them feel constructed in a self-indulgent or clumsy manner. In fact, it’s rather the opposite. Even though many of these compositions are noticeably more complex than what she’s done in the past, her pop tendencies remain fully intact.

The reason I brought up some details of her personal and professional life is that they provide a strong background for what she sings about on these songs. In 2000 she expressed that she didn’t want to write about personal matters in her music. Today, 20 years later she’s decided, “You know what? I think I will”.

She held absolutely nothing back. This is a visceral, demanding of your attention, and unflinching portrayal of a woman that is sick of this shit.

The album opens with “I Want You to Love Me”, the simplest song in terms of performance and instrumentation. The message is clear: she wants to love someone and wants to be loved back. It’s a pretty number, but far from a sample of what’s to follow. Funny enough, it does have what I consider to be the most unexpected moment on the entire album, which is that little vocal freakout that comes out of nowhere at the end of the track.

The very next song opens with lines that seems innocent enough but with context they are anything but. I don’t want to explicitly state the context in question, but again you can see for yourself if you want.

The title track is the perfect metaphor. She’s been tied down for too long and demands to be free. “I grew up in the shoes they told me I could fill” she sings, and now after coming to the realization that those shoes will always have some toe room left in them, she’s truly able to live the way she wants free of restriction. Whether or not she’ll continue to be judged is of little concern to her, for all she’s concerned, nothing will stop her now.

The next song “Under the Table” expresses the notion that she isn’t afraid to speak out, and will continue to do so no matter how hard others try to silence her. She repeats the line “Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up” and believe me, I think she means it.

Skipping forward to more than half the album later is “For Her”, which contains a line that people will be talking about for months to come. You’ll know it when you hear it.

I’m just going to leave it at that. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is a stunning display of musical prowess and a dignified tour de force of emotional power. Fiona really outdid herself with this one, and it’ll likely be remembered as the magnum opus of one of the most fearless songwriters the world has ever seen.

1 Comment
Great review
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