Album Review: Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is an Instant Classic

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Graphics by Nicole Bae

By Kenneth Cox, WERS Staff Writer

Amidst all the unimaginable events that 2020 has produced so far, at least one was for the best — the return of Fiona Apple. Eight years after the release of her last record The Idler Wheel…, Apple suddenly came back into the spotlight in the past months, conducting interviews for the first time in years and hinting at new music. But finally, just a few weeks ago, Apple announced her first record since 2012, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and the wait was more than worth it.

The title of Fiona Apple’s newest record, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, comes from a line uttered by Gillian Anderson on the British TV series The Fall. Anderson delivers the line as she attempts to free a young woman locked away behind closed doors, made to suffer unbearable torture and isolation. In a way, this scene mirror’s Apple’s own process throughout the record, liberating herself from the inner demons and injustice she has withstood throughout her life. In doing so, she creates a record that is cutting, life-affirming, shattering, and hopeful all at once. It is a culmination of Apple’s artistic genius, and a record unlike anything else.

Much of Fetch the Bolt Cutters blazes with a kineticism rarely heard from Fiona Apple’s other work.

From the smashing percussion of “Relay,” to the waltz-like movement of “Ladies,” the composition of Apple’s newest release crackles and snaps with every beat, note, and measure. Other production flourishes, like clinking glasses as percussion, richly layered harmonies, and even Apple’s own dog barking through the tracks point to the album’s daring, experimental approach to songwriting and production. It’s a record teeming with life, and unafraid to show the cracks in recording, bringing the listener into Apple’s visceral, irrepressible reality. Nothing is smoothed over or glossed up, but captures life in all its raw unfiltered glory.

The album's production is matched by Apple's incredible lyricism.

Apple sums up much of the record on “Under the Table,” taking on all those who have tried to dismiss or undervalue what she has to say — “kick me under the table all you want/I won’t shut up.” Her writing throughout the record often is a critique, a call to arms, and a cunning commentary on the way in which men attempt to silence and mistreat not just her personally, but women at large. Whether Apple is calling out former partners for treating her like just another instrument on the wall on “Rack of His,” or the harrowing, unflinchingly real accounts of assault on “For Her,” Apple writes about these experiences with a searing honesty that only she could conjure.

Where Fiona Apple finds the key to healing is through solidarity.

“This album is a lot of not letting men pit us against each other… so that they can control the message,” said Apple in an interview shortly before the record’s release. By focusing on Apple’s experiences with women past and present, she makes sure that her message stays within her control. “Shameika” finds Apple in her teenage years, recalling a classmate that gave her encouragement amidst the taunts, bullying, and loneliness that defined her childhood. It is a glimmer of kindness and mutual understanding, unlike the ways men in her life have tried to define her. Later, Apple flips the script on the classic breakup track with “Ladies,” putting the blame not on the other woman, but on the unfaithful man in the relationship. “And no love is like any other love/So it would be insane to make a comparison to you,” sings Apple, building understanding instead of hostility.

While she focuses on the world at large, there still is room for introspection throughout the record.

Whether it is her desire for love, struggles with depression, or her lifelong aspirations for more, the record feels like an incredibly rare glimpse into the world of the famously reclusive artist. “Heavy Balloon” finds Apple in the midst of her lifelong battle with mental illness: “You get dragged down, down to the same spot enough times in a row/The bottom begins to feel like the only safe place that you know.” But even at her lowest, she finds the strength to recover, likening her battle to an outstretching garden of strawberries, peas, and beans coming into bloom. Elsewhere, “I Want You To Love Me” and “Drumset” show Apple both seeking love desperately and being devastated in its absence. The tracks feel like foils to one another, sparing no details in the pursuit of her own inner truth.

The album’s closing track, “On I Go,” feels like Apple’s personal mantra for the future, pledging to push forward into the future no matter what hardship might lay in front of her. If this journey might lead to more music is anyone’s guess, but with Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Apple has created the first masterpiece of the decade, a portrait of the artist rewriting the world on her own terms.

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