There is no other artist like Fiona Apple and her most recent album is evidence of that.
Fetch The Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple’s first record in eight years, is an engaging, raw, and percussive triumph that isn’t intended for casual consumption. Similar to The Idler Wheel…, the album features unusual instruments and sounds to translate messages of self-expression, but FTBC offers a different, broader message than before: that self-examination coupled with a critique of patriarchal systems is not only necessary to grow as an artist and individual, but also as a culture.
Apple’s intentional coarse sounds create a visceral listening experience; with each track she lyrically reveals memories and lessons learned from middle school bullying, sexual assault, and romantic endeavours turned sour. The opening song ‘I Want You To Love Me’ brings to mind The Idler Wheel… track ‘Left Alone’ and suggests a healthy evolution from “How can I ask anyone to love me / When all I do is beg to be left alone” to “I want what I want / And I want you to love me.”
Similarly, where she once delicately sang “Hunger hurts but starving works / When it costs too much to love”, she now raggedly screams “I spread like strawberries / I climb like peas and beans / I’ve been suckin’ it in so long / That I’m bustin’ at the seams” in the chorus of ‘Heavy Balloon.’ As she states in ‘Under The Table’, Apple has been silenced too long and now she refuses to quiet herself any longer: “I beg to disagree / But begging disagrees with me…Kick me under the table all you want / I won’t shut up.”
Title track ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ is a stellar representation of uncompromising and energetic creativity in the face of past trauma and previously observed restrictions: “The cool kids voted to get rid of me / I’m ashamed of what it did to me / What I let get done / They stole my fun.” Not only does she point a direct finger at the childhood trauma that she knows affected her self esteem, but she also allows for self criticism in stating that she allowed this trauma to live rent free in her mind all these years. Apple’s friend Cara Delevingne is credited with harmony vocals during the chorus, as well as Apple’s (and her roommate/friend’s) dogs Mercy, Maddie, Leo, and Alfie who can all be heard towards the end of the track.
Pitchfork awarded FTBC a full 10, a score that hasn’t been awarded to an album in over a decade and, as Jenn Pelly mentions, a few of the songs on the record are so unruly that they sound “like they might collapse…only to pick themselves up with a smirk of cool relief.” ‘For Her’ presents movements of uncompromising artistry by stitching together what sounds like easy blues and a layered one-person choir.
Rather than only self interrogating, Apple dissects and calls out the world around her for the cruelty so commonly shown to women. In the lyrically humorous anti-jealousy track titled ‘Ladies’ she sing-talks to the supposed new love interest of a previous ex-boyfriend, encouraging the new woman to help herself to anything Apple might’ve left behind: “There’s a dress in the closet / Don’t get rid of it / You look good in it / I didn’t fit in it / It was never mine / It belonged to the ex-wife of another ex of mine.” The song ends in a guttural admission that the woman she’s addressing is “Yet another woman to whom I won’t get through.” Absolute brilliance. As a female-positive alternative to the usual male musician seducing a mistress trope, ‘Rack of His’ objectifies and belittles her male opponent: “Check out that rack of his / Look at that row of guitar necks / Lined up like eager fillies / Outstretched like legs of Rockettes.”
‘Shameika’ is included in the songs specifically addressed to women, as a reference to an old classmate she’ll likely never see again but whom imparted a kind word during their time together: “Shameika said I had potential.”
In an interview with Vulture, Apple admits that sometimes she wouldn’t come up with parts before hitting the record button; certain tracks like ‘Newspaper’ and ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ were created using one-take percussion tracks where ‘mistakes’ were intentionally left in. A few of the record’s unusual instruments even include a stove-top found in an alleyway, a metal butterfly found outside of an elementary school, and Apple’s own house. Marissa Lorusso, Bob Boilen, and Ann Powers recently discussed on NPR how they felt inspired by Fiona Apple’s risk-taking and experimental sound on the album: “I think you can hear on the record that it’s in-process and…it’s not super polished.” Not only do these oddities and mishaps add to the rhythm of each track, they add an additional layer of authenticity to the lyrics – the artist embraces imperfection while expressing hard-learned wisdom and compassion.
The artist recognises that she isn’t “trying to convince anybody [she’s] a singer,” but rather that her voice is “just another instrument.” And an instrument it most certainly is: in some tracks her voice doesn’t reach higher than a whisper, and in others it is an aggressive and assertive shout, sometimes she reaches both extremes like in ‘Cosmonauts’ where she declares, “You and I will be like a couple of Cosmonauts / Except with way more gravity than when we started off.” In a profile by The New Yorker the artist recounts marching around her house, chanting, stomping, and banging on the walls with the other musicians that contributed to the record.
The album in its entirety disassembles the ideas of patriarchal structure by acting out of the confines of refined, smooth, and professional sounds typically expected by the industry. Where other artists might have deleted all forms of mistakes and mishaps for a polished finished product, Apple decides to leave in her dog’s collar jangles and even lyric fumbles in ‘On I Go.’ The authenticity of her music never fails to impress even first-time listeners. Apple’s ‘Relay,’ a song she started writing at 15 years old, even offers commentary on the outrageous current obsession with social media and the need for attention: “I resent you for presenting your life like a fucking propaganda brochure.” In her second to last track on the record titled ‘Drumset,’ Apple repeats in a semi-serious laugh “Why did you not want to try? / Why did you take it all away?” as if to hold those responsible for faking their way through life accountable for their actions.
Again, FTBC is not easy listening, but it’s witty, honest, and liberating. The world may still be bullshit, but at least we have artists like Fiona Apple to hold it accountable.
Words by Mary Helen Josephine