Review | Fiona Apple — Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Fiona Apple's first release since 2012's The Idler Wheel... is a perfect odyssey.
Fiona Apple has lost all tolerance for bullshit. For much of her nearly twenty-five-year career as a musician, Apple has been plagued by both the bureaucracy and cruelty of corporate labels. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is Apple’s fifth album overall and the first in eight years. It was released six months before her label’s desired date with no singles and little promotion. After her long hiatus, Apple assembles an unpredictable and raw work, stitching together an eclectic array of sounds into a beautiful, Frankensteined masterwork that is pure Fiona Apple, yet simultaneously uncharted territory for her. In short, it’s the work of a liberated musician.
Apple’s past albums are undeniably creative and bubbling with passion. Though they also sport extremely polished and smooth surfaces. Fetch the Bolt Cutters, however, introduces some chaos into the mix. Whereas Apple’s previous album The Idler Wheel… is led by percussion, this one is dominated and overwhelmed by it. Track after track overflows with the clatter and crash of drums and household objects banging together. For Apple, everything is a drum. Fetch the Bolt Cutters mixes a conventional drumset with drumming on floors, shelves, wooden blocks, and even a box containing her dead dog’s bones. The result is an intimate and rough sound: a long way from Apple’s slick debut Tidal.
Even Apple’s voice has never been more versatile. Over the course of Fetch the Bolt Cutter’s thirteen tracks, she hollers, screams, whispers, moans, meows, and imitates a dolphin, always with unpredictable cadence. Indeed, this is an abrupt album, never settling into a consistent form. Apple tosses out jarring tempo shifts, changing tones with no warning. She seems obsessed with subverting expectations, often leaving in the very human accidents or interruptions other musicians would treat as blemishes and delete. In the title track, she lets the sounds of Cara Delevingne(singing back-up)’s dogs barking wash over her own vocals. In “On I Go,” the roaring album closer, she messes up and groans “Ah, fuck shit!” — a flaw left in the album’s final version. Like JPEGMafia leaving in his coughs throughout All My Heroes Are Cornballs, the mistakes give Fetch the Bolt Cutters its humanity.
But make no mistake, despite the album’s rugged texture, it’s hardly inaccessible. Apple is clearly having fun amidst the chaos. She thrusts together complex rhythms with infectious melodies and her expectedly ingenious songwriting (ie. “Evil is a relay sport/When the one who's burnt/Turns to pass the torch”: a line she originally wrote at age 15 and now repeats throughout “Relay”). Though perhaps a little too rugged and idiosyncratic to get much radio play, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is undeniably pop music. It’s easily consumed and always engrossing.
However, sometimes the album’s exhilarating and catchy surface is used ironically, masking more sinister subjects. On “For Her,” Apple belts out “Good morning, good morning,” almost imitating Debbie Reynolds’s phrasing of the same line in Singin’ in the Rain, then adding “You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.” Throughout Fetch the Bolt Cutters, rage and resistance strive to breach through the album’s very palatable surface. Apple’s irony becomes a metaphor for her subject matter: women abused and silenced by powerful men. Her songs describe a need to rip through the illusions of prestige and respectability flaunted by rapists throned in executive positions. “I resent you presenting your life like a fucking propaganda brochure!” she hollers in “Relay,” expressing the need to strip these predators of their disguises. The whole album is about façades: abusers concealed under a cloak of respectability and disturbing honesties hidden beneath layers of exuberant pop perfection.
In this sense, the album is a paradox. It’s both fun and brutal: two qualities that seem contradictory. And yet, for Apple, it seems art is meant to be messy and inconsistent. Through her deliberately jumbled and delightfully chaotic production, she highlights her own imperfections. Apple rejects the immaculate pop star persona forced on her at the age of eighteen, offering a more sincere self-depiction. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is, in many ways, an uncompromising self-portrait of an artist exploring her totally unrestrained creative freedom. The bolt cutters have been fetched, and Apple is freed from her captivity. And fortunately for us, her liberty sounds like perfection.
Best Track: "Heavy Balloon":