In an almost sneak attack fashion, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the first best album of the decade.
Nothing is more fascinating than listening to Fiona Apple’s introspective narratives and visceral critiques and still being able to recognize some part of your own self in it. Her latest record, Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Epic Records)—her fifth album to date—engages with jolting percussion and mesmerizing beat experimentation, and again with equally soul crushing and spirit lifting commentary on acceptance, adoration, fury, and human connection. The beloved art pop star has always had wise, penetrating lyrics, but they have become even more sonic and cosmic, again establishing that Apple’s personal tales of love and loss should not be pushed aside in anger, but accepted and analyzed with wit, snark, and truth.
While many artists choose to end their album with a song that describes the album’s overarching theme, it feels like Apple did the opposite here. “I Want You To Love Me” kickstarts this record, a fearless and uncompromising feminist manifesto, and through singing, rapping, and scatting, she tears open wounds old and new, pouring in both salt and insight, teaching every listener in the most painfully raw way about the physical and emotional tolls that life itself can have on a woman. It pushes the idea that life is, at its core, about connection and all that comes with it. Without pretension, Fetch the Bolt Cutters deals with concepts of being tethered to someone or something, to a feeling or a moment.
The range of crisp, upbeat, and hauntingly dense keyboard tones are sprinkled about this record, but “Shameika” in particular sounds nothing like anything the world has ever heard before, let alone had been prepared for. “Shameika” uses droning percussion and the most un-melodic orchestrations to touch upon the haunting memories and travesties that came with middle school hierarchies that every person, male or female, should listen to and reflect on with an open mind. Amid the erratic overdubs and the highs and lows of strategically placed keys, there is a clear, been-there-done-that chronicling of the past that causes both Apple and the listener to descend into a restless, nostalgic, melancholic rage by the end of this piano-laden tune. The additional eccentric, airy breeze that floats above the beats as the song comes to end almost gives everyone a chance to process just exactly what it feels like to yearn for the attention of other people–superior people–at any age.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters insists that both Apple and its listeners never become fully comfortable in one place. Just when you think Apple is leaving room for transparency, she willingly jumps down another rabbit hole—leaving very little time for thought, only pure emotional response. Much of the record has to do with breaking down walls, both personal and musical, and eliminating every obstacle in her path to create something with true, unbridled depth and unwavering feminism, to say nothing of the fact that this wouldn’t be a Fiona Apple record if there wasn’t just a hint of levity among the hardest of topics. She uses the song “Rack of His” to describe herself as an object, which is what she believed her ex-boyfriend thought of her. While being looked at and treated as an object by anyone is a disgusting reality, Apple sings this twinkling, jaunty, groovy song in a humorous, light-hearted manner. It is a fierce, sizzling number with punk-ish vocal gymnastics and a theatrical instrumental breakdown that focuses once again on the album’s trademark punchy percussion, but with the added sweetness of Apple’s humming and quiet mumbling throughout the latter half. She, too, isn’t done getting her tongue-in-cheek point across. It’s empowering beyond belief, but playful, which is the underlying dichotomy of Fetch the Bolt Cutters; like sea meeting sand, it’s where precision and cohesion meet freedom and unapologetic expression.
Lyrically, Fetch the Bolt Cutters takes the cake when resonating deep within the audience. Apple takes off her mask and shows the world that she has no problem coming to terms with her faults. She is the portrait of self-discovery and solidarity, and “Heavy Balloon” paints that in a way that is truthful, weird, and oh-so-timely. Using her words as intricately and purely as possible, Apple depicts deep-rooted insecurities, mental health struggles, and depression as a “heavy balloon”—a metaphor for the life that she and millions more lead every day, as well. The song is dark and rough–catastrophic, even. At the same time, though, it’s beautiful and resonating. Just like life.
Her voice shakes and growls as she expresses just how fed up she is about this life and all the bullshit that comes with it—bullshit that she has always tried so hard to push aside, but always finds a way to creep back in. As she both yells and whispers lines like “I’ve been sucking it in so long that I’m busting at the seams,” Apple is letting everything out and coming to terms with the mess that has been her life. With cymbals clattering, incoherent shouting, and cowbell tinkering, the song closes with the most interesting combination of rhythm possible, practically paralleling her rollercoaster life thus far through sound.
The care and attention to detail that Apple has put into Fetch the Bolt Cutters is undeniable. Working impulsively and experimenting tirelessly for eight years, she’s managed to create an album that is like no other, and while unexpected, it is what the world needs to hear right now. Every idea being put forth and every word chosen was thought about deeply and crafted genuinely on this record. “Cosmonauts” expertly interprets a relationship at its end, when the safety and comfort once felt by someone’s presence in your life is dwindling, leaving fear and coldness in its wake. This track foreshadows the conclusion of a relationship, the finale of a connection once filled with warmth and validation, as Apple achingly croons, “When you resist me, hon, I cease to exist, because I only like the way I look when looking through your eyes.”
Apple has always been ahead of her time, so the thoroughly electric, modern soundscapes of “Relay” pairs beautifully with the decades of anger being let out. There are elements of rage and resentment that shine through the chorus of her layered vocals and ambient noise that tell a story unto itself. “I resent you presenting your life like a fucking propaganda brochure,” she just about squeals, calling her former abuser out using her fluctuating vocals and steadily thumping drum line as a way to scream about the heartbeat-racing mess her life has been left to feel like. All she wanted was closure that she never got and the raw emotion in her voice is practically crystalline as it gets interwoven with the twisted instrumentation and eerie production. She wrote the crucial lyric, “Evil is a relay sport, when the one you burn turns to pass the torch,” when she was 15-year-old. She’s 42 now and purposefully repeating the line over and over again to get the listener to zero in on it, much like she has for the past twenty years, trying to decipher just what it means to her. The way she states that line continuously with a choir of her own vocals and a smattering of pulsating drums makes it feel like she is trying to convince everyone that these words are true. Could it be that everyone who hurts someone has been hurt by someone else before, creating a nonstop cycle of pain? Apple seems to think so.
Fiona Apple has come so far, having given us her all, and created a lifetime of melody and story. And yet, she still has so much to learn, so many places to go, and so much more music to not only teach the world with but teach herself with. Very few have put forth such honest, realistic pop-based, experimentation-laced stories and have had it resonate so widely. But Fetch the Bolt Cutters—a five-star-worthy album without a shadow of a doubt—proves that yet again generations of fans and critics alike will thoroughly listen to what she has to say, cherishing her straight-forward, vulnerable, take-no-prisoners attitude in a world filled with undeserving victims. Fetch the Bolt Cutters touches upon all of that and more, and while it is not clean-cut by any means, it is the perfect mix of sleek lyrics and not-always-sleek musicality… but that’s Fiona Apple: honest, a feminist, passionate, and rough around the edges with a crystal clear, widespread, emotional message.