ALBUM REVIEW: FIONA APPLE – FETCH THE BOLT CUTTERS (EPIC)
4/5 : ‘An angry refusal of silence. Apple’s fiercest yet.’
Released with little notice. ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ is the fifth studio album from Fiona Apple. Her first in 8 years, and the result of one of many hiatuses. Understandable when she has had a lot to live up to. The spectacular ‘The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do’ (2012) was as grand a statement as its title. To me being her strongest to this date. Lyrically potent, witty and sharp. While instrumentally ambitious, dipping her toes into experimental fields. Here on her new full length, Apple furthers the experimentation, driving it into new territory. Especially in percussion, which becomes her primary instrument. Apple plays anything she can get her hands on. Often the drums don’t sound like drums, and more like household items. It’s easily plausible as this record was recorded in the comfort of Apple’s home.
The lyrical themes and delivery on this project are an angry refusal of silence, and proves to be Apple’s fiercest yet. Sometimes going back years to foreshadow the demons that made her the writer she is today. ‘Shameika’ depicts this early on, as Apple slaps school girl bullies until they are crimson faced. Apple dedicates this track to a tough girl who backed her up after being bullied, telling her that she had ‘Potential’. Something Shameika herself probably doesn’t remember, but Apple does. The verses are sharp depictions of how Apple kept herself entertained at school between the torments of others. The cartooney piano and double bass on this cut feel reminiscent to something Kate Bush might’ve made for ‘The Dreaming’ (1982). It’s incredibly playful in the most bats way.
The title cut, ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ follows. Documenting how mental health shaped her since school. Apple remarks on how she wishes to have been less of a people pleaser. Shut your eyes and tell me Apple doesn’t phrase the title as ‘Vegetable Cutters’ rather than ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’. As if her emotions were only there to be canned and presented mass market style. There’s no doubt in this being a deliberate easter egg, especially if you think of the marketing of Apple’s first music video. The drums and double bass dominate, booming high in the mix. Towards the end, the skeletal cut grows rawer as Apple’s dogs start barking in the background. Talk about not giving a damn. It has only taken Apple 24 years to achieve this level of punk aesthetic.
Apple’s depiction of upper class, and celebrity culture drives a steak through the heart. ‘Under The Table’ lyrically presents Apple at a dinner party with a manipulative boyfriend. She doesn’t want to be there due to peoples upper class braggadociousness, but has been dragged anyway. She claims that her boyfriend can try all he wants, but she will still speak her mind as it is part of her persona. ‘Kick me under the table all you want. I won’t shut up‘ simpers Apple. As the track builds, her vocals grow more angry until she is about to drop everything and scream. The piano contrasts the stark lyrics, being incredibly playful and major routed.
This lyrical method is more vivid still on ‘Relay’. A track based around tribal percussion that is almost rap music. Apple takes honest, and daring bites at modern society. She roars “I resent you presenting your life like a fucking propaganda brouchure”. Here nailing the coffins on social media influencers. Singing from the perspective of instagram scrollers. The rest of the track is based around a hypnotic phrase: ‘Evil is a relay sport where the one who’s burnt turns to pass the torch’. Apple keeps this nonrepetitive with spectacular drum patterns that drive the phrase into the head well and truly. Alongside these amazing dissonant violins.
It wouldn’t be a Fiona Apple album without some bitter love songs. They aren’t absent here. Look at ‘Rack Of His’. A track where Apple delivers some clever and sneering wordplay about her ex-boyfriend’s rack of guitars waiting to be played. Exactly how his collection of lovers are. The track ‘Newspaper’ follows. A song dedicated to her ex boyfriends new partner. Apple muses on what lying picture has been painted of her to his new sweetheart. Before treating her in the same, abusive way. It’s really well thought out. I can’t think of many love songs from this perspective.
Later in the tracklist is ‘Heavy Balloon’. A great number about depression. It reminds me of something off a later Tom Waits album. I think it’s in the percussion and bizzare phrasing about the devil and gardening. A spectacular song. Past its great lyrical content, Apple builds some beautiful backing vocals that make its own instrument here. The guitars are a pleasant surprise, and the bass is tasty. Maybe the best track on the album. Though a tough stretch. Then there’s the extremely potent, politically raging ‘For Her’. A track that sounds like it’s about the 2017 Mark Judge accusations of rape. It is incredibly powerful, and needs no more than Apple’s vocals and drums to do it justice.
If there’s anything to criticize I think some of the songs could potentially be cut down a few minutes. The repetition on a track like ‘Ladies’ can become tiresome at the end. While if it were a 3 minute concise track, it’d be more gratifying. The comical lyrics, and wailing wurlitzer are brilliant, making these flaws only minute. If anything the track is reminiscent of Apple’s work on ‘Extraordinary Machine‘ (2005). It’s nice to hear the throwback. Likewise with the repetitious and slightly forgettable closer ‘On I Go’, which does little more than serve its purpose as closer. It feels almost as if Apple couldn’t think of a track to combine all of her emotions into one. A shame when this is a really bold statement of an album. One that sounds nothing like any of her others, and might be a shock to the system. As far as i’m concerned Fiona Apple has added a 5th consistently great album to her catalogue. Crack open the beverages and get bitter. This is a gem. Give it time to sink in and you may agree that it’s her best project yet.
Standout Songs: ‘Shameika’ , ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’, ‘Under The Table’, ‘Relay’, Newspaper’, ‘Heavy Balloon’, ‘Cosmonauts’, ‘For Her’