On April 17, Fiona Apple released her first full-length record in eight years, and the world collectively wept. Upon listening to the first track, it’s very opening notes, I knew immediately that this record would open up my stitches and pour salt into those unearthed wounds.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the closest to being a true “cultural reset” as anything I’ve personally ever come across. I can imagine that it’ll be listed among a future list of best records of the millennium (note: the album received one of the first perfect 10s Pitchfork has doled out in nearly a decade). For women everywhere, it’s an especially vital listen; there’s a spattering of insight throughout that stays with you long after your first listen.
The record is sinuous, intercut with surreal imagery, heart-wrenching symbolism, and backtracked by effortlessly intoxicating instrumentals, further proving Apple’s musical prowess. She incorporates unique percussive instruments from wooden blocks, oilcans, and even her beloved dog Janet’s bones (which, as odd as that may be, seems fitting); she channels a wide range of styles and sounds, making the record sound all the more eclectic as it progresses. Ultimately, us listeners are left with a large number of minor intricacies to uncover and digest.
“I Want You To Love Me” introduces the record’s unslick exterior — Apple’s vocals aren’t clean-cut against the roaring keys; they’re raw, wavering, and scratchy, evident of the fact that with each word, she’s exerting everything she has. In the past almost decade since beginning this project, it’s clear that she’s drained herself physically and emotionally.
With “On I Go” and “Relay” marching drums stomp, evident of the angst these tracks express. “I’d love to get up in your face,” Apple expresses on the latter, contributing to the track’s pent up rage. On “Shameika” — one the album’s strongest tracks in which she addresses a former classmate — she layers erratic keys on top of static overdubs that, for lack of a better description, sound like a computer melting down or water from an overflowing pot sizzling on a stove top. Apple’s never been one to follow convention, and that’s part of what makes her so compelling. You’re on the edge of your seat as the tracklist unfolds, waiting to see what she’s got up her sleeve next.
A recent feature story from The New Yorker shows Fiona Apple in the thick of the album’s recording process in her former bedroom-turned-recording studio at her home in Venice Beach. Throughout this feature, a distinct image of Fiona Apple as not only an artist, but Fiona Apple as a sister, an aunt, a dog-lover, and a jokester forms. You’re able to feel closer to her, and closer to the album as a whole. It feels as though you’re sat there with her dog, Mercy (who has a feature on the record’s third track, alongside Cara Delevigne’s dogs, Leo and Alfie), watching her every move and taking in every dolphin sound (a la “I Want You To Love Me”).
That sense of proximity has been present throughout Apple’s entire career: she’s never been shy about expressing the inner workings of her mind, and this record is a continuation of that openness. She’s unapologetic and without shame in the moments in which she lets the public into her world. For the past few years since her last release, though, we haven’t seen much of her, and for good reason.
“Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” the record’s title, is a reference to a scene in ‘The Fall’ (a British police drama for which Gillian Anderson stars as a sex-crimes investigator); Anderson’s character calls out the phrase after finding a locked door to a room where a girl has been tortured. In some metaphorical sense, it’s as if Apple sees, or at least saw, herself as that girl, locked away and waiting for release from a hell that she can’t shake. With the track of the same name, Apple insists that she’s “been waiting too long” to open up in this capacity, but largely because she felt as though she couldn’t do so without backlash. She’s felt forced to “wear shoes she couldn’t fill,” making it impossible for her to “run up that hill.”
Apple’s reference to Kate Bush’s classic 1985 track—in which the singer pleads with God to trade places — makes a massive amount of sense considering her personal struggles with power. As an outspoken, liberated young woman entering the music industry, the climate she has endured for much of her career has been unforgiving and often cruel. Early on, she conjured an enigmatic air due to her strained relationship with the public eye, largely spurred with the release of her provocative “Criminal” music video and her acceptance speech at the 1997 MTV VMAs in which she announced that “this world is bullshit.”
Apple’s candor has always been a point of contention since she’s been uncensored in speaking about anything from her experiences living with mental illness to the sexual violence she’s endured. For that reason, her “brand” has been shrouded in drama, instability, and intrigue, and the widespread media has taken no liberties in marking her as another one of their punching bags; another “difficult woman” they could make a mockery out of. Likely, that’s had a detrimental effect on Apple, and that may be why it took her so long to come out with a new record.
Emerging with Fetch the Bolt Cutters, though, it’s clear that Apple is no longer willing to let these sorts of criticisms stop her from speaking her truth. Track “Under the Table” is blunt and pointed in the vein of addressing the crap she’s faced since the very beginning, urging anyone from industry execs to critics to even the public to try to fuck with her for, no matter what, she “won’t shut up.” She repeats this phrase heavily, as if she feels like she has to in order for people to actually take her seriously—like her request hasn’t been respected before.
Via this record, it’s clear that Apple has been able to find some relief and a sense of rebirth. With tracks such as this, she’s reintroducing herself to the world with a fuck-all attitude and a refusal to stand down. “I’ve been sucking it in so long, that I’m busting at the seams,” she half sings, half yells on track “Heavy Balloon,” expressing how tired she is of dealing with the bullshit she’s had to endure for so much of her life. Now, she’s fed up, and justifiably so.
In a similar sense, this record serves as a means to express her emotions concerning what she’s endured in her personal and romantic life; here, we see Apple at her most vulnerable.
“Newspaper,” for example, chimes in with rattling drums and haunting melodies (contributed by Apple’s sister, Amber). “We were cursed the moment that he kissed us / From then on, it was his big show,” Apple laments, addressing another woman who has fallen victim to her ex-abusive partner. Speaking from a place of insight, she urges her peer not to put up with his torment anymore, as she likely wishes someone had warned her when she was in their position.
Similarly, “Rack of His” is sultry and cool, as if Apple is looking back on an old relationship and almost laughing at how in love she had been considering the knowledge she has now. On occasions such as this, she’s a 70s New York beatnik, spitting brash commentaries on life’s cruelties and scumbags gone by.
Other times, she’s a lovelorn poet, reminiscing on the past with a newfound sense of clarity and frustration. With “Drumset,” she repeatedly asks, “Why did you take all away?,” addressing an ex-lover who snuck away with her drumset (whether metaphorical or literal). As the track ends, her voice shakes, as if she’s mourning not only the relationship and what it did to her emotionally, but also that lost instrument.
That reflective voice continues with “For Her,” an utterly HEAVY track in which Apple confronts her rapist, and “Relay” in which she ponders on her assault and the fact that she never really got closure after being burned. In having the bravery to write about such deeply personal events and emotions, you can’t help but applaud her; it’s a HUGE thing to be able to find solace in the aftermath of trauma, let alone let the world know that you’re in the process of trying to heal. As expressed with this track, she’s tired of seeing people pretend that they’re completely okay (who present their lives “like a fucking propaganda brochure”) because, overwhelmingly, we’re all dealing with shit and it shouldn’t be so taboo to talk about it.
I sometimes think about that Joe McNally portrait of Apple: in it, she’s dressed head-to-toe in armor and clutching a sword to her chest amidst the passengers of a crowded subway car. She has a knowing, soul-piercing look on her face, as if she’s mentally preparing for the possibility of a joust of some kind. Throughout her life, she’s consistently had to fight and she has the battle scars to prove it, as this record makes note of. Despite the fact that she’s been through the ringer and has experienced unimaginable pain and unfiltered apocalypse, however, she’s never backed down and her willingness to speak is a sign of that.
The tagline of Apple’s 1998 Rolling Stone cover story reads: “One minute, she was a waif. The next, a killer bitch. But maybe, she’s just a young girl with talent, problems, and an addiction to telling the truth.” Either way, I can’t help but find myself bowing at her altar with Fetch the Bolt Cutters on repeat, trying to embody some of the badass energy she radiates.