Fiona Apple’s fifth studio album challenges musical production and social norms
Fiona Apple, the 42-year-old singer-songwriter and pianist, has released an album for the current moment. Released in a post-MeToo era, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is restless and expresses a distinct feminine rage that only Apple could deliver.
Always the prophet, Apple has been writing angsty piano ballads since she was a teenager. From her 1996 debut Tidal to her latest record, Apple masterfully articulates raw emotion clearly and freely. Do not let the frantic tones of this album fool you though, she expertly plays with the notion that emotional women are hysteric. She switches from primal screams to soft whispers with ease, and the anger she expresses is mostly delivered in a way that feels composed. She sings about the universal ills women experience in a way that cannot be ignored or dismissed.
The songs on Fetch the Bolt Cutters aren’t just examples of musical ingenuity— they are pieces of sonic art. Apple’s music on this album is textural and unique, rejecting clean production and traditional aesthetics to create sounds that are better suited for a messy, unclean reality. It sounds nothing like any conventional pop playing on the radio today with unpredictable song structures and eclectic sounds, like dog barks at the end of the titular track. It is an unruly and uncontainable album in the best way possible. Some songs are more akin to going to church than going to a concert, like in “Relay” when Apple repeats the chorus (“Evil is a relay sport when the one who’s burned turns to pass the torch”) over and over, because they make you feel transcendent.
The running theme in Fetch the Bolt Cutters, in Apple’s own words to Vulture, is “breaking out of whatever prison you’ve allowed yourself to live in.” The album is a rallying cry for women to reject the norms that have confined them. The lyrics throughout the album encourage women to support and protect each other from the men who have sought to pit them against one another. In “Newspaper,” Apple sings to her former lover’s new woman, “I wonder what lies he’s telling you about me to make sure that we’ll never be friends” and throughout “Ladies,” she speaks very kindly and directly to the women who loved her ex after her.
You get the feeling throughout Fetch the Bolt Cutters that this album was not made for your pleasure, although it is an incredibly pleasurable listen. It was created by Apple for Apple in order for her to best express the unrest and trauma she has experienced her whole life as well as her thoughts about the world she lives in. As she sings in the opening track, “I know none of this will matter in the long run. But I know a sound is still a sound around no one.” Fetch the Bolt Cutters, regardless of its critical and commercial success thus far, would still be an incredibly potent expression of humanity and emotion if Apple had kept it to herself. Luckily for us, she has shared this masterpiece with us, and it deeply resonates with anyone who has ever thought, as Apple did early in her career during the 1997 MTV VMAs, that this world was “bullsh*t.”