Fetch the Bolt Cutters review: Fiona Apple’s fifth studio album is cathartic, unfeigned and utterly unique

By the time Fetch the Bolt Cutters is through its 52-minute run time, the listener comes out restored – as Fiona Apple has purged herself of her feelings and taken us along on the journey.

Aatish Nath April 24, 2020 10:09:28 IST
Fetch the Bolt Cutters review: Fiona Apple’s fifth studio album is cathartic, unfeigned and utterly unique

After the aural assault of seven songs that have preceded it, ‘Ladies’, the eighth track on Fetch the Bolt Cutters, is the palate cleanser you didn’t know you needed. Fiona Apple, who released her fifth studio album last week is in command, demanding your attention as her music weaves and shapes her laser sharp lyrics that manage to be conversational, incisive and yet grounded in Apple’s lived experience. She uses her voice as an instrument — to exhort, muse, rasp, growl and chant — all the while captivating the listener. Before ‘Ladies’, she recognises her mortality and seeks love on album opener ‘I Want You to Love Me’, turns the male gaze back on itself (‘Rack of His’), and celebrates a classmate who “said I had potential” on ‘Shameika’ — to name just three songs.

So, a little-more than halfway through the album, it’s nice to hear Apple, repeat “Ladies, ladies, ladies,” turning the word around in her mouth, letting each repetition find new pockets within and different inflections aloud — serving as a rallying cry for sisterhood (sample lyrics: “When he leaves me, please be my guest/To whatever I mighta left in his kitchen cupboards/In the back of his bathroom cabinets”), over a drum beat that emphasises the spaces in between, like the start of a 1950s big band singalong.

It gives the song the feel of theatre or stage performance, with the music embracing the past while the lyrics point towards a solidarity of sisterhood.

There’s the repetition, to hold the listener’s attention — though this album will do that regardless, but there’s also the freedom that comes from improvisation, a high-wire act which leaves you wondering how long it can be sustained, and if there will be an eventual crash.

Thankfully Apple holds us rapt, and we’re richly rewarded with — a mesmerising album that is full of a propulsive, percussive energy. Before the album ends, she will sing eloquently about depression on ‘Heavy Balloon’ and the weight of relationships on ‘Cosmonauts’, a stand-out on an album full of exceptional songs.

Knowing the contours of Apple’s past adds depth, but even casual music listeners will be thrilled by the naked honesty and lifelong truths that permeate her lyrics. Those who’ve been following Apple through the years know about her struggles with the music industry and before that, her openness about being sexually assaulted when 12. Before the internet gave everyone a voice and movements grew out of hashtags, her unvarnished appraisal of her past and inability to pander to others’ expectations made her difficult in the eyes of those who were seeking a more palatable, polished pop auteur.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters review Fiona Apples fifth studio album is cathartic unfeigned and utterly unique

Fiona Apple. Image via Facebook/@fionaapple

Since her debut Tidal, which was released in 1996, Apple has released only five albums over a 24-year career. Her last, The Idler Wheel… was released eight years ago, and hinted only obliquely at the direction this album would take. On Fetch The Bolt Cutters there’s so much that is fresh — from the imperfections captured on the record, to its reliance on harmonies, improvised instruments, Apple’s breath-taking husky voice, her classical piano skills and even her five pet dogs that are featured on the credits.

Then there’s the world Apple has released the album into, one which is trapped at home (for the most part), forcing us to confront our thoughts, our lives and ourselves as days give way to weeks. In a recent New Yorker profile, Apple admitted to recording the majority of the album in her home, using the technology we carry around in our pockets and on our computers to create this cacophonous celebration.

As Apple sings on ‘Shameika’, “Back then I didn't know what potential meant/And Shameika wasn't gentle and she wasn't my friend but/ She got through to me and I'll never see her again,” it’s exhilarating to see her finally make an album that encompasses her genius — one that’s unapologetic and unwavering. On ‘I Want You to Love Me’, she sings, “And I know none of this will matter in the long run/But I know a sound is still a sound around no one.”

The vitality of Fetch the Bolt Cutters is in its ability to craft new sounds, whether it be the beguiling piano that kicks off the album or the thumps, thwacks and bangs that carry ‘Heavy Balloon’ towards its end. By the time the album is through its 52-minute run time, the listener comes out restored – as Apple has purged herself of her feelings and taken us along on the journey.

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