It’s very rare that Fiona Apple comes around with a new album, but when she does, she makes every moment count. In the 23 years since her debut LP Tidal, Apple has only managed to release music four more times, yet still accumulated millions of sales, a Grammy award and much critical acclaim. Her recently released project, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, comes after an eight-year break, with rejuvenated energy and a further expanding worldview for the 42-year-old singer. The 13-track album was released on April 17 by Epic Records.
Apple opens up the album with the piano-led ballad “I Want You to Love Me,” a song that feels like it should set the tone for the rest of the album’s potentially soft and reflective moods. However, Apple uses this song as a mere diversion, and proceeds to go deeper into experimentation and off-putting tunes, as she has only gotten started. Immediately beginning with the second track, “Shameika,” the album encounters challenging melodies, complex production and consistently high-level songwriting. The song itself is quite witty, detailing the experience Apple came across as a middle schooler with a classmate Shameika who challenged her by simply highlighting that a young Apple had “potential.” She sings, “Back then I didn’t know what potential meant, but Shameika wasn’t gentle and she wasn’t my friend. But she got through to me and I’ll never see her again.”
The production behind Fetch the Bolt Cutters is entirely unique. Apple, who led production on her album for the first time, constructs this project in a way that sounds like it was made in her house on the spot using just about any object around her. This hunch turns out to be accurate, with the production team recording in her home and opting to construct their own surfaces and instruments to play on. Along with that, the sound of a dog barking at random moments on the album are present, adding to the environment-based feel that the project brings. “Newspaper” is a great example of this right in the middle of the album. The song’s beat builds itself together gradually with drums adding on top of each other, and Apple filling in her own background vocals and harmonies. The experience of this album feels like the listener is sitting down with Apple in a small room as she performs the songs to them. The production works perfectly to the album’s advantage and consoles the attitude flaunted in songs.
The songwriting on this album is as great as any this year, if not greater. Apple takes personal topics and experiences she’s heard from friends to make every song special in some way. This time around with her fifth album, Apple is angrier. She wants to make a statement.
The title of the album itself emphasizes this, hinting at her desire to use bolt cutters to break through her chains. On “Relay,” Apple expresses her anger at the privileged men such as Brett Kavanaugh who get away with wrongdoing. She sarcastically says, “I resent you for being raised right. I resent you for being tall. I resent you for never getting any opposition at all. I resent you for having each other. I resent you for being so sure. I resent you presenting your life like a f**king propaganda brochure.”
The album also has slower moments. An example is “Rack of His,” a reflection of Apple’s love for her ex partners that she can’t help even years after the fact. She says, “I gave you pictures and cards on non-holidays, and it wasn’t because I was bored. I followed you from room to room with no attention, and it wasn’t because I was bored. It was because I was loving you so much. It’s the only reason I gave my time to you.” The production behind this track is tricky, giving off an eerie mood as well as one of hope for the future. “Cosmonauts” and “For Her” accomplish similar feats while discussing serious matters like rape and relationships gone wrong.
Overall, Fetch the Bolt Cutters has set the tone for a new decade of music. Using makeshift materials, her house environment and her spectacular voice, Apple was able to construct a great body of work where every song holds a special quality. This album is more than worth a listen, and with multiple listens, proves to be a rewarding adventure into a veteran artist’s mind. Even if it isn’t for you, it is also worth the try.