There are certain albums that come along that just epitomize the time we are in. These albums can be intensely personal to their creator and yet somehow manage to illuminate the thoughts that so many people are thinking, maybe more apt, feeling at these times. Fiona Apple has made four very special records since her first, Tidal, was released in 1996 when she was only 19. That record went on to fill a void in the musical world at the time and her previous records since have all existed in this perfect space between being something that is very personal to her, her outlet, and her listeners who have taken these albums as a way to use what she was feeling and were able to help contextualize how they were. It’s been eight long years since Apple has released any music and now she has dropped Fetch The Bolt Cutters, an album front to back full of an undeniable passion, so much so that it seems these songs were ones that Apple absolutely needed to get out of her head and into the world. to heal from past traumas and relationships and in turn will allow a legion of fans and listeners to heal from their own. It’s a staggering artistic statement, one that doesn’t come along often, straight from her head and into all of our hearts.
There has been a lot of writing done about how Apple recorded Fetch The Bolt Cutters in her house in Venice Beach, California while figuring out how to use Garage Band and recording on her phone with whatever bits and pieces of musical gear, or otherwise, she found lying around. She has said that there were many times when she didn’t know what she was going to do before she hit record but all this minutiae doesn’t feel very important when discussing the intricacies of the album. It is all so clearly coming from her emotionally, all the beauty and messiness of it creating a picture of a very real human experience. The album kicks off with “I Want You To Love Me”, some keyboard percussion and synth blips before Apple, her voice sounding stronger than ever, starts in on the piano. The song captures right away and in it’s four minutes takes us on an amazing fully realized journey from its initial beauty to a triumphant climax where Apple crescendos her piano onto itself while she shrieks. The song about waiting to meet the next person you will fall in love with and how we all exist whether or not anyone else sees us, plays into itself in the same way it would in your own head. It’s the initial piece on an album full of them that sound the same way you would hear thoughts in your head. It’s dizzying and wondrous and the start of a fully realized journey that lets you peek into Apple’s headspace and one that maybe lets her finally be seen for the first time in a long time.
“Shameika” is a real story of a girl in middle school, who at the time Apple couldn’t figure out if she was a bully or not. One day after Apple was getting flack from a group of kids, this fellow classmate Shameika said to her, the refrain of her song, that Apple has potential. Apple has said before that this time of her life in middle school was very important to her and hearing the song, after so much time has passed, you do get the sense that this is something that is very healing for Apple and that definitely comes through to the listener. The albums namesake “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” is what Apple says exemplifies that main thesis of the album. “What it’s about is not being afraid to speak”, she has explained in a prior interview. “But it’s more than that. It’s about breaking out of whatever prison you’ve allowed yourself to live in, whether you built that prison for yourself or whether it was built around you and you just accepted it. The message in the whole record is just: Fetch the fucking bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation that you’re in — whatever it is that you don’t like.” The song featuring Cara Delevingne on backup vocals and an array of puppies barking is an empowering and often beautiful dive in to finally be able to speak up for yourself, whatever that situation may mean for you. Apple had put together a band to help her with the album including David Garza, Amy Aileen-Wood and Sebastian Steinberg but it should be noted that her home is a looming character all through the album. The production is so roomy and with all that is going on all over the album, bit and bobs of percussion flying around, handclaps, the aforementioned dog barking, it all sounds so cohesive and a lot of that it feels is because of the space that it all seems to exist in. It provides a specific sound, and intimacy and sprawl at the same time.
In fact, during this time when we are all quarantined away from whatever it was your life had been, Fetch The Bolt Cutters parallels our shared experience in this moment. Here is an album made by an artist, who herself had been quarantined literally and figuratively over the last eight years while she tried to figure out what her next steps were, what her relationships both romantic (“Rack Of His”) and with other women (“Ladies”) and how to deal with so much past trauma including abuse (“The Relay”). Apple spent her time exploring her home as a physical manifestation of her head. Wandering the rooms and halls and getting out what ever it was she needed too even at times when she didn’t even know what that was. There are very few artists that are able to just hit record without any idea of what they are going to do next and Apple’s interesting approach to the creation of this album shows what a truly amazing talent she is. Fetch The Both Cutters is one of the rare records that is a true artistic statement that also stands to affect every single person that listens to it because there is so much to relate here. Fiona Apple has crafted an exciting, messy, funny and beautiful record that mirrors the excitement, messiness, humour and beauty locked up in all our heads and all our hearts.
review by Adam Fink