Album Review: Fetch the Boltcutters- Fiona Apple
Bryony Gooch reviews Fiona Apple’s bold new album.
In an interview with Vulture, Apple discussed the core message of Fetch the Bolt Cutters concisely: “Fetch the f*cking bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation that you’re in — whatever it is that you don’t like.”
It goes without saying that it is a claustrophobic time to be alive. Events such as the Australian bushfires, conflict in Iran and the impeachment trials of Donald Trump alone feel like they might better define a decade than they should a year. But here we are, amid a global pandemic, in a lockdown that feels as though life as we knew it has been put on pause. And at times it is hard to see the world becoming better. In Fetch the Bolt Cutters, I found both respite and clarity, as Apple hints that there is something far better round the corner from the current situation you are stuck in.
From the beginning, the ever-changing motion of life is made clear: “I’ve waited many years, every print I left upon the track has led me here/ and next year it’ll be clear this was only leading me to that”. You can feel stuck in a rut, and find a moment of difference, and next thing you know once again everything will have changed – it’s one of life’s novelties, more succinctly explored in the very first lines of ‘I Want You To Love Me’. Apple moves “with the trees in the breeze and I know that time is elastic”. The acceptance that change is natural and inexplicable somehow feels wiser coming from her lips among a rolling piano that moves into the rumbling, street-smart ‘Shameika’ which, quite frankly, slapped. It hit a little closer than it should have. From the disinterest in school, the ode to one person believing in you in the face of bullies, and to recognising what exactly is important to her: “my dog and my man and my music is my holy trinity.” Her frankness in the face of an audience with high expectations, critics – the entire music industry really – warms you.
Apple maintains her usual rawness with a kick of humour; she looks us right in the eye as she sings “I would beg to disagree, but begging disagrees with me” on ‘Under The Table’. It is one razor-sharp line in a series of intelligent songs.
Fiona Apple is the smartest person in the room, no doubt, taking you on a trip through stormy tumbles of piano and percussion, and quite frankly you’re grateful to be along for the ride.
While it would be cheesy to suggest that Apple marches to the beat of her own drum, her reliance on percussion feels confident. Take ‘For Her’, which begins with syncopated claps and changes into an evolving drum pattern that underlines her acapella vocals. The song is stripped to its visceral story of sexual assault; her voice is layered over itself as if to represent the many women who have experienced the same nightmarish experience. It is disarming to listen to, maze-like in its repeated lines. ‘Drumset’ repeats itself as well with the alarming accuracy of a mental echo-chamber. The verse reads like your midnight monologue, obsessively lingering on the phrase “Why did you not want to try? / Why did you take it all away?” The line summarises post-breakup blues, clinging to the question of why things didn’t work out.
And yet the final song, ‘On I Go’, moves from such ruminations on the past into a future even she can’t quite imagine: “Up until now in a rush to prove/But now I only move to move.” Apple chants the same four lines like a mantra over a clash of percussion and the odd guitar strum. But don’t take this as your average plea to “stay in the present”. Apple’s tone modulates throughout and at one point she seemingly gets tired of the chant – or lost – “f*ck, sh*t” she mutters. As she has fun with the simplicity of the song, there is a sense that she’s going to do whatever she wants from now on, if she didn’t make that clear to you on the rest of the album.
And what I took away from the album was perhaps just as simple:
When Fiona Apple says “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”, take that as permission to make a break for it.