Album: Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters review

by Jess Shepherd

From the 1996 pop stylings of her debut, Tidal, through to the Free Fiona fan campaign of the early 00s – when it was alleged Sony were refusing to release what was to become Extraordinary Machine – Fiona Apple’s music has come a really, really long way. Or maybe it’s just that she has made really significant progress towards the centre of herself and the music she wants to create.

It’s hard not to hear Fetch the Bolt Cutters as the climactic arc of a journey and the natural next step of an intensely personal voyage – and even harder to remember that all this progress has been made in a mere five albums spanning two decades. Apple’s previous album The Idler Wheel… was so exhausting for the listener that it felt only fair to forgive the seven years it took for her to release it. But, eight years on, on Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Apple appears to have reached a newfound, and rock-solid equilibrium. No, it’s not accessible – it requires a lot of its listeners – but it rewards them more richly than any other Apple album for their investment.

There’s the typical flourishes anyone familiar with Apple’s back catalogue has come to expect: notes held way beyond their expiry date, rhythms that are reminiscent of military marching bands, near-constant key changes, and entirely unexpected background noises. But where sometimes in the past these have felt faintly theatrical, there’s not a wasted moment on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. For such a wildly meandering and unpredictable album that features guest vocalists as disparate as Cara Delevigne and Apple’s dogs, it’s perfectly and tightly edited.

It’s not a comfortable or easy listen by any stretch. It’s impossible to know what will happen in the next bar of any given song, let alone on the next track. This is jarring, but gloriously so. Unlike on some previous outings, there’s not a single transition or jolt to a new rhythm or key that doesn’t, somehow, make sense.

Lyrically, it is dense and often difficult to decipher. But Apple’s trademark wry wit shines through stronger than ever, perhaps because of, rather than in spite of, the forbidding musical landscape. I can’t remember ever breaking into a knowing chuckle while listening to an album for the first time, but here every song raised a smile. That’s no easy feat for an album that positively simmers with quiet rage, and is in no small part due to the massive, worldly themes she tackles head on – from resistance to oppression, to emotional labour – that are a far cry from the deeply introspective and personal, almost coded lyrics on previous albums. Here, she’s petulant and determined. ‘Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up’ from Under the Table, and ‘I resent you for never getting any opposition at all’ from Relay, are both instantly relatable and yet feel totally and authentically drawn from her own experiences. Even the darkest moments – ‘You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in’ from For Her – are offset with chirpy, Debbie Reynolds-esque ‘Good morning!’ trills.

It’d be easy to lose sight of the simple brilliance of this album among the hype and critical acclaim it’s received. It’d also be easy – too easy, even lazy – to say this is a statement album for the post #MeToo era, or the ideal introspective soundtrack to a global lockdown. But Fiona Apple has understood the importance of the voice of women, and of spending time with yourself – even the ugly, unforgiving parts of yourself – long before this album’s release. It is, somehow, the perfect balance of rawness and polish, of rage and quiet, and of looking deeply inward and gazing steadfastly out. Even its origins seem prescient – the majority was recorded at Apple’s home using GarageBand, long before she could have known that it would be released into a world that is mostly housebound. While we’re all spending more time with ourselves than ever before, the queen of introversion’s return has never felt so timely.

Secret Meeting score: 92

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