By: Amanda McMillan
Fiona Apple is not for everyone, nor do I think that she has ever wanted to be. Fans of hers will likely, for the most part, be quite pleased with her newest release Fetch the Bolt Cutters which comes to us eight years since her last release, and nearly a quarter-century since her single “Criminal” became somewhat of an angsty anthem. In true Fiona Apple style, Fetch the Bolt Cutters does not hold back: it’s brought to you by a woman who has demons, who’s failed as much as she’s succeeded, and who has not finished doing the work of healing wounds, both self-inflicted and otherwise. It is not an album for someone looking to have a “good time,” unless, of course, your idea of a good time includes openly weeping or destroying something beautiful. Apple, now in her early forties, doesn’t seem to have softened over the years as many artists with similar career paths do. But that’s never been her M.O. She’s not here to make us feel better all the time, she’s just here to make us feel something.
Musically, this album is eccentric at best and chaotic at worst. It’s filled with sounds, some of which is simply just noise. It is raw, and exposed, perhaps even a little uncomfortable to listen to. The piano and double bass help things feel warmer when they would otherwise be cold, and chirping melodies and harmonies bring us back when it feels like we’re about to spin out just trying to follow along. Yet, nothing is without thought or precision, even the ambient sounds seem carefully placed. After all, you’re not lauded as one of the most prolific songwriters of a generation without knowing exactly what you’re doing. Apple takes us on a very intentional journey throughout the album, not necessarily leaving any breadcrumbs to retrace steps or allow for some sort of pattern or map to be drawn. She may be a Virgo, but that doesn’t mean she’s ever going to let us in on the plan.
Thematically, this is an extremely heavy album. Based on the name alone, it’s easy to know off the bat that this is about opening up, and she opens waaay the fuck up. Fetch the Bolt Cutters sheds light on the weighty process of unpacking trauma, uncovering memories by pulling at threads and following the sinews of your own mind. It’s spooky, dark, and weird. At moments you want to look away, but she makes you watch. It’s certainly captivating, even when it feels unkempt. But that’s the thing about being a human, and certainly, one who has experienced trauma, it’s not exactly cute. This album is a lot of things - peculiar, fascinating, abstract, angry, feminine, raw, exposed - but one thing it is not is cute.
Fiona Apple occupies a very special place in a lot of people’s hearts, like striking a match to create light and warmth amid total and complete darkness. She is a reminder, sometimes a forceful one, that we are all human, we are all fallible, we all have the capacity to be many things; tender and tough, powerful and powerless, to grow and to shrink. We are complex and incomplete. That’s a lot for an artist to give.
If there is a desire to do anything after listening to this album, whether you’re a fan or not, it is indeed to unleash or uncage what’s trapped inside. This is not a particularly pretty process, it is uniquely painful and confusing and raw. It made me wonder if previous drafts of the album title were less polite, perhaps even as urgent as “Fetch the Motherfucking Bolt Cutters!” Something very clearly has got to get out. Given the intensity of this album, Fiona Apple seems to suggest that there is an animal inside all of us, and it is ready to be freed.