Artists often make their worst music when they feel rushed to release their music and, pressured to produce a number one hit. It makes sense then, that Fiona Apple has never given in to that pressure. When listening to ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’, it becomes immediately clear that Apple isn’t writing music for anyone else but herself – she doesn’t care about making music that will chart well or please critics (though this album did achieve much critical acclaim). In ‘Bolt Cutters’, Apple takes numerous daring risks that few other artists would dare take, yet – amazingly – every risk pays off. The feral shrieks, elongated outros, dog barks and untraditional song structures are all roaring successes. Apple’s fifth album is chaotic, deeply authentic, and undeniably unique. In it, Apple firmly establishes herself as one of the greatest living songwriters and proves that unlike many of her peers who came to fame in the 90s, her music has only gotten better and more insightful with time.
The album’s first track – ‘I Want You To Love Me’ – begins with a short DIY-style introduction, before transitioning into a slower piano instrumental. The song preaches a philosophy of radical acceptance; exploring how Apple’s actions in life have led her to where she is today, and how she’ll gain perspective in the future on events that don’t currently make sense (“next year, it’ll be clear / This was only leading me to that”). In an interview with Vulture, Apple said the song came about as a result of an extended period of meditation; during which she says she discovered “what life and death” is. In ‘I Want You To Love Me’, Apple seems to have come to terms with the prospect of death, singing, “And I know when I go / All my particles disband and disperse / And I’ll be back in the pulse”. (Apple has said ‘the pulse’ refers to a throbbing she experienced during meditation that led her to greater understanding of life and death).
Second track, Shameika, – which focuses on a real-life classmate of Apple’s who told her she “had potential” – is one of the more accessible tracks on the album, while the next track, named after the albums’ title, is an empowered anthem focused on “breaking out of whatever prison you’ve allowed yourself to live in” (Apple).
Fourth track – based on a real-life dinner where Apple called out someone for being offensive – declares, “kick me under the table all you want / I won’t shut up”. While, fifth track ‘Relay’ contains perhaps the most iconic lyric of the album: “Evil is a relay sport / When the one who’s burned / Turns to pass the torch.” Apple says she wrote this lyric back when she was 15 (she’s 42 now), and that it was influenced by her being raped at 12 years old.
‘Ladies’ – a bold feminist anthem about not pitting women against each other – is a standout on the album, while ‘For Her’ is one of the most sombre songs on the album, containing the lyric: “You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.” Apple said of this lyric:
“Even though it’s an awkward thing to say in a song — “You raped me” — some people need to say it out loud in order to understand that’s what happened to them. And my hope is that maybe some women and men will be able to sing along with that line and allow it to tell the truth for them. Because sometimes it’s just really hard to say, especially if you don’t want to hurt the person who did it to you. It’s hard to say something that harsh about it.”Fiona Apple to Vulture
What shines through on ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ is Apple’s authenticity. Many artists espouse principles that they don’t live up to themselves, but every lyric on this album seems true to Apple’s life. In ‘Relay’, Apple warns against perpetuating a cycle of destruction and in her real life she has done this by processing the trauma of her rape through music rather than through taking her anger out on others. Meanwhile, Apple lived up to her message of female unity on ‘Ladies’ by being “nice” to the woman who Apple’s boyfriend was cheating on her with. It’s refreshing to find an artist who practices what they preach.
Fetch The Bolt Cutters is uniquely bizarre – even by the standards of Apple; who’s never been one to play by the rules. The title track – nearly five minutes in length – has an over one minute long outro that consists of Apple repeating the same phrase over and over again until her vocals fade out; at which point there is a 50 second instrumental, which consists of heavy breathing and irregular dog barking. In fact, her four dogs – Mercy, Maddie, Leo and, Alfie – have between 3-5 song credits each on the album. Even the bones of Apple’s deceased dog, Janet, were used as an instrument for the album.
As Pitchfork said of the album, “no music has ever sounded quite like it”. Instead of trying to tame a chaotic mind, Apple replicates this chaos in her fifth and finest album; breaking nearly every rule of music in the process. Every impulse and desire of Apple’s is indulged on this album; no shriek, no bark, no heavy breath is cut out of the album. Before listening to ‘Bolt Cutters’ I was convinced the perfect album would never exist; even my favourite albums – the ones I’ve listened to again and again and again – were clearly imperfect. In ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’, the entire album is perfection; everything works effortlessly. It was a long eight-year wait for this album, but it was worth every second of waiting. We’ll be lucky if we hear anything as good as ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ in the rest of our lifetimes, let alone in the rest of this year and decade.
A special thanks to Vulture for their in-depth interview with Apple which revealed much of the context behind ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’