Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Album Review: Fiona Apple - Fetch The Bolt Cutters

Fiona Apple
Fetch The Bolt Cutters
****and1/2 out of *****

It’s hard to say anything that hasn’t already been said about Fiona Apple’s first album in eight years, Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Has an album ever been so perfectly timed, been so prescient, encompassed so perfectly everything about this particular cultural moment? Probably, but I can’t think of one.

Before we were all making our own on-the-nose pandemic playlists, Fiona Apple wrote a song with the lyrics “Fetch the bolt cutters/I’ve been in here too long.” She used household items as percussion instruments before we were all banging pots and pans. Her dogs were providing backing vocals before I started working side-by-side with my cat. Beyond quarantine, though, the raw emotional power that rises and bubbles throughout Fetch the Bolt Cutters is what makes it so right, so righteous, for the world we’re living in.

Before giving way to the syncopation, the clanging and banging, the barking (all of which is great, by the way), the album starts off more musically, almost whimsically, opening with a piano-based song, “I Want You to Love Me.” That leads into “Shameika,” a story song about a girl from Apple’s middle school days, who inspired Apple with confidence by telling her that she had potential. 

The album as a whole has a very musical (as in Broadway) sensibility to it, which I love. A later track, “For Her,” bridges the two overarching musical styles of the album, from the theatrical to the percussive primal, taking the line “Good mornin’, good mornin’” from Babes in Arms and Singin’ in the Rain and pairing it with the lyric, “You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.”

Apple delivers this line like thunder. “For Her” was recorded soon after the Kavanaugh hearings, and it’s appropriately scorching. “Maybe she spent her formative years/Dealing with his contentious fears/And endless jeers at her endless tears.” The Kavanaugh stuff was traumatic for a lot of women (me, my friends, my mother, nearly every woman I know, and I am just one person), and that trauma stings like bleach in a wound every time I see that man’s doughy garbage pail kid face. Her rage is palpable and real, and it’s cathartic as hell.

Apple’s anger at bad and mediocre men comes through on another standout track, “Newspaper,” in which she sings to the new partner of her ex, “I wonder what lies he’s telling you about me/To make sure that we’ll never be friends.” To be a woman and not be in an all-consuming rage every second of the day is a miracle of cognitive dissonance, and anger could consume the entire album, too, but it doesn’t. She’s able to step back and view other men with amused detachment. In “Rack of His,” about a boyfriend, she sings, “Check out that rack of his/Look at that row of guitar necks/Lined up like eager fillies/Outstretched like legs of Rockettes.” In “Ladies,” Apple croons, “Ladies, ladies, ladies, ladies,” with a tongue-in-cheek mock mansplainy vibe.

Apple’s songs speak to my soul. She’s mad; she’s funny; she’s romantic; she’s defiant. It was 22 years ago when she accepted a VMA by saying, “This world is bullshit!” and her defiance is still her signature. “Under the Table” is not only anthemic--”Kick me under the table all you want/I won’t shut up/I won’t shut up”--but it’s also super catchy. That ability to be defiant, to be livid, but to also be funny, and to create music that manages to be raw and primal and catchy and poppy and operatic and Sondheim-eque (one of the highest compliments I can give) is just so impressive. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is that good. It’s not an easy listen, but it is the quintessential music of the moment. Fiona Apple was and still is right. This world is bullshit. Fetch the motherfucking bolt cutters!
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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