REVIEW: Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

A lot of (digital) ink has already been spilled for Fiona Apple’s 5th album Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

In less than one month since its official release, the album has been universally lauded as Apple’s creative peak by fans and critics alike and make no mistake about it… Fetch the Bolt Cutters will dominate end of year polls for its creativity, experimentation and lyricism, as well as for its #MeToo and female empowerment connotations.

I have personally never been a big fan of Apple’s music. I respected The Idler Wheel… for its musicality and high-art concepts, but found it unwelcoming. Impenetrable. I couldn’t get close to it.

Well in Fetch, Fiona Apple finally opens up. She spreads the concertina doors of her Venice Beach home wide open. We meet her 5 dogs whose barks pepper many of the songs in this album. We visit her kitchen and listen to her playing drums with utensils in “Newspaper” and “Relay”. I imagine Apple’s home studio having spread like strawberries into her living room and I conjure up images of myself on a little stool next to her, drumming rhythmically on my thighs to “Rack of His”, or screaming backing vocals for “Relay” while she’s vocalising with the knack of a modern day Kate Bush or Diamanda Galas.

With their playful piano and vocals, the album’s first two tracks “I Want You to Love Me” and “Shameika” are reminiscent of Apple’s previous material. But even in these songs there’s a dissonance that warns of what’s to come. From “Under the Table” onwards, there is no piano in sight.

In that sense, Fetch the Bolt Cutters reminds me of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones and Scott Walker’s The Drift. It is an impressive shift for an artist who has been around for over 20 years and has already created her own unique sound. In achieving this, Apple has reached her creative peak 23 years after her debut in 1997.

Although these songs aren’t perfect, there’s true wonder in their rawness.

“Newspaper” (my favourite track) starts with dog barks, random background noises from Apple’s home (including what sounds like Apple asking her dog to shush), and sonic electronics. A scarce rhythm section of clangs, slaps, claps and bass drums forms a dissonant foundation for Apple to lay her vocals. The space that the beat creates starts being filled out by harmonies and backing vocals that bring to mind Bjork’s vocal explorations in Medulla. The tempo changes(!) and Apple’s vocals sound almost off rhythm. Its chaotic result is exhilarating.

She’s exposed, damaged, cracking at the seams and exuding an anger that cannot be contained by customary song structures.

“Heavy Balloon” pulsates with its blues/jazz drum work and rickety instrumentation. Apple’s vocal delivery of the song’s chorus “I spread like strawberries, I climb like peas and beans, I’ve been stuck in it so long, that I’m busting at the seams” is so intense you feel she might physically explode.

Fetch… is a very personal record. Most of these songs portray a woman who has finally found her inner strength. “Kick me under the table all you want I won’t shut up” she repeats with increasing confidence in “Under The Table”, while with a confident calm, Apple forcefully repeats “I need to run up that hill, I will, I will, I will, I will…” in the title track.

This is not a perfect album. Far from it. Some songs feel like snippets; good yet incomplete ideas. But it is the album where Apple finally invites us in. To her home, to her thoughts, to her dreams and anxieties…. And there is real pleasure in that.

Words by Constantine Courtis.

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