‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ has been Fiona Apple’s longest-gestating album yet. The native New Yorker, who last released a record in 2012 (‘The Idler Wheel…’), clearly feels little pressure to churn out music for the sake of it. Has eight years been worth the wait?
The short answer: hell yes. Those enamoured by the Grammy Award-winning musician’s vivid lyricism and erratic, jazzy piano pop will naturally find much to love about her fifth album, which expands on the percussive thrust Apple experimented with on ‘The Idler Wheel…’ She’s shifted further away from the piano-voice-lyrics triptych of her previous work and towards DIY drums, double bass patters and choral chants. It feels certain to welcome in a new audience.
This time there’s a more untamed fierceness in Apple’s voice as she relays tales of feminism, abusive partners, the sacrifices of love and the dinner parties she won’t be quiet at. Unrefined sounds recorded in, and using, her LA home make for a visceral listening experience.
‘For Her’ is an a capella song Apple wrote after the 2018 nomination hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh who’d been accused of sexual assault. Apple, a child rape survivor, layers her voice to create a militant army of angry female voices rallying against being disbelieved. It lands a devastating blow at the apex: “Well good morning, good morning / You raped me in the same bed / Your daughter was born in”. The warm, bluesy choral harmonies that unfurl belie the horror at the lyric’s core.
Repeated refrains are central to the album’s power. “Evil is a relay sport / When the one who’s burned turns to pass the torch”, Apple chants on album centrepiece ‘Relay’. It’s a ferocious five-minute loop of vocals, claps and double bass string scrapes that drill home Apple’s wisdom on wrongdoing. ‘Under The Table’ spotlights her celebrated defiant attitude (remember when, at the 1997 VMA Awards, she accepted Best New Artist by declaring that “this world is bullshit”?). “Kick me under the table all you want / I won’t shut up”, she snarls over shuffling jazz beats and sprightly keys.
‘I Want You To Love Me’ revels in the vulnerability of crazed love. Apple runs doubled octaves up and down while stringed instruments strike sharply and drums pop. The homemade drum orchestra of ‘Newspaper’ carries a tidal wave of female fury unleashed about an abusive partner. “It makes me feel close to you”, Apple sings, seemingly of the camaraderie she feels for her ex’s new girlfriend – also a victim.
‘Heavy Balloon’, an atmospheric number that embodies the unremitting nature of Apple’s depression, arrives towards the end of the album. The medium is the message; she layers on thick textures – all darting guitars, synth drones and skulking beats. “People like us we play with a heavy balloon / We keep it up to get the devil away / But it always falls too soon”, she sings, her lyrics as sharp as ever.
‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ will cut straight to the gut for Apple fans old and new and leave behind indelible messages about her life and illustrious career, now spanning two decades. It’s an intoxicating listen – and one of her best.
Release date: March 17
Record label: Epic