ALBUM REVIEW: Fiona Apple, Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Updated: Mar 11, 2022
One of the reasons this page was created was to break the cycle of stupid scoring that plagues nearly every music journalism page there is. In 2010, Kanye was a well-established artist who hadn’t made a great work of art in many years, but when he came out with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it got five stars from Rolling Stone and a perfect 10 from Pitchfork. Anthony Fantano must’ve seen the heaps of praise it got, and decided to be very Anti and give it a 6. The 10 for that album was well-deserved. But now in 2020, ten years later, we are seeing that exact cycle repeating. A 10 from jPitchfork and five stars from others, and Fantano gave it a 6. In my opinion, this album is a timeless work of art in certain ways, like it could’ve come out in 2011, 2005 or now and it would sound just as good. However, it has some flaws that prevent it from being perfect and also keep it from living up to Apple’s greater works, but I’ll get into that.
“I Want You To Love Me” is a top five opener of the year. I love how it breezes in, introducing us to Apple’s world like a Noah Bambauch film or something else out of the Criterion Collection. The aesthetic just feels so city-like and warm, I imagine a slow moving shot of a library full of books in a Manhattan brownstone. I love her description that “every print on the track has led me here”, and how beautiful she flows from verse to chorus. It all just feels so romantic, like she is desperately trying to get to someone’s heart. The bass and roaring studio drums add so much weight to everything as well, especially as Apple describes this lover picking her up in the car to “bang it, bite it and bruise it”. Just as she sees potential in this hypothetical love interest, a girl in grade school sees potential in her...
“Shameika” continues the theme of “everything has led me here” that was exemplified so well in the opener. The song is piano led with some crisp studio drums and bass. As the story goes, Apple was bullied in school by the cool girls, and literally a single girl (who Apple describes as “she wasn’t my friend”) named Shameika changes her whole life by saying she may be gifted. Starting with the double time of “my dog, my man and my music is all that I need” and going through a few mens’ descriptions of her, it feels like she’s almost flexing on those kids who treated her like that. She has more than cashed in on her potential, she has a classic discography and has sold out arenas, and coupled with those accolades, the heavy instrumental feels like a middle finger to all those naysayers from back in the day.
“Fetch The Bolt Cutters” serves both as the title track and an accidental quar anthem. During lockdown, I listened to this song nearly every day as I looked out the window. I could almost imagine Apple sitting in her kitchen, banging pots and pans as her dogs and cats walked by to add their two cents; you can even hear a few of them on the track. The album was created from 2012-2020, mostly in self-imposed lockdown, before the pandemic. Everything sounds so ticky tacky, the percussion used by her is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The purpose of the song and the record as a whole, according to Apple, is about finally being able to speak. “I grew up in the shoes they told me I could fill/Shoes that were not made for running up that hill/And I need to run up that hill, I need to run up that hill/I will, I will, I will, I will, I will” is one of the most inspirational lines of the year for sure. As someone that works a day job and does this as a hobby, I feel all that.
“Under The Table” is another song with a similar sentiment, it’s about being loud and proud. It’s the first intro to this toxic boyfriend character who pops up in multiple forms throughout the record. “Kick me under the table, I won’t shut up” she proclaims. I could imagine her at a fancy dinner with powerful executives, “VIPs” and “PYTs” saying something out-of-pocket but true, wine inevitably being thrown in someone’s face. It is a great female expression of freedom. “I would beg to disagree but begging disagrees with me” adds to that theme for sure, especially as the buzzing bass and industrial instrumentation begins to come in. “Rack of His” brings the boyfriend character back, and this song is all about objectification. As is common for her, she takes a common turn of phrase (“Damn look at her rack!”) and flips it on it’s head to serve an opposite purpose. Here, it's an instrument “rack” full of her boyfriend's “guitars” (girls he sleeps with on the side), so when she says “look at that rack of his”, she is moreso referring to the way he objectifies women and treats them like instruments and not people. I love how down-low and homemade the instrumental is, the percussion is a combo of a studio kit and some other thing being banged on the counter, maybe a whisk?
“Newspaper” and “Ladies” are two more great tracks about exes, infidelity, womanizing men, etc. “Newspaper” starts off with the sound of a dog barking, then busts into some metallic industrial soundplay which I like a lot. It’s a song about how she “felt close” and “fell in love” with the woman her boyfriend was cheating on her with. You can tell she was probably gaslit or tempted into the relationship on false pretenses, because there is this secret that lingers, as Fiona says “we are the only ones who know”. The instrumental is full of tons of different clanking sounds and some riverbed cymbals that really add texture and intrigue to it all. “Ladies” has such an annoying start, but develops to become one of my favorite tracks here. I love the upright bass, bright mellotron and country-tinged wurlitzer and how they carry her rapped lyrics about the women revolving around her previous relationship; ex-wives, side chicks and new chicks alike. I don’t know why I always thought it would be funny to have a skit where all the women a man has ever slept with convene in an AA style meeting, but this song would be a perfect soundtrack to that. It’s another weird song about Fiona wanting to be gal-pals with her ex’s new girl, but not wanting to compare herself to them. It all feels very mature in an era where many girls are still crying about their exes and basing their futures off of old relationships that failed.
“Heavy Balloon” switches up the pace, it sounds like something that might’ve fit snuggly with her 90s material. Apple cops one of the more powerful vocal inflections on the entire record too, passionately ruminating about depression and how it traps her and weighs her down quite often. It’s a great song who’s theme of keeping depression inside and not speaking about it works into the overarching “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” escapism narrative. “Cosmonauts'' switches up the pace for the better as well, with some really cool spacey sound effects up front, and a nice smooth upright bass and clanky percussion bolstering Apple’s performance. Here, Apple compares the honeymoon phase to going from space down to the Earth. Down to Earth is a perfect description of this song, the metaphor is easy to get into but also so apt for this specific subject. Apple has been vocally against monogamy for a long time, and this song gives her longtime fans a peek into why she feels this way.
“For Her” is weirdly cheery for what comes at the very end of it...I’ll explain. It begins like something out of a Tune-Yards record, with quick white girl rap over lunch table percussion. There is a flurry of female vocals that follow Apple around the track, supporting her as she goes faster and faster. Again, it all feels very light and fun, until about 1:15, where a drum with an odd time signature pops into the mix and shakes things up, as Fiona keeps bringing up “something that you did”, you referring to a man. “Good morning, good morning/You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in” she exclaims, bolt cut. This is such a gripping thing to put in a record, but I commend her for it, it’s pure freedom of expression. I love how she has other women say it with her to show that being raped is nothing to be ashamed of, it should be expressed out loud like the violent crime it is. Like “I Walk Alone with Acid” by Pale Blue, this is a very direct anti-sexual violence statement that I firmly stand behind, I wish more artists were more daring in tackling this type of taboo subject matter.
The last two tracks seem a little thrown together and improvised, a double edged sword I would say. The majority of this album was strung together through a series of improvisations, some done in one take. “Drumset” stems from a bandmate taking her drums out of Fiona’s house to go do a gig, and Fiona misinterpreting this as her not wanting to play music with her anymore. This entire song was recorded in her kitchen with some unknown found object being played on as drums, and there is a really cute part where Fiona laughs, and it’s because her dog licks her hand as she plays, you can even hear faint barking. While these details make the song good, the brevity and insignificance of it all prevents it from being great. The closer is similar, kind of shrug-worthy. It is again based around found object percussion but this time Fiona is reciting a mantra she repeated to herself in her Texas jail cell in 2012 when she was arrested for possession of marijuana. It is a cool detail, making the album really feel like a collage of life experiences. It’s GOOD not GREAT. It’s not grand, it doesn’t particularly wrap the ideas of the album up. I suppose her making the chorus in jail ties into the theme of her being locked up and needing to get out, but like, she spent one night in jail? Couldn’t she have just gone to sleep?
Anyway, this album is awesome and I love it, but by its very nature it is a flawed record. Some of the songs feel like sketches, while others feel like pieces of a Tony Award-winning Broadway spectacle. She messes up vocally and instrumentally from time to time which adds to the record's charm but takes away from its ability to be perfect, in my opinion. Still, I have to give it credit for the same reasons I bash it. The dog barking, the found object percussion and the panoramic storytelling are aspects that I’ve never heard on any other album of this style.