It’s fair to say Fiona Apple has been around the block a few times, and then some. She released her first album ‘Tidal’ when she was just 17 in 1996, two years before I was born, which went gold in the U.S. and won her a grammy for the single ‘Criminal’. Over the next couple of decades she cemented herself as a staple of the American Singer-Songwriter club, being nominated for more Grammy’s and selling over 10 million albums worldwide. Now after nearly 8 years she’s returned, earlier than expected, with what could be her most poignant work yet.
Fetch The Boltcutters plays like a musical of heartbreak, longing and anger. Its minimalistic approach to instrumentation lets every moment be significant and every lyric be meaningful and expressive. It has moments of beauty, moments of pure anger and intricate storytelling throughout. Fiona Apple has had her heart broken and she’s here trying to help anyone and everyone who feels the same.
The album starts with ‘I Want You To Love’ by feeling optimistic with a piano riff that could easily be the intro score to an American love story movie, cue the camera slowly panning down the Autumn lane. This optimism soon turns to desperation as the track breaks down into a faster dissonant piano roll and the vocals descend into a pining dolphin-like squeal.
Leading into the punchy piano of ‘Shameika’ which develops into a chaotic diary entry of reflecting on someone in Apple’s past that told her she wasn’t pretty yet, but had potential. Grinding guitars, unhinged vocals and jarring noise samples build to paint the harsh picture of thoughts racing through Apple’s mind that adds evolving layers of unease with each chorus. “Tony told me he described me as pissed off, funny and warm , Sebastian said I’m a good man in a storm, Back then I didn’t know what potential meant”.
This track also features one of the first instances, of many, in this album where the drumming and beats are perfectly on point and never wasted. The vocals flow over each beat and hit with purpose. Similar to the track ‘Relay’ where the drums drive the song forward through various time signatures and patterns, marching it along with its military like beat. Of the few instruments that do feature on this album, the drums are the most prominent and the most expressive. They’re not just thrown in to bring a groove to the track but are carefully placed to make the message of the songs stand out and punch you in the ear. The track ‘Drumset’ may have even more of a meta meaning given the lyrics. Her drums have been taken away in the lyrics of the song, which to Apple is like taking away her driving force.
Some of the best storytelling on the album comes from the tracks ‘Newspaper’ and ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’. The latter of which is a tale of realising something you’ve fallen in love with isn’t quite what you initially thought it was and needing to break free of that situation. “He sings so nice, I guess he tries, I’ve been thinking about when I was trying to be your friend, I thought it was then, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t genuine. Fetch the bolt cutters, I’ve been in here too long”. With its sparse keyboards, sleezy bass lines and anthemic chorus chant it serves as a familiar voice telling you to leave that eventually fades away to strange ambient textures and dog samples to bring you back to your reality.
‘Newspaper’ is perhaps the most minimalistic sounding song on the album with an industrial glitchy beat and glowing vocal harmonies. But at the same time offers the most with lyrical content. It’s almost like Apple is standing in her kitchen watching her ex-lover walk by with their new partner shouting out to them even though they can’t hear, banging the counter with cutlery. “I watch him walk over, talk over you, be mean to you, And it makes me feel close to you”.
‘Rack Of His’ is an eventual realisation that the person Apple is with just isn’t paying her enough attention and cares more about his guitar rack. It starts with these big passionate vocals that are telling someone they care about them “I followed you from room to room with no attention, And it wasn’t because I was bored, It was because I was loving you so much” that by the end of the track have faded out to a distant mumble, realising the other person doesn’t care as much. “I know how to spend my time, And meanwhile I’m loving you so much”. It also features one of the catchiest melodies on the album, where the slightly off key lead piano line dances carefully through the track guiding you through the story.
Cynical lyricism is one of Fiona Apple’s forte’s and is showcased perfectly on the track ‘Cosmonauts’. “Your face ignites a fuse to my patience, Whatever you do is gonna be wrong, There’s no time to interrupt the detonation, Be good to me before you’re gone”. Over a crooning bass line and theatrical piano melody Apple sings with hope that eventually leads to raging anger as this crescendo of disparity builds to a chaotic and harsh climax.
The final track ‘On I Go’ offers a final mantra to leave on. “On I go, not toward or away, Up until now it was day, next day, Up until now in a rush to prove, But now I only move to move”. The heavy pounding drums and closely packed in and distorted, almost Billie Eilish-esque, vocals create a resolve for all the grief laid throughout this album. Just keep on moving for yourself, no matter where you go.
Fiona Apple hasn’t lost her golden touch. Just give her a drum kit and the occasional piano riff and she’ll guide you on a voyage through her life. Offering guidance along the way with her unique lyrical identity of harsh truths and enthralling anecdotes.