Fetch the Bolt Cutters
2020 – Rock
Fetch the Bolt Cutters is Fiona’s masterpiece. It is beautifully weird and free, captivatingly stripped and deconstructed, deeply unique and true, creatively simple and complex at the same time. An album that was born classic.
There are times in our lives when we build prisons in our minds and we don’t even realize it. In this chain, in which we are prisoners and guards, we have to deal with our worst feelings and anguish. We are our own bullies. We are our own saddle mates. We are the weapon in the hand of an enemy that threatens us. We are our worst fear. We don’t know when a guard turns to take us out of this environment that we created in our heads and say that our sentence is finally over. It is almost impossible to create a defense good enough to stop you from falling into this prison. Just accept that at some point you will have to deal with it. You will spend horrible days in it. You will bond with yourself as you face your worst moments. But in the end, when a barbed wire gate closes behind you, it will all be worth it.
And this whole story was no different with Fiona Apple. Still in the 90s, when she was 17, she made a tape with three demo tracks for her friend Kathryn Schenker: “Never Is a Promise”, “Not One of the Times” and “He Takes a Taxi”. Schenker was a music publicist and passed the recording on to Andy Salter, Sony Music executive at the time, who was delighted and hired her almost immediately. Two years later, her debut album, Tidal, reached the world. Critically acclaimed and responsible for creating a legion of Fiona fans, the album, which was inspired by Apple’s breakup with her first boyfriend, featured melancholy pianos, shaky beats and sad lyrics, but still with a hint of pop. Moving to the end of the decade, in 1999, she released her second album, When the Pawn…. The title was derived from a poem that Fiona herself had written. With the help of more expressive lyrics, better vocals and more daring experimentation in drums and synthesizers, she built the most influential work of her career, making her follow an increasingly accurate path.
However, from then on Apple began to feel turbulence in her prison that she was creating, again, without realizing it. After thinking about retiring, Fiona decided to release her third album, Extraordinary Machine, which took more than three years to be written and produced. Although the album also collaborated for Fiona to increasingly find her voice in music, the album had several problems: all tracks were leaked and played on the radio; it was redone after changes in the producer group; and had its release date changed. Seven years after that, Fiona announces her fourth studio album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, her most acclaimed album so far. In this, Apple was more original, free, brutal and visceral than ever. However, in the same way, her problems increased: she was arrested for having hashish and dealt with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Since then, she has not launched any other project of her, just participated in collaborative tracks. Until today.
Her fifth album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, is her masterpiece. Produced entirely at home with help Amy Aileen Wood and David Garza, Apple walked around the house marching, jumping and dancing with totally homemade percussion instruments creating this incredible album that took 5 years to complete. And the set of lyrics written in the bedroom, flat body beats in the living room and guitar arrangements designed in the kitchen, Fiona Apple presents something never seen before. It is beautifully weird and free, captivatingly stripped and deconstructed, deeply unique and true, creatively simple and complex at the same time. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is one of those albums that were born classics and will never be copied or matched.
As I said at the beginning of this review, Apple came over the years building a prison for itself without realizing it. However, instead of suffering and waiting for her sentence to end, she decides to take all of her strength that she has been accumulating over the years and break down the walls of this prison. And Fetch the Bolt Cutters is it. In the title track of the album, she sings: “Fetch the bolt cutters, I’ve been in here too long” referring to a scene from the series The Fall, where Gillian Anderson’s character says “fetch the bolt cutters” to the police to release a girl who was tortured. With cleverly connected lines, Fiona talks about breaking free of a chain in her mind and saying what she wants and being who she wants to be. At the lake of the innumerable references (“running up that hill” and the dog breeds referring to Kate Bush, for example) we have uncontrolled batteries, knocking pliers, timid triangles and soft basses. This track is simply intelligent, deep and captivating, in addition to having an incredible progression: it starts very simple, only with the voice of Fiona and a very homemade instrumental, that evolves into a sonorous confusion and, at the end, ends with dogs (Mercy, Maddie, Leo, Little, and Alfie) and Fiona panting.
And in addition to this prison break, the album features Fiona meeting more and more herself and delimiting a path she wants to follow. The album’s first track, “I Want You to Love Me”, released in 2013, features one of the best vocals I’ve ever heard in my life: Fiona keeps a strong note for 8 seconds. In addition, the track is quite simple, accompanied by a simple piano all the time and some string chords. However, the highlight here is the voice, which performs an incredible performance thanks to Fiona’s voice, which is more powerful and unique than ever, and the lyrics, which sound like a classic poem. On the next track, “Shameika”, she remembers a girl from her school who once said to her: “You have a potential”. Thus, Apple created the most iconic and catchy phrase of the entire album. She uses banal phrases and diaries to create a whole scene in our heads, almost as if it were a movie playing during the song while funny and heavy pianos are playing in an iconic style during the choruses waiting to be replaced by synthesizers that make the journey by imaginary universe accelerate. This is amazing.
Although in her old albums Fiona criticized sexist men and patriarchal society, Apple here sounds more adult and stronger than ever in this matter. In “Under The Table” she paints an unbearable dinner that she doesn’t even want to go to. On this uncomfortable occasion, comments are made aggressively and ironically, and she doesn’t like it one bit. So she decided to stand up and say what she thinks and what she defends, and there’s no point in kicking her to urge her to behave better, because according to her: “Kick me under the table all you want / I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up”. The synthetic keyboards on this track dance perfectly with classical pianos. Although the chorus that appears in the introduction of the track does not sound very cool, when he comes back on the bridge when Apple has her strongest voice, it becomes dazzling with all the distortion representing anger. In the classic ballad “Ladies”, which has a nice chorus and an intelligent lyric accompanied by an old-school instrument, she talks about how women have to unite and how they cannot be manipulated by men who tend to create female rivalry. The best example she uses is when a man cheats on his wife and she tends to hate the lover and not the cheating man. According to Fiona, women must come together more and more: “Ladies, ladies, ladies, ladies, take it easy / When he leaves me, please be my guest”.
Even though he has a stronger armor, Apple still has to deal with her heart. In “Rack of His”, alongside magical pianos, synthesizers and out of sync shakes, she talks about how she did everything for her love because she loved him, however, that love was never reciprocated. The best part of this song is the chorus where Fiona’s vocal sounds so unique, free and true: she screams a little out of tune, but it’s from the heart and it’s beautiful. However, the human relations become a sport in “Relay” when she compares the fact that someone hurts you and you hurt someone with a torch bearing sport. The sound part of this track, both vocals and instrumentals (which at times reminded a bit of Brazilian samba), are quite fun, dancing and captivating, but the best is the end where Fiona appears with an angelic voice. “Cosmonauts” is one of the best on the entire album. In it, she debates the fact that the possibility of monogamous love will last a lifetime. For that, she alludes to the fact that the more people get to know each other and spend time together, the relationship gets heavier: “‘Cause you and I will be like a couple of cosmonauts / Except with way more gravity than when we started off”. In addition to the chorus that is very iconic and holds in our minds, the ending of the track where Apple appears screaming unregulated and violently is excellent.
In addition to all this, she also works on extremely serious matters here. In “Heavy Balloon” she debates how people deal with depression. The track is full of biological and fanciful connections, however, the best part, again, are Fiona’s strong and unique vocals that never seem to tire of exposing the truth. The most profound and different track is “For Her”, where she starts singing at an extremely precise and fast pace that is almost impossible to follow — it seems that the track was accelerated. However, the best part of the track is when she starts the bridge with this instrument that emphasizes her voice that sounds totally tired and “daily”. With the intention of making people not be silent about the rape, she sings: “You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in”. “Newspaper” is the most atmospheric of the entire album. Following the contrast between a heavy battery and a cymbal, Fiona talks about how only people who suffer harassment really understand what harassment is: “We’re the only ones who know / We were cursed the moment that he kissed us”.
In short, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is simply a masterpiece of music. Fiona Apple reached a sound and lyric level that I never thought anyone would. Even the “weakest” tracks, like “Drumset” that looks like a timeless track thanks to its homogeneous mix of genres, and “On I Go”, which is worked all in repetitions, which made everything more fun, are incredible. And as I said in Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska review, the secret to excellence here is the truth. And Fiona presented it here, creating something incredible.