By Isabella Wigley
Image credit: JamBase.com
Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters is at once the bridging of music and the real world, and the challenging of both.
It is not a pretty, polished album. Fiona Apple compliments her music with a good dose of real life, choosing to leave in recording interruptions such as dog barks and giggles. She turns to her Venice Beach home to provide percussion; clapping, stamping and even using a box of her dead dog’s bones in place of a drum kit. There are no pretences of playing by the rules. When it comes to production, she “blasts the music / bangs it, bites it, bruises it”, as promised in ‘I Want You To Love Me’. Honest, plosive and funny, Fiona Apple isn’t scared of the unorthodox, and this fearlessness is what makes the album so brilliant. Fetch the Bolt Cutters in unapologetic in its ugliness; protesting the perfection that is so often demanded of us.
One of the magic things about the album is that every track is a storybook. The album bleeds personal history and meaning that makes it rich and infinitely layered. ‘Shameika’ recalls the advice of a real middle school acquaintance, and throughout the album there are allusions to past relationships, anecdotes of stolen drum kits and even time spent in jail. Wholly and wonderfully individual, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is driven by real experiences which Apple traces and colours in with lyrics that brim with sheer personality.
Sometimes those stories are not easy to listen to, however, asking hard questions face-on and unblinking. ‘For Her’ addresses the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings happening alongside Hollywood’s history of sexual assault. The lyrics are cutting - “good morning, good morning, you raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in” - but necessarily so. They are words that are hard to sing along to, but are important, nonetheless. As a survivor of sexual assault herself, Fiona Apple seeks to share the uncensored experience of women, to make it known. ‘For Her’ is the recognition of a society that hurts women, a confrontation through the space of music and a nod of solidarity to girls everywhere.
There are moments that are less monumental, but still significant. ‘Ladies’, for example, is making a convincing case for being my favourite song ever; a bittersweet track which seeks to bring women together, but realises it is likely to fail. Apple offers up kindness to her partners new girlfriend after being cheated on in a way that feels like she’s recounting events to a small circle of friends, “there's a dress in the closet/ don't get rid of it, you'd look good in it/I didn’t fit in it/It was never mine/It belonged to the ex-wife of another ex of mine”, and there is an intimacy in her forgiveness. The repeated toast of ‘ladies, ladies ladies’ is half spoken, half sung and encompasses drunk bathroom camaraderie. It is a promise to do better, and a reminder that we are all on the same side.
There is something bewitching about Apple, something about the collision of her playfulness and wisdom which is addictive. The line, “I spread like strawberries, I climb like peas and beans”, could have been lifted from a children’s picture book, but also sparks images of growth out of darkness. What could be construed as toddler-tantrum-esque repetition – “I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up” – is countered with that gorgeous line - “I would beg to disagree but begging disagrees with me” – that is loaded with the wit that I used to idolise in teen movies, lending strength and to purpose the former. Her lyrics are simultaneously funny and absolutely perfect.
The vocals are elastic, boomeranging from deep growls to Kate Bush-esque falsetto, scatting to chanting to almost-rap, always determined but sometimes vulnerable. Apple encompasses the range of what it means to be female, all the way from school bullies to divorce and all the bullshit in between. She is pissed off and imperfect and wonderfully alive.
Fiona Apple has presented us an album that is spellbinding – addictive in the way that can only be magic. Her songs are as stubborn as she is, and they will happily reside in your head for days, on repeat. But more than catchy, they deliver a message of determination, and a refusal to bend to a society that demands compliance to perfect, patriarchal standards. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is an album with the air of a protest march and, as the name suggests, it is truly liberating.