REVIEW: Fiona Apple kicks music industry expectations out the window with ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’

From the epic piano ballad beginning of her latest album, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” Fiona Apple reminds listeners why she is a trailblazer never to be forgotten. 

Apple dives into the depths of her past eight years following “The Idler Wheel…” which was released in 2012 to commercial acclaim and a Grammy nomination. Apple’s music pushes the boundaries of genres as it relies on the combination of her powerful voice and jazzy piano-driven instrumentals which settle somewhere in the alternative/art-pop sphere. 

On “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” Apple continues with some of the familiar piano instrumentals that center around her instantly recognizable croon; however, the album has an unbound quality in its percussive production that is fitting in a time of isolation. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” has Apple unabashedly banging on every surface in her home with a bolt cutter, singing with unmatched poetic veracity all the while. 

Throughout the record, Apple displays the lyrical mastery of an artist who has spent her 20-year career as a musician rejecting the plasticity of the music industry and focused rather on being true to herself and her art. The authenticity is crystal clear from the opening track “I Want You To Love Me” which is as much of a self-reflection as it is a love song with the lyrics, “I know none of this will matter in the long run. But I know a sound is still a sound around no one.” 

Other than ruminations on time and love, there is an awe-inspiring outcry of essential lyrical storytelling throughout “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” as well. These poetic stories are present on tracks like “Ladies” where Apple is reflecting on the adverse comparisons she has experienced with other women. Although all the lyrics on the album are brutally honest and focus on Apple’s hardships, none are asking for pity or understanding from the listener. Apple is unmistakably triumphant on songs like “Under The Table” where she firmly declares, “Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up.” 

The DIY production that “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” emulates is one of the most intriguing qualities it possesses in quarantine. On the title track, Apple uses clattering percussion to provoke a sense of sitting in the artists’ kitchen while she sings poems, accompanied by her dogs, which can be heard in the background. For most artists, it seems unlikely and absurd that pot banging would garner widespread critical acclaim yet in the rawness Apple exhibits sonically there is still careful calculation. 

On “Heavy Balloon,” the elective clanging chaos begins and ends the track, nonetheless, a vivacious bass line and Apple’s vigorous voice intertwine to create an instant sing-along. The self-produced atmosphere of “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” can at times be abrasive at first listen but the honesty of the production only conceives a better more connected experience in the end.  

The showstopper of “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” has to be the song “For Her” because of the combination of its anguished lyrics and production. The song starts with a sigh and a clap from Apple, followed by an almost chanted commentary on an abusive and dismissive husband from a marriage she is seeing from afar. However, the song then switches both sonically and lyrically to a cowbell clad chorus of, “Good morning, good morning, you raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.” Ending solemnly with choir-like production of Apple’s voice belting “good mornings.” 

After an eight-year absence, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” sees Fiona Apple picking up the music industry’s expectations and throwing them out the window. Apple sings of purpose, grief, her dogs and ‘Hollywood creeps’ all behind homemade percussion and clever production. Familiarly, Apple demands the listener’s attention all throughout with her wit and voice, however, unlike the somber tone of previous releases, she is triumphantly announcing “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.”