Graceful. Raw. Honest. Unconventional.
Fiona Apple’s newest album Fetch the Bolt Cutters is what the world needs in this tumultuous time of isolation, fear, and confusion.
Apple takes the listener on a journey through her experience, knowledge, and enlightened strength. From whispers to screams to dog barks, this album encapsulates Apple as an artist and an independent woman. The music packs a punch with its political messages and perplexing harmonies. Each song is made with intention, yet also allows for personal interpretation. Presented as a transformative alternative album with hints of rock, this is an off-beat, eccentric record (much like Apple herself) that dives into the dark side of our current and past world while still providing the listener with reason to hope.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters is not for everyone — it must be heard with an open mind. The harmonic beauties in this album address sensitive, opinionated, and possibly triggering topics at its core. If you mainly listen to popular music, the unconventional melodies in Fetch the Bolt Cutters may not be for you.
A primary theme in Fetch the Bolt Cutters is acknowledgement. In the album's liner notes, Apple includes a major land and water acknowledgement to the Tongva, Mescalero Apache, and Suma territories where her album was recorded.
In an interview with Democracy Now, Apple discussed her intentions to raise awareness for the land we are on and its history. Apple worked closely with Eryn Wise from Seeding Sovereignty to honor Native Americans:
This way I’m tied into it with something that I made that has more meaning—it's attached to them [Natives living on the territories] … People are not thinking about it every day and they should be, that we are not living on land that was ceded to us.
Whether it be the acknowledgment of Native Americans or the acknowledgment of trauma, Apple emphasizes the idea that acknowledgement is the first step towards healing. To heal, you must recognize what has happened to you and what has been taken away from you. Thus, Apple encourages her audience to confront and acknowledge traumatic pasts, to fetch the bolt cutters, and to get yourself out of the oppressive situation you are in.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters is Apple's fifth studio album and showcases a significant, increased maturity in her work and in her explorations of freedom compared to its antecedents. In the song “Ladies,” for example, Apple provides her listeners with catharsis to set them free from their anger. She wants her listeners to feel their emotions. Apple focuses on empowering women, especially to those who've undergone any kind of abuse.
Evil is a relay sport when the one who’s burnt turns to pass the torch.
This shared experience of abuse is a driving force for her. She writes openly about rape and sexual assault as well as toxic relationships, often from her own perspective. She did not hold back with this album. In “Relay”, for example, Apple sings repeatedly: “Evil is a relay sport when the one who’s burnt turns to pass the torch.” The singer told Democracy Now the song is not just about her feelings towards her abuser, but also the bigger picture, especially discrimination against Natives in both today as well as throughout history. Native women in particular are disproportionately victims to sexual abuse. Historically, Native women and children were the first to be victims of murder. The gynocidal motives behind genocide have always rung true.
“For Her” speaks to the oppression perpetrated by people in positions of power. Apple wanted to convey the feeling of being ignored and disregarded by authorities or people with power. Specifically, she considers the treatment of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. by the government. The song also serves as a comment towards the treatment of women in general. It speaks to the common struggle of not being heard, acknowledged, or believed. This was written in the midst of the Me Too movement and Apple shared that this song was directly inspired after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
It’s a shame because you and I didn’t get a witness
In “Newspaper,” written from a female gaze by an artist who spent her early career exposed to the all-seeing male eye, Apple offers a nuanced way of looking at the systemic problem of sexism. “It’s a shame because you and I didn’t get a witness,” she sings, commenting on her own struggles while also bringing together her listeners.
The power of music in the time of a pandemic is cogent. As the whole world deals with quarantine and loss, we need this album. Apple chose to release Fetch the Bolt Cutters when her listeners had the best chance to listen: to feel fully free, fully angry, and fully creative. In "Cosmonauts," the album's tenth track, Apple reminiscences about quarantine and the idea of being locked with someone forever. The song explores the darker, difficult things that isolation has brought up within relationships, families, and the world.
Overall, Apple connects her songs to things she believes in: freedom from the past and freedom to move forward. She sings, scats, and lightly raps to reconstruct her music and showcase her growth. This album is uncompromising; it conforms to nothing and no one. Apple will not please, she will not comply, she will not accommodate.
The album finishes with Apple panting:
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 will, I will, I will.
Ending in a breathless climax, having finally culminated and completed the acme that is her early career and life’s pains and struggles, Apple leaves us with a musical journey that is not melodic and pretty, but raw and free.