Fetch the Bolt Cutters is Fiona Apple, untethered

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“Fetch the Bolt Cutters” album art.

Singer-songwriter and pianist Fiona Apple released her first album, “Tidal” in 1996 when she was only 19, earning the award for Best New Artist at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. After a controversial acceptance speech, in which she referred to the music industry as “bullshit,” Apple made herself the red target of media critics for years to come.

Twenty-five years later, Apple revives the same outspoken energy on “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”. Her new album is a culmination of all the peculiar things that make Apple an extraordinary machine of a woman in pop music. 

As far as art-pop goes, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is about as unconventional as it gets. The album features no traditional pop forms and entirely rejects the verse-chorus-verse structure. There is a sense of freedom that can be felt throughout it, from the loose melodies to the uninhibited narratives.  

The album’s sound is grounded in percussion, implementing the use of found objects, like metal butterflies, bells and wooden blocks. Apple even uses the bones of her dead dog, Janet, for tapping.

Lyrically, the album is an uncharted journey through some of Apple’s most vital experiences. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” can be read as an expression of regaining control of your life. In an interview with Vulture magazine, Apple has said that it refers to “breaking out of whatever prison you’ve allowed yourself to live in”. 

“I grew up in the shoes they told me I could fill / Shoes that were not made for running up that hill,” she sings, a reference to Kate Bush. The title track finds Apple channeling her anger at the control she fell victim to as a young artist, releasing that anger and freeing herself from it. 

This time, Apple refuses to be silenced, as she details everything from the cruel schoolgirls of her early childhood to sexual assault. On “For Her,” which was written after the hearings of Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Apple invokes the spirit of women who have faced backlash for speaking out against their abusers. 

Apple’s songwriting is particularly compelling as she explores the complex relationships with the women in her life. “Ladies” is a brilliant, comical protest of female competition and jealousy. “Ladies, ladies ladies … when he leaves me, please be my guest,” she sings, “to whatever I might have left in his kitchen cupboards.” 

The power of “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” lies in how it dismantles every institution of control from patriarchy to competition and perfection. There is nothing pretty about Apple’s music here. It’s an untethered and vivid expression of Apple taking back that power. 

Rating: 5/5

Kati Morris can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @daysofkati.