Fiona Apple made her music debut at only 18 years old. In the following 24 years, she released three more albums that left her with 10 million albums sold worldwide. But it also left her with a tumultuous relationship with her music and the media. After The Idler Wheel…, Apple went dark once again.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters brings a new side to Fiona Apple’s music. Apple seems to have found a way to capture all the ups and downs of life on one record. Depression, love, relationships and power dynamics are woven through the album and are complemented by thick, rhythmic instrumentation. Fetch the Bolt Cutters brings a new maturity to the same concepts from previous albums.
Instrumentation-wise, the music reflects not just the lyrics, but the setting in which the record was made. In a detailed New Yorker piece, Apple talks about the long process behind the powerful, sometimes even violent, percussive nature of the album. The record contains sometimes simpler arrangements in terms of number of instruments than previous works, but the rhythms in each song are complex and driving. Some songs have dogs barking, a clanging metal butterfly and even Cara Delevingne singing the words “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.”
The title track tackles the history of Apple’s relationship with the music industry and people who tried to push her down along the way. On “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” she sings:
“Those it girls hit the ground
Comparing the way I was to the way she was
Sayin’ I’m not stylish enough and I cry too much
And I listened because I hadn’t found my own voice yet”
Reaching levels of fame at the age of 17 had its repercussions for Apple, including the media criticizing her looks. Apple was raped at age 12 and told Rolling Stone that it contributed to her struggle with an eating disorder, which was aggravated further by criticisms about the sexual nature of her first single and Grammy-winning song “Criminal.”
Another side of the album relates to feminism, female power and even the #MeToo movement. Apple pleads for women to bond and not become pawns by allowing men to pit them against each other.
“Ladies” is a song written like a message from a narrator for the women whom her ex will later be in a relationship with. She mentions how the “parallax view” that each person involved in a relationship makes it extremely complex. Apple told Vulture that the song is a reflection on how she feels about how “the other woman” should be treated; the blame put on the woman is unfair because she simply “fell in love with some guy.”
One of my personal favorites is “Rack of His.” The song feels like it is about several stories, but basically all of them are about being so deeply in love that you are blind. Apple sings about a man’s rack of guitars, comparing it to women “Lined up like eager fillies, outstretched like legs of Rockettes.”
I think this album is special because it marks a shift in the viewpoint of the characters in Fiona’s songs. I get the sense that she feels a little less lost and a lot more powerful, which shines through beautifully on the album.
Fetch The Bolt Cutters is angry and honest about all the right things. At the same time, despite all the anger and sadness and fear that people hold for others, we are all connected. “It’s this pulse,” Apple said. “And we all share it, and it sounds so cheesy. But it wasn’t in my head; it was out of it. It was among us all.”