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FIONA APPLE – FETCH THE BOLT CUTTERS album review

FIONA APPLE – FETCH THE BOLT CUTTERS

Epic, 2020

Art pop/Singer-songwriter

When Fiona Apple drops a new album, the world stops and listens. I almost didn’t want to review this album because it would just be another in the massive pile of Fiona Apple reviews coming out, all of them heaping praise upon praise on it. But at the same time, I almost feel a responsibility to, because we never know when the next album is coming. When The Idler Wheel… came out, reviewing new music was an idea that I had only toyed with. And yes, I will be praising this album, but hopefully not in the same ways as others.

What we have here is a rare situation where there’s actually something to the hype. Apple might have only released five albums over the course of 24 years, but nothing in her catalog is bad or even mediocre. Bolt Cutters is not only the latest in a line of consistently excellent albums, but some of her best work yet. Structurally, the album still sounds very much like a Fiona Apple album. The art pop and rock songs that reject standard song structures are built around the piano and Apple’s unique brand of lyricism. Despite not holding to typical structures, the songs are not so artistic or experimental as to chase listeners away, a mark of a truly skillful experimental songwriter.

Something a little new for this album is the very raw and almost DIY sound of the recordings. Some tracks were, indeed, recorded at Apple’s own home and this raw feeling is only emphasized by the reflective echoes from walls and the barking of dogs. The percussion plays a role in this too as it sounds very loose and even like it was played on improvised objects like boxes and shelves. This all serves as a fitting backdrop to some of the rawest, and sometimes angriest, lyrics of Apple’s career.

Which is a nice transition to what we really need to talk about and the main reason you listen to Fiona Apple. She is a truly gifted lyricist. She has a talent for sharing her thoughts plainly and with authority and they still make sense lyrically in the context of a song. This album brings us brilliant lines like:

People like us get so heavy and so lost sometimes

So lost and so heavy that the bottom is the only place we can find

You get dragged down, down to the same spot enough times in a row

The bottom begins to feel like the only safe place that you know

“Heavy Balloon”

I mean, holy shit! Do I even have to say anymore? Actually I probably should because there’s a lot to unpack here. I said before that this album finds Apple in a very raw and sometimes angry place. She’s extremely honest about how different people and situations make her feel. This ranges from predators and people who take advantage of others for their own gain (“Relay” and “Under the Table”), to feeling a connection with the new partner of an abusive ex (“Newspaper”), to breaking yourself out of emotional prisons (“Fetch the Bolt Cutters”), to just venting about someone who left (“Drumset”). This is just scratching the surface, nearly every track on this album takes you through something that Fiona has experienced herself, and she guides you along in the way that only she can.

Now comes the big question. There are a lot of publications and reviewers that have given Fetch The Bolt Cutters a perfect score. So we have to ask, is it a perfect album? For me, personally, it’s not. It really is fantastic, but there are just a couple things that keep it short of that coveted ace. First off there’s the raw recording. Most of the time it’s a positive feature and helps with the feel of the album, but there are a few instances where it hurts rather than helps. And second, there are a couple tracks with repeated lyrics that come dangerously close to going too far with the repetition. But those are really my only complaints.

Overall, this really is a fantastic album. With this being only her fifth album, Fiona Apple makes a strong case for quality over quantity. This album has a raw and unpolished sound that complements Apple’s raw and honest lyrics. She expresses anger, sadness, frustration, and longing in ways that only she can; plainly and yet, somehow eloquently at the same time. I hope we don’t have to wait eight more years for more music, but even if we do, it’ll be worth the wait.

4.5/5.0

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