Throughout her long career, singer/songwriter Fiona Apple has been hard to categorize. Like Björk, she also came to prominence as a prodigy in the '90s with her hit single "Criminal," and she has a reputation for making difficult, avant–garde music.
Arriving eight years after her 2012 studio effort, The Idler Wheel, her latest album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, solidifies Apple's reputation as an artist and songwriter of the highest caliber. The album is making waves on the Internet after Pitchfork gave the record it's first 10 since Nov. 22, 2010 when they awarded the perfect score to Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is a masterclass in homemade music, music as protest, and music as a percussive, visceral life force.
Apple recorded the LP in her Venice Beach home with her band, with a brief stint in a residential studio, and one can literally hear her house in the charmingly rough–hewn, yet strangely polished edges of the songs. This is a sound Apple has been building towards, one she first developed with The Idler Wheel. Buddings of Fetch the Bolt Cutters can be heard on "Hot Knife," whose drums and heavy atmosphere mimic the searing feeling of its titular object slicing into a stick of butter. There are traces of Fetch the Bolt Cutters, too in the off–key elements of the lead single "Every Single Night," the sampled velcro pull of deep cut "Periphery," or even the schoolyard screams of the late highlight "Werewolf."
Yet even with these songs as precursors, nothing else truly sounds like Fetch the Bolt Cutters. With a title that alludes to an episode of the British crime show The Fall, the record is a searingly feminist testament to the #MeToo movement and Apple's conflicted relationships with abusive men and other women in her life, including herself. In the darkly humorous "Under The Table," Apple chides a man who would rather forget her presence at a dinner saying, "Kick me under the table all you want / I won't shut up / I won't shut up." Still, there's the angry, brooding track "Newspaper," which could be read as an indictment of the Trump administration, although Apple has stated that the song has personal origins.
Clear across the 13 tracks of Fetch is Apple's fierce wit. On the highlight "Rack of His," which features one of the most unforgettable string hooks in a while, Apple irreverently mocks the chauvinist bravado of her fellow male musicians with the instantly classic (and already oft–quoted) lines of "Check out that rack of his, look at that row of guitar necks / Lined up like eager fillies, outstretched like legs of Rockettes."
Resentment is a common, frayed thread throughout these songs. The hopscotch rhythms of "Relay" suddenly take a turn to bluesy, full–bodied foot stomps as Apple intones a list of resentments towards her subject, ending with the scathing line: "I resent you presenting your life like a fucking propaganda brochure." It's hard not to see in that line an accusation of social media users' constant need to present their lives as perfect, or nearly so.
On what is perhaps the most emotionally difficult track of Fetch, "For Her," Apple masterfully changes genre and belts out "Good mornin' / Good mornin' / You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in." Apple, who was raped by a stranger at the age of 12 in the backyard of her family home, has eloquently portrayed the long–term psychological effects caused by early childhood trauma throughout her career. (Perhaps most telling is the song, "The Child is Gone," from her debut Tidal, which was written when Apple was just 17 years old.)
Fetch the Bolt Cutters is a thorny, difficult, yet urgently vital record for these strange and uncertain times. Often Apple, as she whoops and hollers before bringing her voice to a hoarse whisper across this album, sounds like she is singing for her life. Maybe we are too, and she is just reminding us.