REVIEW: Fiona Apple made an album brilliant enough to break through our despair

Fiona Apple (Photo: Getty Images)
Fiona Apple (Photo: Getty Images)


Fiona Apple is an artist who defies expectation without even caring what your expectations are. That's what I felt on my third listen to her new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

I'll be honest with you, on my first listen I struggled to focus on what I was listening to. Then on the second I felt myself getting pulled into its splendour. And now on the third I found myself totally engulfed in its strange brilliance.

That's the thing, in the middle of a pandemic while I'm worrying about everything from money to how my mother's doing to whether the country will survive, I wasn't listening properly the first time around. I was distracted and not noticing all the ways in which Fiona Apple was not only experimenting with her sound but with the idea of music as a whole.

It's taken her eight years, nearly a decade of marinating, to give us something so complex and layered that I think people will be writing about for longer than I'll be alive. It works on so many levels that I think everyone who listens to it will take something else away from it like any good piece of art.

But here's my unpacking of a few songs and why I liked them so we can nerd out together.

I Want You to Love Me

This, the opening track, is unusual. Because it's a love song for someone she hasn't met yet but also for the wider world as a whole. I think that in a lot of ways, she's saying that she's living through these uncertain times with us. The lyrical heartbeat of this song lies in these lines: "I know that time is elastic/And I know when I go/All my particles disband and disperse/And I'll be back in the pulse/And I know none of this will matter in the long run/But I know a sound is still a sound around no one."

In a piece on Vulture, Fiona explains this idea about "the pulse" saying: "Then I remembered this advice someone had given me, which was to just surrender — allow yourself to fall through water, stop trying to do anything. And for some reason, I was able to do that, and the throbbing in my head left. But then everybody was throbbing — everything. I'd never had an experience like that, and it's hard for me to remember what it felt like now, but it's the biggest thing that's ever happened to me in my life. I knew then what life and death was. It's this pulse. And we all share it, and it sounds so cheesy. But it wasn't in my head; it was out of it..."

When I thought about that more, I really got into this record. I let myself get lost in it and it is like something that happens to you more than an easy listening soundtrack to your daily activities. You have to let yourself do nothing and really listen to it.


Fetch the Bolt Cutters

The title track embodies the theme of the entire record which I think is breaking free of what you are expected to be doing, or even what you have been stuck in a cycle of doing over and over again. Like a prison of your own design or one that you might have been forced into and will now break out of. It's a war cry. It is freedom and aggression all in one.

Lyrically, this is best underlined by the words: "I'm ashamed of what it did to me/What I let get done/It stole my fun, it stole my fun/Fetch the bolt cutters, I've been in here too long."

Musically, it's more like a spoken word performance with an understated wall of sound and a chorus of dogs barking at the end. I mean, it's weird, but it works. It's like she's telling you how her life fell apart and how she put it back together in a coffee shop on a small stage with a band improvising behind her.



Another song that I loved is called Ladies. In the same Vulture piece, Fiona says this cut is about what a lot of the album is about: "Not letting men pit us against each other or keep us separate from each other so they can control the message." I think this is so important but what I found really interesting about it is the way she's put it together. To say ladies all those different ways. Which I think ties into the idea that no woman should be compared to another woman, especially when they get cheated on.

It shouldn't be a conversation about which woman is better or worse in some sort of competitive game. If you're mad at anyone, it should be the person who did the cheating. Not the one who got cheated on or the woman who dated someone. I think that's what these lyrics are saying: "Nobody can replace anybody else/So it would be a shame to make it a competition/And no love is like any other love/So it would be insane to make a comparison with you."


I could use thousands of other words to describe this album, but I think it's better that everyone take their own interpretation away from it. But please sit down and really listen to it.


Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple

Album · 2020 · 13 Songs. Available with an Apple Music subscription. Try it free.

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