Album Review: Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”


Credit: Owen Smith

You know the song that comes on the car radio for the hundredth time in one day and earns groans from half the passengers? It’s the generic pop song with a predictable chorus, yet you find yourself turning the volume up because you love it anyway. You can’t help but bop your head to the beat and belt the words because it’s just so catchy. Well, Fiona Apple’s new album “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” does not have those types of songs. But, considering Apple is an 11-time Grammy nominee, I don’t really think she cares about having a sickeningly catchy chorus anymore. From what I’ve heard on “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” she cares about expressing her voice, thoughts and feelings through unique music.

“Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” released in 2020, is Apple’s fifth alternative/indie studio album. It contains 13 tracks. Each song conveys a message which contributes to Apple’s overarching theme: “Fetch your tool of liberation. Set yourself free.” The songs deal with heavy topics like men turning women against each other (“Ladies”), the victims of evil perpetuating evil (“Relay”), the lack of male responsibility in instances of sexual assault (“For Her”) and a very uncomfortable dinner party (“Under the Table”), all of which, relate to how we need to escape our toxic cycles.

All of Apple’s previous albums achieved critical acclaim, and “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” was no different. This album claimed the No. 4 spot on US Billboard 200 and the No. 1 spot on US Top Alternative and Rock albums. In addition, it was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the 63rd Grammy Awards.

This immense success was no surprise to her fans, who revere Apple for her clever, meaningful lyrics and experimental production that differs from mainstream pop.

As someone who’s never listened to any of Apple’s work before, I was definitely surprised by her unique style. The blunt percussion, beautiful piano melodies, voice modulation and sounds of barking dogs and chirping dolphins differently caught me off guard. To be honest, sometimes the surprises were welcome and sometimes they… weren’t.

For instance, in the album’s opening track, “I Want You to Love Me,” a mesmerizing piano melody backed the vocals. Initially, this drew me in, but once Apple started singing, I was just confused. Her voice, while very good, just didn’t work with the background music. It wasn’t cohesive: the production didn’t enhance Apple’s voice, it contrasted it.

On track six, “Rack of His,” the closing piano and vocals became quieter and quieter, eventually fading out into silence. I don’t like it when songs take that long to wrap up. It simply becomes boring to me, although this opinion might stem from my impatience.

Also, these flaws might not even be flaws to you. I simply prefer pop songs with more structure and a distinct pattern of verse and chorus. This way, I can predict upcoming lyrics as I listen. As an avid pop radio listener, I prefer songs in which pent-up tension is released through a ferocious drum beat or an exaggerated musical accompaniment in the final chorus. However, Apple’s album has some of these songs too.

For example, the ninth track, “Heavy Balloon,” uses the metaphor “I spread like strawberries” and “I climb like peas” to represent how someone can persevere and become known for it. I thought this was a very random, but also striking metaphor. It made the song really interesting to listen to. Apple belted these lyrics using a powerful, authoritative voice that really drove home the song’s message.

There is no denying that Apple’s lyrics have substance and maturity. In “Ladies,” Apple sings “I too used to want him to be proud of me/And then I just wanted him to make amends/I wonder what lies he’s telling you about me/To make sure that we’ll never be friends.” While Apple could easily feel contempt towards this other woman, she does the opposite instead. She acknowledges that the man is mainly at fault. He was the one who cheated and redirected the blame onto the women to avoid facing consequences for his actions. Apple sympathizes with this mystery woman instead of painting her as the villain, and for that, I applaud her.

So, even though I probably won’t blast Apple’s new album in the car or dance to it around the house, it’s simply because I’m not a fan of alternative music. But, I am still impressed by the complexity of Apple’s lyrics and the mature themes present in this album.

Apple definitely made her voice heard in “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” and for that, you should definitely give it a listen.