We aren't saying it's enjoyable, but god it's GOOD.
Fiona Apple is exhausted and energized all at once.
Most of all, she's finding freedom in abandoning all pretense and form. After listening to her latest offering, you may feel a hint of this liberation, too.
Apple's music has always transcended genre and definition, and you never know what collection of instruments and sounds you're going to get on a new Fiona Apple song. Her new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, takes this to a whole new level. It's delightfully chaotic; featuring barking dogs, homemade percussion, plenty of piano, and an expansiveness that comes like a breath of fresh air in this claustrophobic time. She recorded and wrote the entirety of the album in her Venice Beach house, and there is a definitive homemade quality to the tracks. This lack of polish doesn't detract from the listening experience, but instead manages to paint vivid images in the mind of the listener. You can practically see Apple at her piano, clapping her hands, and stomping her feet to the music. There is a sense of play contained in each and every song that's wildly contagious—so much so that one almost feels tempted to begin beating a makeshift drum around the proverbial campfire. Apple is offering listeners an invitation to abandon the pretense of control and to sing and to cry and to dance and to express themselves freely—but it's also, definitively, not about the listener.
As Pitchfork (who gave Fetch the Bolt Cutters their first perfect score in nearly a decade) says, the album "contains practically no conventional pop forms. Taken together, the notes of its found percussion and rattling blues are liberationist." At first listen, this absolute lack of familiarity is unsettling. You find yourself grappling for a consistent melody or rhythm to cling to, but find none. You might even scoff at the myriad of bizarre noises Apple makes—from dolphin like sounds to singing that quickly turns to shouting. It's very possible you may first experience this free-fall as unpleasant, even jarring, but the committed listener will wait it out. When it does pass, you'll find yourself with an undeniable feeling of possibility and even triumph.
This sudden change in the listener undoubtedly comes from Apple's absolute disregard for expectations. She forces you to be comfortable existing in grey areas and duality, the kind of contradiction well-embodied by the lyrics "I'm pissed off, funny and warm," which Apple croons on "Shameika." In the past, her lyrics have been poetic, full of metaphors, and her music has been more traditionally structured. On Fetch the Bolt Cutters, we meet a version of Apple who seems to have become disillusioned with subtlety and has instead turned to searing directness and impulse.
On the first song of the album, "I Want You to Love Me" she gets straight to the point, singing:
"And I know none of this will matter in the long run
But I know a sound is still a sound around no one.
And while I'm in this body
I want somebody to want
And I want what I want and I want you."
These lyrics are a boiled down, poignant version of just about every love song ever written, but Apple just flat out says what others tip-toe around, and she's unapologetic in doing so. It's as if, given the chaos of our times, Apple has decided that traditional forms of artistically reaching people have proved inadequate, so she's decided to simply say what she thinks and make the noises that please her.
None of this is to say that Apple is suddenly flippant and invulnerable. The incompleteness of her healing reveals itself on songs like "Fetch the Bolt Cutters," where Apple sings,
"The cool kids voted to get rid of me
And I'm ashamed of what they did to me
What I let get done
They stole my fun, they stole my fun"
She revisits themes of sexual assault and gender inequality on songs like "For Her," where she almost seems to belittle her abuser, seizing his power by casting the darkness he brought into her life into the light of expression, saying: "Well, good morning! Good morning! You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in." This shocking line is backed by gospel like harmonies and seems utterly free of the fear or hesitancy one might expect in this kind of song.
On "On I Go," Apple repeats again and again the refrain, "Up until now in a rush to prove / But now I only move to move" which feels like a succinct summary of the spirit of the whole album: This is not about proving anything to anyone. This is about the joy of uninhibited expression; this is about the holistic experience of humanity–thorns, voice-cracks, and all. This is about moving to move, singing to sing, and telling the truth for the truth's sake.
Apple has managed to create an album that is bursting with joy, while still honoring her pain and her anger. Its intimacy is somehow universal and its chaos somehow creates order. In the past, Apple has railed against life's injustices, against the patriarchy, and against any and everything standing in her way. That remains true here, but now she's handing her listeners a key out of the cage that anger and a need for control built. Or perhaps it's a more violent form of escape. Perhaps she's handing them a stick of dynamite, or— hell, why not—bolt cutters.
Fetch The Bolt Cutters
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