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Album Review: Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple

Photo via VEVO

By Benjamin Wexler

Fiona Apple is no stranger to loneliness. Her newly released fifth album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, is so intimate that you might as well be self-isolating with a friend. Apple’s voice is deep, breathy, and expressive; it’s hard to imagine her speaking without emotion in every word. She sings with anger, regret, resignation, pride, frustration, humour, confusion - and she never settles with just telling you how she’s feeling. Lyrics, tune, and vocals are committed to exhibiting every emotion. Many critics have said the experience is like listening to Fiona Apple’s thoughts, but really, she just communicates with total honesty.

On the opening track, “I Want You To Love Me”, the hook stretches into desperation, then she plays around with it until her drawn out “youuuuuuu” matches the verses and relentless backing-piano in playfulness and hope. “Rack of His”, a hilarious standout, jumps from roaring anger at a musician who played with her emotions, to an audible smile as she tells us to “check out that rack of his...look at that row of guitar necks”. The transition would sound artful if it wasn’t so damn real.

Apple expresses in song things you never knew needed singing about until you hear her take them on with all her genuineness. “Shameika said I had potential” is the line anchoring the song “Shameika”, and one example of the album’s razor-sharp songwriting. The odd compliment of a classmate she was never even friends with mixes with other compliments to help define her identity. It’s specific but universal. Who hasn’t treasured a compliment they received years ago?

By the same token, her take on gender issues is unique and timely. Apple says that after spending months with only the men who were her musical collaborators, she sometimes struggles in her relationships with women. The album doesn’t offer any quick fix to this pervasive patriarchy, but celebrates little victories. On “Newspaper”, she empathizes with a manipulative ex’s new girlfriend. “Ladies” starts with the repeated title, and I wondered if she was mocking a sleazy speech-giver. Instead, it’s her own voice, maybe still struggling to escape the language of showbiz, but doing her best to connect with all the lovers of her lovers. “There’s a dress in the closet / Don’t get rid of it, you look good in it!”

“For Her” commits to telling another woman’s story of rape, Apple having been raped herself. It includes one of the most arresting lines on the album, one that I rather leave you to hear yourselves. The Idler Wheel…, Apple’s previous record, is about the frustration of feeling passive. On Fetch the Bolt Cutters, action just means saying, or singing, the right thing.

The album can’t be boxed into any genre. Apple’s voice and piano are constants, but the real foundation is in rhythm. A drumset removed from her house by an ex-friend or partner serves as the device for loss on “Drumset”. The little joke there is that she needed to make her own drums, turning loss into great music as she has done her whole career. The album’s percussion was assembled through jam sessions with traditional drum kits as well as banging together whatever could be found around the house. On the title track, dogs bark from inside the recording room. Apple says that the missing drums actually turned out to be a misunderstanding, but she’s concerned with the moment, and captures it completely as only she can. “Shameika” crescendos with wild clatter, and on it, Apple describes a younger self “Grinding my teeth to a rhythm invisible / I used my feet to crush dead leaves like they had fallen from trees / just for me, just to be crash cymbals”. Fetch the Bolt Cutters brings out the invisible rhythms of life. Take a walk with it playing, and passing cars, people in the street, and your own footsteps join.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is unorthodox, organic, captivating, and sometimes unsettling. You become comfortable with its quirks and roughness over time, but every listen still uncovers something new. Another quote from the album works as a five word pitch: “pissed off, funny, and warm”.


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