Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters is a deafening thunderclap of album. The music’s not loud, but the sentiments roar. There’s too much life in Apple’s art to think of the album as a culmination, but it feels like an entirely career funneled into a single work. Welling ferocity in her words, intense vocal performances, and spectacularly inventive music have long been indelible components of Apple’s cultural contributions, and she already has incredible albums to her name. Somehow, Apple goes to an even higher level with this new collection of songs. Opening track “I Want You to Love Me” starts with a jazzy shuffle and a cascading piano part, then takes a discombobulating number of sharp left turns throughout before ending with Apple engaging in a kind of stridently challenging dolphin-speak cathartic singing. It’s the equivalent of a jutted-forward chin, daring anyone — any hapless fool — to tell her she’s wrong. Just try it.
Expectations firmly set for spectacular daring, Apple charges ahead, swinging a wrecking ball around her head like a lariat. She fearlessly reports the indignities she’s faced across her lifetime, mostly evidence of patriarchal manipulation and oppression. “I grew up in the shoes they told me I could fill/ When they came around, I would stand real still,” she sings on the title cut, later adding “I grew up in the shoes they told me I could fill/ Shoes that were not made for running up that hill/ And I need to run up that hill/ I need to run up that hill/ I will, I will, I will, I will, I will.” Apple uses repetition to underline the accuracy of her recollections and also to make a steely mantra out of her statements of demanded freedom.
On the fevered “Under the Table,” she takes the fury she feels at being silenced by a romantic partner at a social event and transforms it into rhythmic liberation: “If you get me to go and I open my mouth/ To the fucking mutton that they’re talking about/ You can pout, but don’t you/ Don’t you, don’t you, don’t you/ Don’t you shush me.” Apple finds solidarity with a fellow wronged woman on “Newspaper” and then the next track, “Ladies,” makes the call for sisterhood even more explicit. “For Her” is about putting the right name to crimes and not letting the perpetrators cling to their feelings of their own innocence (“Well, good morning, good morning/ You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in”).
And on and on. I could try to crack open the meaning of every song, recounting the elaborate musical dynamics conjured up by Apple, and never get at the splendid weight of it all. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is enveloping and comprehensive. It is mind-spinning and soul-rattling. It is high art from a woman who has taught herself to be a gutter brawler because it is necessary to her survival. I’ve never heard anything quite like it, and I’ve rarely encountered an album that is so immediately arresting. Deliver the chain-cutting tool to Apple if you like. Best as I can tell, she’s already free.