Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters might be her greatest yet: a confrontation of trauma and exhibition of musical excellence.
Eight largely reclusive years later and Fiona Apple has delivered her Idler Wheel follow-up. The creation process was a long one, with recording of her new record beginning as far back as 2015. Originally envisioned as a concept album based on her home, Fetch The Bolt Cutters instead became something far more universal; Apple doesn’t just detail her own struggles here, but instead often speaks to the shared pains of a vast humanity.
The first track, “I Want You to Love Me,” clearly demonstrates Apple’s familiar fearlessness, not only when it comes to confronting her love life or external criticism, but even as it relates to her death: “I know that time is elastic / And I know when I go / All my particles disband and disperse.” It’s a power statement to immediately set such a tone, as she goes on to describe harrowing experiences, some of them her own and others not. It’s reflective of a strength that traces back to her childhood, as explored on “Shameika” — “I wasn’t afraid of the bullies / and that’s just made the bullies worse.” On that same track, she also connects this fortitude to her experiences on the road: “Sebastian said I’m a good man in a storm” is a reference to her drummer’s declaration when, after the group was pulled over with weed in their car, Apple hid it on herself. She’s strong in the face of both her depression on “Heavy Balloon — “People like us, we play with a heavy balloon. / We keep it up to keep the devil at bay, / but it always falls way too soon” — and in confronting sexual assault on “For Her” — “Good morning, good morning / You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.”
But Apple thrives as much due to her musicality as her lyrics, and while her piano skills are on full, affecting display throughout, the album’s grandest strength is its percussion. Rich, heavy drum beats mark each track, pushing the album along as if ushering in a parade of traumas. Rather than signaling defeat, these drums represent the sound of survival. Rather than letting experiences shape her, Apple instead attempts to define her own shape through acknowledging them: in an interview with Vulture, the performer noted that it took her a long time to land in this place, and she intends her music to be a celebration of this philosophy. It’s a measure of control that extends to her art, and so while it’s massively impressive to hear an album where every song absolutely works, it’s not a shock that Fiona Apple is the musician who could pull it off in such a meaningful way. Listening to 2012’s The Idler Wheel…,one can hear inklings of this new, inventive sound ready to pounce. As it stands, the end result is one of Apple’s greatest efforts yet.
Published as part of Pop Rocks | Q2 2020 Issue – Part 2.