Fiona Apple Has Released the Perfect Album for Quarantine with Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fetch the Bolt Cutters, from the incomparable genius that is Fiona Apple, dropped yesterday, and I instantly downloaded it to listen to while catching up on work emails late Friday afternoon. As excited as I was about it, and as much as I’ve always loved Apple from the time both of us were teens and she released Tidal, nothing could prepare me for how brilliant the album would be. I, of course, started to babble about it on social media, re-listened to favorite tracks in the evening, posted a review on Amazon, and swam in my thoughts well into the sleepless night. Was it Fiona’s lyrics or the Venezuelan food or the normal quarantine panic keeping me up?

The bulk of the Amazon review has been integrated here, but reflecting a day later, I wanted to collect my thoughts and provide more context.

I have many fond memories of listening to Fiona Apple’s sophomore album When The Pawn… self-quarantined in my college dorm room thinking deep, deep thoughts. It was a landmark album. “Get Gone” and “I Know” remain amongst my favorite songs of all time. The album I could listen to straight through tomorrow and it would seem as fresh as that first day I listened to it in my dorm room.

Fetch the Bold Cutters arrives over twenty years later to a world under quarantine, and it too is a landmark album. It is the perfect album at the perfect time. Apple recorded it in her own self-quarantine with only a select few friends and bandmates (and dogs, barking seemingly on cue at the end of one track) at her home over recent years, reflecting deeply (as she always does) on her life, relationships, career, fears, wants, and forgiveness.

Like When the Pawn… Fetch the Bolt Cutters plays straight through true and true, not a wasted track. It’s all at once angry and joyous, polished and raw, soulful and angsty, defiant and willful, dark and tragic and funny and honest and blithe. There are themes of self-care, female empowerment, speaking up, acting out, messing up, surviving, and thriving. Her stories, her songs, her words, they are hers but also ours. She is speaking about our times, not as a passive witness, but as a tortured participant crawling through the muck, learning, growing, and trying to pull some of us out of it with her…if only we would listen…

Ladies, ladies, ladies…she sings…yet another woman to whom I won’t get through.

Another track, “Relay”, which apparently has been tossed around since Apple was a teen, seems like an anthem for all this is wrong with the world today. Evil is a relay sport, when the one who’s burned turns to pass the torch she echoes over and over.

Originally slated for an October release, Apple convinced the studio to release this in April because why wait when the world is under a global pandemic shutdown? People need music, and escape, and we need to be allowed to think deep, deep thoughts. A lot of the professional reviewers are marveling at the experimental rawness, but I found it to be more polished and refined than advertised. It certainly is playful with percussions, happy accidents and background noises, but it all gels and her voice sometimes screaming and sometimes whispering and barely there, still sounds great and classically trained more often than not. What I loved the most is the dark sense of humor and the emotional vulnerability of her lyrical wordplay. Apple is at her most cunning and clever…and this is a masterwork. This is by far her best since When the Pawn…and perhaps the apex of her long gestating craft.

My favorite tracks:

  • I Want You To Love Me
  • Under the Table
  • Relay
  • Ladies
  • For Her
  • Drumset

But there is something to savor and reflect on in each of the rich, complex, surprising tracks.

A real treasure in these strange, strange times.

Written by D. H. Schleicher

Cat Fight: Fiona Apple and Brandi Carlile

The sailors say, “Brandi, you’re a fine girl…”

Fiona! Don’t look away!

It seems like just the other night I was telling a friend, “I’m really not that BIG of a music guy.”  Yet here I am writing about music again because in my head Fiona Apple and Brandi Carlile are having a huge Seinfeldian cat fight.  MEOW.

Both ladies seem to have been conceived in the womb with music in their heads and are known for their startlingly unique vocal abilities, and both have new albums (their fourths) that dropped this June, but that’s about where the similarities end. 

Though she’s roughly my age, it seems like Fiona Apple has been around forever and still to this day is the epitome of big-city, sad-eyed, late 1990’s grrrrrl angst.  It’s as if when she was a naif she decided to respond to the Grunge movement of the early 1990’s by scatting and writing the most densely complex lyrics only to be sung as if Nabokov’s Lolita was crooning old standards.  She defies categorization, and she’s probably one of the only artists working today who can still be considered “alternative”….ah…remember alternative music?  Meanwhile it’s hard to believe Brandi Carlile (not much younger than Apple) is delivering her fourth studio album as well, as she still sounds like a breath of fresh air coming out of nowhere (the wilds of Alaska I’m told) and is the epitome of small-town, folksy-countrified-rock that brings to mind flannel shirts before they were grunge, wading in cool creeks, skipping rocks and the 1970’s.  Fiona Apple is a tempestuous storm raging atop the surface of the sea while Brandi Carlile is still waters running deep. Continue reading