Fetch the Bolt Cutters ★★★★★

CW: sexual abuse

I was introduced to Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters in one of the opening weeks of the first lockdown. Trapped in a house I didn’t even live in (as I was staying with friends), my fear and confusion grew with the rest of the world as borders shut, and hospitals began to fill. I didn’t like the album at first – it felt too shouty and experimental for my tastes, but as I listened to it again, I couldn’t stop. So much so, that listening to this album alone made me one of Fiona Apple’s top 0.5% of listeners on Spotify. Whoops. 

After I fell in love with the album its critical acclaim was no surprise to me. Fetch The Bolt Cutters (FTBC) became the first album in 10 years to receive a Perfect 10 rating in Pitchfork, a leading music review site, the last being Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. 

FTBC is both dirty and grubby, and yet so soft and melodic. It combines the airs and graces of romance and desire in I Want You To Love Me, with the intense anger and frustration at being at the helm of the patriarchal glorification of inadequate men in songs like Rack Of His and Drumset. It’s certainly not an easy listen: the winding instrumentals sound wacky on first approach, and songs like For Her can be potentially triggering. The driving percussion throughout fills the album with intense determination and wrath; listening to Ladies or Under The Table made me feel like a 40-year old divorcee having a cigarette after burning her cheating ex-husband’s expensive clothes. It’s an elaborate daydream but it paints it so well.

The recurring themes of abusive relationships and a vexing outrage on patriarchy lead many to argue that FTBC is the sound of #MeToo. It reclaims the strength of a woman who has fallen prey too many times to power-hungry men and other women caught up in the competitive nature of seeking male approval. The second song Shameika reminisces being bullied by a group of girls in middle school, and the titular song recalls the “it-girls” and “All the VIPs and PYTs and wannabes”. Newspaper recalls one woman appealing to another who shared the same abusive partner (And it’s a shame because you and I didn’t get a witness/ We’re the only ones who know). For Her outright declares the wrongs done to the protagonist (Good morning, good morning/ You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in). I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song like For Her, where acts such as that are not hidden behind euphemism or metaphors. It’s direct and intentional. Fuck trying to tone it down for everyone else.

The production of FTBC also, I believe, makes it synonymous with the sound of quarantine. Almost every track is filled with diegetic sounds from barking dogs to the clicking of a piano key – and the album was in fact partly made in Apple’s home, even before quarantine began. Many of the songs are made in GarageBand and her vocals are unedited, meaning that the completed album includes sometimes pitchy or whiny vocals and mutterings. This doesn’t at all impact the sheer perfection of this album, in fact it reinforces it: it’s a direct opposition to the kind of flawless albums where mistakes are hidden and glossed over. The listener is offered a full experience into the rawness of Apple’s emotions and the stories she tells us. It also reinforces the feel of lockdown, making do with the four walls that surround us daily and existing in a messy and chaotic space, whether physically or emotionally.

Fetch The Bolt Cutters  is the sound of 2020. It’s confusing, dark, and angry at the world, but also encourages an incredible boldness and courage. It speaks out against atrocities committed, atrocities that so many of the world have also had to endure. It’s rebellious, and a protest against both the ideas of what a woman should be and of art generally – for both to be perfect and clean, inoffensive and pretty. For when I’ve been staying inside for the majority of the year, leading my mind to wander into too much introspection that I go mad – as Fiona would say, fetch the bolt cutters. I’ve been in here too long.

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