On Music: Fiona Apple’s ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’

What is there left to say about Fiona Apple that hasn’t already been said?

From various sources since the release of her new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, she’s been dubbed both “the voice of the pandemic” and “the voice of the Me Too era”. Various ‘thinkpieces’ laud her as some sort of patron saint of today and faun over her; I’ve seen many an article claim she has long been “ahead of the times”.

Frankly, I’d argue she still is.

Perhaps “ahead” of the times is the wrong way to put it, anyways. It’s tiresome, in my mind, to decry particularly visionary artists as ‘ahead of the times’; many of them (Apple included) create work so clearly in reaction to and submerged within the current times that it seems silly to separate the two. It’s also an assumption that we have indeed moved beyond the context of those times, which is a very one-dimensional and naïve way of looking at the evolution of humanity. Cultural attitudes do not magically cut off at a certain date or drop off with a generation; there may be changes, certainly, but the ghosts of stigmas remain and resurface in new ways.

It’s certainly possible that times have indeed evolved since the early aughts, and that had Fiona Apple arrived on the scene today, she wouldn’t have struggled with press deriding her as ‘unhinged’ and mocking her mercilessly. To me, though, this modern-day praise reads less as a ‘win’ over what she went through than as it does a natural progression of it. It’s still an insistence of making a woman (or girl) into both more and less than what she is; to make an idea of a person, an ideology of her artistic expression. It’s very antithetical to the record itself, which is incredibly open and raw in a way that idolatry does not generally permit.

That’s not to say the record is not political- it’s probably the most personal and the most political of her work. For Her is definitely a song for the ‘Me Too’ era, but it’s not a manifesto so much as a cathartic expression of rage and festering wounds, and it’s that much more powerful for it. Many of the songs delve into the wounds girls and women inflict on each other and our own culpability in the current system. In the words of the titular song, a girl can roll her eyes at me and kill.

From a recent interview in Vulture:

“Boys can be mean but it’s just kind of stupid mean. I’m not traumatized by boys bullying me. I’m more traumatized by girls rolling their eyes at me.”

I’m very drawn to this craving entwined throughout the album to connect to the very women that turn her away. Men get in the way- from both the refrains of Newspaper: “I wonder what lies he’s telling you about me/ to make sure we’ll never be friends” and Ladies: “…turning out more and more good women like you/ Yet another woman to whom I won’t get through”. It’s written within the perspective of broken relationships and ‘the other woman’, certainly, but it is also a mirror to a bigger picture of the divisiveness women perpetrate in the name of patriarchy.

The prevailing narrative that seems to be surrounding this album is that it is an album of rage, but I’d argue that it’s more of an album around release. After all, the chosen title of the album and refrain of the song- fetch the bolt cutters, I’ve been here too long– is from a scene in the show ‘The Fall’ (a show that delves into the violence men inflict against women) where Gillian Anderson’s character is rescuing a woman who has been locked up and tortured. We’re helping each other out of the cages we’ve found each other in.

There’s rage here certainly, but it’s the driving force of hope for freedom- again, from ‘Bolt Cutters’:

“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 will run up that hill, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will”.

Where Fiona Apple used to proclaim, “hunger hurts, but starving works” (1999’s ‘Paper Bag’), now she “[spreads] like strawberries, [crawls] like peas and beans, [sucking] it in so long that [she’s] bursting at the seams”.

And it’s that hopeful determination I will carry with me, as the album finishes out with ‘On I Go’:

“On I go, not toward or away

Up until now it was day, next day

Up until now a rush to prove

Now I only move to move”

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