“I’m apparently a Fiona Apple fan now. I did not expect that.”
That Facebook comment was from Malachi Kenney, erstwhile writer for Part-Time Audiophile, and I totally get it. I don’t mean to tease Mal because I felt the same way about her last album, The Idler Wheel…, eight years ago. (Eight, really?) That’s when I became a Fiona Apple fan, a big one, because that album was such a bolt of lightning, the work of a true musical artist who no longer cares about selling records. I always admired her, and when I first heard the single “Criminal” in 1996 from her debut album Tidal, I thought she was intriguing. But I didn’t buy that album until many years later when MoFi’s Jonathan Derda brought out the reissue LP and played it for me at a high-end show. Yeah, I ordered it shortly afterward. It sounded great.
It’s easy to forget about Fiona Apple for one reason–she puts a lot of space between albums. She’s only put out five in the last 24 years. In comparison, Lana Del Rey puts out an album almost every year so it’s easy to track the arc of progression from her first awkward live appearance on Saturday Night Live to last year’s amazing Norman Fucking Rockwell! Fiona hides from the world and only comes out when she has something to say, and I admire that.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters has been out for a couple of weeks now, and you might have heard that it’s pretty good. Right now on Metacritic it has a perfect score of 100, a number that’s usually reserved for boxed sets from legendary performers that have been meticulously curated and come with a lock of the performer’s hair. I’ve been listening to Fiona Apple’s fifth album for a few days now, and I think it’s the closest thing we’ve come to a pop masterpiece in many years–if you can call it pop. Labeling this just pop, after all, seems dismissive. What makes Fetch the Bolt Cutters so absolutely great is that it’s not music that conforms to the idea of an end product, but explosions of pure creativity and inspiration. This isn’t just Fiona Apple doing what she wants to do, it’s Fiona Apple doing what no one else has done before. I’ve never heard an album sound this spontaneous before.
Enough with the hyperbole. But it’s hard to describe what’s going on here, so we can start with Fiona Apple’s voice, which is as strong and gutsy as it’s ever been–I saw one review compare it to Mama Cass, and I kind of liked that. There’s her piano playing, which sort of reminds me of Holly Hunter in The Piano–she’s playing beautifully, straight from the heart, and it gets under your skin and discovers your secrets. She sticks to the same odd, spare accompaniment found in The Idler Wheel, unique percussion and noises that spring naturally from the space around her and her piano, like a crowd of stick and cajons.
Finally, there’s Fiona Apple’s lyrics. They’re confrontational, bare, claustrophobic and still uniquely poetic. She’s also funny AF. On “Under the Table” she says, “Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up” right after she complains that she didn’t want to go to this dinner anyway. I think that encapsulates this album–and Fiona Apple’s career–better than anything else I’ve seen or heard. And with that, I urge you to listen for yourself because so much of this album defies description. It’s a bold, exciting highlight in an otherwise crummy year.