There’s something enormously comforting about a new Fiona Apple album.
Every seven or eight years, the reclusive, media-shy singer reemerges with a new body of work more idiosyncratic and adventurous than the last as she hums and howls and huffs over a maelstrom of instruments fighting for attention. Apple’s music is controlled chaos anchored by her familiar staccato, which pretzels from a gentle whisper to an exasperated drawl in a matter of seconds.
Her vocal acrobatics are vividly on display from the aching opening minutes of “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” out Friday, Apple’s fifth album and her first since 2012’s “The Idler Wheel…” Gravelly singing over a warm piano on the first track, “I Want You to Love Me,” Apple’s words trip over each other and spill out like word soup as she struggles to articulate her feelings.
“And I know none of this will matter in the long run
But I know a sound is still a sound around no one.
And while I’m in this body
I want somebody to want
And I want what I want and I want you.”
The song culminates in what can only be described as Apple making dolphin noises for 15 amusingly jarring seconds. It’s not the last time she taps into her animal instincts: The percussive title track ends with a cacophony of dog barks and heavy panting as actress-turned-backup vocalist Cara Delevingne softly “meows.” There’s no discernible reason or logic behind these sonic diversions, but there doesn’t need to be. Apple is simply having fun.
“Fetch the Bolt Cutters” simmers with defiance, dark wit and quiet rage, most notably on the title track. Here, Apple discerningly looks back on her younger self: a naive, less-confident woman still finding her voice and living in the shadow of a powerful, temperamental man. (The song seems vaguely inspired by Apple’s ex-boyfriend of three years, “There Will Be Blood” director Paul Thomas Anderson, whom she started dating in 1997 and described in a New Yorker profile as “coldly critical” of her.)
“All the VIPs, PYTs and wannabes, afraid of not being your friend.
And I’ve always been too smart for that, but you know what?
My heart was not. I took it like a kid, you see. …
I’m ashamed of what it did to me – what I let get done.
Apple, 42, has been bracingly confessional ever since her 1996 debut, “Tidal.” In rare interviews, she’s spoken openly about when she was raped by a stranger at 12 years old outside her mom’s Manhattan apartment. On this album’s haunting, heartbreaking standout “Newspaper,” she speaks directly to a fellow victim of sexual assault, sharing her complicated feelings about an unspecified abuser and how she’s “trying not to let my light go out.”
“It’s a shame that you and I didn’t get a witness
We’re the only ones who know.
We were cursed the moment that he kissed us
From then on, it was his big show.”
She broaches the subject again on “For Her,” which Apple says was inspired by the anger she felt when Brett Kavanaugh was sworn into the Supreme Court in 2018 after professor Christine Blasey Ford testified that he sexually assaulted her in high school. The cathartic, disarmingly cheery track interpolates “Good Morning,” made famous by 1952 movie musical “Singin’ in the Rain.”
“Well, good morning! Good morning!” Apple wails against a backdrop of ominous drums and gospel harmonies. “You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.”
These are the kinds of razor-sharp statements and evocative lyrics that reveal themselves in every new listen of “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” a dense and richly poetic masterpiece from one of music’s best modern storytellers.
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