Fiona Apple made herself known with two albums that were released closely to one another Tidal (1996) and When the Pawn…(1999). She even snagged a Grammy Award for her wonderful vocals on her Alternative Rock hit ‘Criminal.’ I cannot stress how important Fiona Apple was to women who loved the alternative scene. We often talk about how country music lacks female representation, but the truth is rock music also lacks female representation. Most women rockers are relevant for only a few years before slipping in popularity as they reach the age where women expressing anger, bitterness, righteousness, and attitude somehow seems unacceptable. I hoped that Fiona Apple would be the exception and not the rule, but the truth was she did start to slide from the public eye and the albums became sparse. Just like Alanis Morrisette, another alternative rock goddess.
Fiona Apple’s existence in the 1990s was vital in the sea of sugary pop female vocalists, whose projected image were as perfect as their vocals. It was refreshing to see an edgy, authentic, and intelligent woman turn heads with raw talent and made music that blended rock, blues, and traditional pop elements yet preserved a gritty quality that is unique to her sound.
Despite the lack of limelight she has been quietly and intentionally making music for years. She released Extraordinary Machine (2005) then seven years later The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver…(2012). Those albums stuck to her authentic sound and solid in their own right, but lacked the fanfare of her hits in the 1990s. Now, eight years later she is back with a new album called Fetch the Bolt Cutters which has been getting lots of attention from nostalgic millenials and critics alike.
The album’s title, Fiona Apple admitted, came from a throw-away line on Netflix’s The Fall. The idea of becoming liberated, getting out of the box we live in, and embracing who we are regardless of the noise are themes that she does address in the album. The opening track, ‘I Want You To Love Me’ starts off with the expressed desire that she would love to be loved, but as the track continues she lets herself go with a series of scat-styled vocals. It was that creative choice that made me, the listener, realize that Fiona Apple is letting go and wants me to as well.
Overall, the album is both what we need right now and also from a listener perspective might have needed song editing. Those two things seem like they could not exist together, but somehow on this record it does. Fiona Apple decided to go with a simple blue structure for many of the chorus runs on this album. Meaning many of the choruses are simple in structure with a couple of lines that are repeated multiple times. Many people who do not understand blues music often feel that repetitive nature is boring and lazy song writing, but to be honest it is how poetry works and blues out of all the genres is more in line with the writing rules of standard poetry. The repetitive lines are the mantras we are the words we tell ourselves as a tool to overcome or to dwell in our depression.
On the track ‘Shameika’, a song about being told a million things about yourself by different people. The chorus part of the song is simply “Shameika said I had potential” over and over again. Meaning this was something that struck Fiona as important, even though she is told many different things and has different obstacles to overcome; it is that particular comment that strikes Fiona the most. So, she repeats it to let it sink in with all of us. Another song, which is one of my favorites on the album, ‘Under the Table’ expresses anger at being asked to keep her opinion to herself. There are three lines that are repeated in the song: “Kick me under the table all you want,” “I won’t shut up”, and “I would beg to disagree but begging disagrees with me.” Showcasing how keeping her opinion to herself is not something that feels right to her and she is not going to listen anymore.
Another one of my favorite tracks is called ‘Heavy Balloon’. This song is a bluesy song with traditional pop elements, making it easy to sing and jam to. Her vocals are raw and powerful on this track as well, giving it a sense of intimacy. This track is about being bogged down with things left unsaid and how that can lead you to accept bad situations. One line struck me, “The bottom begins to feel like the only safe place that you know.” This complacency of what is, opposed to seeing the more is something that happens far too often. All in all, it is an organized and well produced track that gets you to the main point in a linear fashion with some killer beats to accompany the journey.
The album is filled with themes of self-discovery, dealing with jealousy, dealing with narcissistic men, and learning to go get those bolt cutters so that you can free yourself from the negative in your life. Most of the tracks fit that theme, but I was left disappointed with the last track ‘On I Go’. The repetitive verses and simple choruses in blue songs always land with me, because I get the mantras we tell ourselves that impact our feelings. But the album needed some clarity and some editing to allow for some direction, but maybe my disappointment in that last track was that these songs spoke to me and I was hoping for guidance. Fiona Apple offers no guidance, but maybe that was the point. She was just telling me to get the bolt cutters and after that… well… I suppose Fiona has to figure that out herself and we need to figure it out for ourselves. It just did not feel like the epic ending this album needed.
This is not the Fiona Apple of the 1990s, but she has definitely written some intriguing poetry that might be fitting for the times we live in. I am glad to see Fiona Apple is back and I hope we do not need to wait another eight years to get a taste of what she has to offer our ears. We need more authentic females in this space and I will forever be grateful for her works.