It’s been eight long years since Fiona Apple released her last album “The Idler Wheel,” but she wasted no time pushing for an early release of her newest album “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” — against the advice of her music label — earlier this year. The reclusive, Grammy Award-winning musician’s fifth studio album received universal acclaim on its release day, April 17. That same day, Pitchfork magazine gave the album a perfect rating of 10. The last album to receive this rating was Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” nearly 10 years ago. Pitchfork has only awarded this score to 12 albums since the publication’s inception. Review aggregator Metacritic also gave the album a perfect 100 this past week, a score unmatched by any other album.
What’s the hype? Why does “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” deserve a perfect score?
Maybe it has to do with the time of the album’s release. It’s an album about liberation.
“Fetch the bolt cutters / I’ve been in here too long / Fetch the bolt cutters / I’ve been in here too long.” What words could more accurately express our current state? Feeling trapped is a ubiquitous shared experience these days, and people are trying to find whatever outlet they can to feel connected. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is the perfect outlet to do just that. In Apple’s own words, “it seems like it’s doing the thing that any artist would want their art to do, which is to help people feel free, especially when they’re not feeling free.”
With this in mind, put on some headphones, turn the volume all the way up and close your eyes. Surround yourself with the sound of pots and pans banging on the walls of Apple’s Venice Beach home. Take in intense, makeshift percussion overlaid with Apple’s soulful lyrics, gritty voice, piano rock medleys and the occasional bark of her dogs. You might find yourself liberated along the way.
At the end of her first track, “I Want You To Love Me,” Apple sings: “And I want you to use it, blast the music / Bang it, bite it, bruise it”
And that’s just what I set out to do. Upon listening through “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” for the first time, I did absolutely nothing else. I laid in bed, stared at the ceiling, and let the claustrophobic cacophony of sounds and Apple’s powerful, at times vengeful, voice captivate me. There was still some disconnect. This is the kind of album you need to give your full attention to in order to interpret and truly feel the weight of Apple’s words — relistening is recommended.
The only words that don’t require deep contemplation? Written on the bottom of the back of the album are the words “Made on unceded Tongva, Mescalero Apache and Suma territories.”
Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” includes a land acknowledgement. There is no need for interpretation here. Her album was made on territory that was taken without consent. We are all living our lives on territory that was taken without consent. Although a seemingly bold political statement on Apple’s part, she regards it differently.
In a recent interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Apple admitted, “I’m an ignorant white person, and I have lived a whole life of privilege. And I have no idea what it’s like to not be me. And so, all I can really — the best thing I can do right now is to say, ‘I’ve got time, and I’ve got space, and I’ve got money. And please, just talk to me. Let me know. Like, just fill my head. I’m a blank space, you know?’”
According to Eryn Wise, a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and Laguna Pueblo people, in the same interview with Goodman, land and water acknowledgement is only “the first step . . . in a series of many steps — toward reclaiming land, reclaiming culture . . .” Acknowledgement by people with large platforms for their words such as Apple, and even the everyday person in daily dialogue, is such a simple step that can bring awareness and bolster support for Indigenous people.
Support is needed now more than ever. The Navajo Nation has the highest infection rate of COVID-19 per capita, exceeding that of New York and New Jersey. Despite the U.S. government’s obligation to provide healthcare to indigenous peoples, the Navajo Nation is severely lacking in medical equipment to cater to the ever-rising number of coronavirus patients. Many of its 17,000 people do not have access to clean water. How are the Navajo people supposed to wash their hands?
Although the album is largely focused on Apple’s personal life — her past relationships, sexual abuse, being an outcast and finding her voice — she explains that after completing the album, she is not so interested in herself anymore. Apple hopes that “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” can liberate others, whether through hearing about her journey from abuse and insecurity to empowerment or simply through educating oneself about silenced Indigenous nations.
I admit, I am skeptical of the perfect scores across the board for “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.” But I think this largely stems from my overall skepticism of infallible, unbiased “good taste.” It’s hard to tell whether or not the album would have been met with the same overwhelming praise if it had been released soon after “The Idler Wheel” or even a few months before stay-at-home orders were put in place. With that in mind, I highly recommend you give “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” a spin and see how Apple’s spirit of unbound liberation moves you. And more importantly, read up on the Navajo Nation’s current struggle for support, the Oglala and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes’ fight for jurisdiction over their own land to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or the disproportional rate of violent crimes against indigenous women.
Jacqueline Lee is an Entertainment Contributing Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.