In an interview on National Public Radio, Grammy Award-winning singer Fiona Apple reveals the inspiration behind the name of her latest album. She was watching an episode of “The Fall,” a British television show in which a police detective (played by Gillian Anderson) attempts to rescue a kidnapped girl. Upon encountering a padlock, Anderson mutters to “fetch the bolt cutters.” It is a small, throwaway line, but Apple says she shot up from her couch while watching and decided it would be the name of her album.
Now, eight years after the release of Apple’s last album, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is on the lips of every music critic. To go eight years without releasing an album is somewhat of an anomaly, especially as more music sensations are born overnight and must vie to stay in the spotlight. But considering Apple’s decades-long career — she was only 18 when her debut album “Tidal” sold 2.7 million copies and went triple-platinum in the United States — eight years does not seem too long, and the album was well worth the wait.
A lot has changed in those eight years. The 42-year-old singer-songwriter, once a target of the press for her controversial candor, now rarely leaves her house in Venice Beach. In a March 2020 article for The New Yorker, Apple discusses her decision to stop drinking and separate herself from old friends as she worked on “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” which helped her turn her focus inward and rekindle her past pains and experiences into a fiery album of battle cries and ballads. For five years, Apple turned off the radio and collaborated solely with her band, close friends and family to produce her most organic and raw album yet.
Album closer "On I Go" exemplifies the earthy, almost tribal nature of the record. The song opens with clapping, beating and rattling, and when Apple’s voice breaks through, she is not so much singing as chanting with a steady cadence. She sings of moving onward — not “toward or away” from something, but just to move. Apple is tired of trying to change her reputation and prove herself to other people. In a moment that captures this new mindset, Apple messes up the rhythm halfway through the song and briefly curses, but she continues on.
Throughout the album, Apple uses repetition to emphasize her message without sounding monotonous. From sage metaphors (“Evil is a relay sport / When the one who's burnt / Turns to pass the torch” from “Relay”) to witty wordplays (“I would beg to disagree / But begging disagrees with me” from “Under the Table”), Apple’s repeated words form an urgent pulse that propels the album forward rather than holding it back.
From the start, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is unmistakably Apple’s: the layered percussion, the piano riffs and Apple’s clear, purposeful voice are what have always made her music distinct. Yet “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” tells — and sometimes yells — the story of not just one woman, but all women who have been unjustly restricted in their lives. In the title track, Apple questions the unrealistic expectation for women to act a certain way to please men or the press. After years of trying to fit in with the in-crowd, she realizes doing so only made her feel confined and unhappy. Now that she has found her voice and her perseverance, she will break out of the prison that was built around her and “run up that hill,” inspiring others to run freely with her.
Apple also understands that women supporting women can get messy. In “Newspaper,” the turbulent percussion mirrors Apple’s conflicting feelings towards her emotionally abusive ex’s new girlfriend. She is infatuated with the new girlfriend and feels close to her due to their shared suffering, but she knows that this is not what she is “supposed to do” in a society that constantly, ludicrously pits women against each other.
But if anything, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is an irrefutable sign that Apple does not care what she is “supposed to do,” and she wants other women to free themselves from that pressure too. It is what makes her such an enduring pioneer and iconic artist in the music industry, and it is what has allowed her to overcome trauma and keep moving through life. Now, Apple looks back purposefully — with patience, bravery and sensitivity — to create an album that depicts pain in a way that does it justice. It is what Apple, and all women who have felt this pain, deserve.