Happy Anniversary to my sister, Amy, and her husband of 28 years (and more important, frequent commenter on this blog), Dana.
Best wishes to both of you for making it through another year, even as the global pandemic has robbed you of your weekly dinner-and-a-movie date nights.
And now, to celebrate the occasion, the Random iTunes Fairy will serve up a song that I hope will be either sweetly appropriate or hilariously inappropriate.
The 2000 album Maroon turned out to be peak Barenaked Ladies. At the time, the album felt like a more than worthy successor to the 1998 breakthrough album Stunt, and in my view, heralded many years of great material to come.
To be fair, the band’s next few albums contain their share of good songs. But signs of creative stagnation and tension within the band were already evident on 2003’s Everything to Everyone, the release immediately following this one.
Some albums make for great background music. Some are perfect for dance parties. Some get the whole family singing along on a road trip.
Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters is none of the above. This is an album best listened to alone, headphones on, with the lyrics in front of you. Or, as I’ve discovered over the past couple of weeks, alone, headphones on, while jogging around the neighborhood and keeping a wide berth from potentially infected passers-by.
Fiona Apple is a piano player at heart, but on Fetch the Bolt Cutters she relegates her signature instrument largely to the background. Instead, this song cycle is dominated by percussion.
That percussion comes in the form of traditional drum sets, but also all manner of found objects. Apple recorded the album in her house, and she turned her house into an instrument. She told one interviewer that she came to view the house as a member of the band. On one track, she is credited with playing a “chair.”
Another theme of Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the acknowledgement and overcoming of trauma.
That takes a very dark turn on ‘For Her,’ a song inspired by the Harvey Weinstein scandal and Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing. That song packs four distinct musical movements into its two and a half minute running time and includes the jarring lyric “Well, good morning, good morning, you raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.”
One of the most interesting and appealing aspects of Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters is its focus on female empowerment.
Whether she’s recounting a dinner party where an ex objected to her outspokenness on ‘Under the Table’ (“Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up”) or finding common ground with another ex’s new girlfriend on ‘Newspaper’ (“I wonder what lies he’s telling you about me to make sure that we’ll never be friends”), these songs are explicitly for and about women.
Of all the new music that has dropped in the coronavirus era, I’m most excited and entranced by Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, the singer-songwriter’s first new album since 2012’s The Idler Wheel.
The notoriously reclusive, reluctant genius has released only five albums in 25 years, each of them a very different kind of masterpiece. A new Fiona Apple record is enough of an event that I’m dedicating the rest of the week to this unique gem.