- 17 Apr 20
Fiercely independent singer-songwriter knocks it out of the park again.
Fiona Apple’s fifth album arrives preceded by a gripping and sometimes hilarious cameo by the singer in the pages of the New Yorker. Among other revelations, she let slip that she’d decided to give up mind-altering refreshments after one too many nights forced to listen to then-boyfriend Paul ThomasAnderson yucking it up with a shiny-eyed Quentin Tarantino.
If that doesn’t put you off partying into the wee hours, she intimated, nothing will. Apple was stepping out with Anderson during a period in her career when she was still trying to slough off the perception that she was self-involved to a fault and destructively eccentric. This characterisation said as much about the sexism of the time this would have been the early 2000s – as about Apple as either artist or reluctant celebrity.
Fifteen or so years later, we are perhaps at a moment where an indomitable and fiercely individualistic artist can be listened to on their merits and not misogyniastically pigeon-holed (here’s hoping anyway). Which is to say Fetch the Bolt Cutters – named from a line Gillian Anderson utters in Belfast sicko killer thriller The Fall and recorded at Apple’s home in Venice Beach, LA– is angry, earnest wilful and, yes, at moments slightly baffling.
The high points are truly dazzling. On ‘I Want You To Love Me’, the opening track, she coos forcefully over rippling piano lines.
“I know that time is elastic,” she sings, as if she somehow had advance warning of the lockdown purgatory through which we are all suffering. “And I know…that none one this will matter in the long run.” It’s the malevolent power ballad we absolutely need right now.
More upbeat is ‘Shameka’, a stomper driven by keys and by lyrics that glitter like razor blades (“I never smiled / that just made the bullies worse”). Apple’s mastery of the smokey lounge ballad is meanwhile underscored with ‘Under The Table’ where she sounds like Norah Jones if Norah Jones woke each morning dreaming she fronted Nine Inch Nails. There are a few wobbles. The faux-jaunty ’Relay’ feels like a novelty song taken too far; ‘Ladies’ can’t decide whether it wants to be jazz odyssey spoken word or a slow burning torch song.
But these are ultimately endearing kinks rather than deal-breakers. “Kick me under the table all you want,” she sings on ‘Under The Table’. “I won’t shut, I won’t shut up.” After all these years, they never did manage to shut her up. And now she’s back and more thrillingly outspoken than ever.