Bolt Cutters feels both playful and urgent, melodic and chaotic.

By Leah Greenblatt
April 17, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Somewhere in the cosmic dust of the internet, there’s a video of Fiona Apple dancing at home with her dog. She’s all in red with her hair casually pulled back, doing a jaunty little Newsies jig that turns into a sort of interpretative Martha Graham kick-sprawl on the floor; the dog, a glossy black mutt, leaps and scrabbles around her, nearly deranged with Big Canine Energy.

It’s sweet and strange and a little bit unnerving (is Apple’s arm about to get ripped out of its socket? Stay tuned!), and all over in about a minute. It also has just over 100,000 views, which might seem unusually high for an artist who hasn’t released an album in nearly eight years, or a charting single in more than 20; one who rarely goes to industry events and cultivates press only in the most eccentric intermittent way, occasionally calling up journalists she finds online to chat.

And yet the Cult of Fiona endures — perhaps because there was no artist quite like her when she first emerged as a lemur-eyed, wildly precocious 18-year-old with the contained supernova of 1996’s Tidal, and there hasn’t really been another one since. But if the Sullen Girl who stood in front of an audience of millions at the 1997 VMAs and flatly declared “This world is bulls---” is some two decades older and wiser now, there is nothing diminished about the fierceness of her presence on Fetch the Bolt Cutters, an album that feels both playful and urgent, melodic and chaotic, expansive and crammed with tiny definitive details.

“I’ve waited many years/Every print I’ve left upon the track has led me here,” she coos over swooping arpeggios and a crisp, jittery backbeat on the torch-song opener “I Want You to Love Me," holding the note on every “you” in the song’s climbing chorus like a happy hostage. “Shameika” segues into a giddy, galloping piano stomp, threaded through with casual Latin hymnals and a big-bang kick drum; “Under the Table” begins with a sly dinner-party protest before descending into a joyful chaos of rolling percussion and singing-in-the-round. “Evil is a Relay Sport,” with its tightly wound couplets about resentment and representation and hate for hate’s sake, could be political or it could be personal; it could also just be a very apt description of social media.

The syncopated title track comes on clanging with kitchen-sink instruments and tricky time signatures,  somewhere between sparse cabaret and spoken word; her voice dips low and grows hoarse over “Heavy Balloon,” singing of loss and bottomless bottoms. You could say that heaviness has always been Apple’s lane, and it's true there’s not a lot here that passes for anything breezy, let alone radio-ready.

But Fetch, which blossoms more and more with each listen, feels giddy too; high on romance and rhythm and the surreal gift of being alive: “Blast the music/bang it, bite it, bruise it,” she commands in the album’s first thunderous moments. “Whenever you want to begin, begin/We don’t have to go back to where we’ve been.” And that does seem to capture, in its own confounding, wonderful way, exactly what she's done for more than two decades now: looked far ahead, and dragged the rest of us — or at least those lucky enough and willing to hang on — along. A–

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