Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters review – A bracing collection

Apple picks up with her outspoken ways where she left off with her last album in 2012

Fetch the Bolt Cutters
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Artist: Fiona Apple
Genre: Alternative
Label: Columbia/Sony

There is nothing close to easy listening on Fiona Apple's new album, but that's par for the course for one of the most intriguing songwriters of the past 25 years. Apple, now in her early 40s, released her debut album, Tidal, in 1996. She was 18, already a veteran of a songwriting process that began when she was eight. Tidal arrived at a time when other women – including PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette, Aimee Mann – were writing songs of crystal-clear self-awareness and forceful self-empowerment. Similarly, Apple (although younger) wasn't into allowing herself to be viewed as a placeholder, but rather an instigator to some and heroine to many for laying her life on the line. Tidal, noted Billboard, was "a sonic dichotomy, an emotional hurricane, a lyrical implosion … " The album sold almost three million copies and made Apple a somewhat reluctant, agitated pop star.

Four albums on, Apple is finally following up her 2012 album, The Idler Wheel…, and she continues to say exactly what she thinks. The pertinent album title is a direct quote from the television series The Fall, and references the investigation by (Gillian Anderson’s) Det Supt Stella Gibson of a sex-crime scene where a woman was tortured. Read into that what you will (Apple’s rape at the age of 12 has been well documented, as has her issues with depression and OCD), but there’s little doubt that once again Apple is putting her life under a microscope.

The album was written and recorded mostly at her home in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, and there is a DIY approach to the generous, sometimes wayward styles of music, the percussive elements of which are a mix of traditional instruments and whatever comes to hand (bells, pieces of metal, wooden blocks, kitchen utensils, dog bones, dog barks and Cara Delevingne contributing “meows”, stomping on floorboards). Lyrically, she is as effusive and forthright as ever (notably on the hip-hop vibe of Ladies and the brilliantly skittish title track); throughout, Apple sticks to her original resolve of “not being afraid to speak”.

The end result is a bracing collection of songs that, perhaps, won't suit some radio playlists but that, in a cultural sense, settle satisfactorily alongside more contemporary female songwriters such as Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, Kesha and Lorde. If 25 years ago there were ever thoughts of a precocious Fiona Apple of being ahead of her time, then right now seems a perfect point for Fetch the Bolt Cutters to arrive. Snip-snip, indeed.

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture