Well, it doesn’t sound like anything else.
As a matter of fact, it resembles nothing so much as an early seventies experimentation, when the audience’s ears were open to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Captain Beefheart and Terry Riley.
The audience outgrew AM radio. And before FM went top forty in most markets, via the Superstars format, there was a wealth of experimentation on the airwaves.
But really, you found out about records via print. There would be an ecstatic review by a writer you trusted and you’d buy the album. Then you’d go home and spin it and try to get it.
I can name so many albums like this. Whether it be Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” or John Cale’s “The Academy In Peril.”
Experimentation was baked in. That’s what the sixties taught us. And all the innovation was on records, so to be in the know, you had to buy them and listen.
Now eventually, via the Superstars format, FM became dumb, what was played became gigantic and that begat corporate rock. Why not game the system and deliver exactly what the audience wants?
The audience does not want “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.”
But the audience did not want Patti Smith. The audience didn’t want a lot of what was purveyed in the seventies, but they dipped their toe because it was part of their religion, to only get your music news from the radio labeled you a dilettante, the hard core studied print and made purchases accordingly.
Then you’d come home, break the shrinkwrap, drop the needle, and listen.
There were no distractions, you were focused. You’d laid down your money. You wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And since you’d paid for the album, you were prone to like it, there was no way anybody could own everything, you were limited in your purchases.
It is not that way today.
Today there’s a tsunami of hype. To the point where you ignore most of it. Which has me flummoxed as to why acts are holding back their releases during lockdown. This is when people have time, this is when everybody else is backing out, I figure artists would be clamoring to release their records, never mind books.
So, some people today find music via playlists. But really, that’s akin to yesteryear’s radio. Chosen tracks for the casual listener. But what’s worse, with endless time there are so many losers it’s hard to listen at all.
Therefore, all the focus is on the Spotify Top 50. And most of what’s in the Spotify Top 50 is manipulated by the usual suspects. This is where Max Martin still makes hits, can you say WEEKND? This is where the songs written by committee reside. As for Billie Eilish…Interscope worked her for years, planting seeds on Soundcloud, this was not an overnight success, it was a manipulated success, and even back in the seventies no one had years to do this, you put it out and see if stuck, and if it didn’t, you made another record. If you were any good at all, they let you make three to five, they were investing in you, they wanted a return.
But they, the labels, are first and foremost businesses. They want money. And in today’s chaotic landscape you only make money if there’s a plethora of streams, so the labels only invest in what can possibly achieve that. And they put out fewer tracks than ever, because of the opportunity cost, it takes just that long to push and make a track a hit. So, you want insurance, you don’t want to take a big risk. It’s corporate rock on steroids. And corporate rock was so obvious, so lowest common denominator, so lacking in innovation that disco slipped in, there was a war between the two genres and then the whole industry cratered, not to be rescued until the advent of MTV.
Now Fiona Apple made it in the MTV era. Via the Work label.
Work was a division of CBS Records, run by Jeff Ayeroff and Jordan Harris.
Jeff Ayeroff was a creative services genius, he tested the limits with videos and other promotional campaigns. And Work made Apple a star with the ultra-sexy, akin to kiddie porn video “Criminal.” Yup, people couldn’t stop watching this sultry young sexpot writhing on their screen.
And when you had a hit in the nineties, the labels ramped up the press and convinced everybody the act was a star, as the label hoovered up money via those overpriced CDs.
And from there, Apple took a left turn. Her reputation plowed the way, she was seen as an artist and people paid attention, but she was no longer mainstream.
Now comes “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.”
Now the team knows who the target audience is. The release of the album was presaged by a very in-depth story in the “New Yorker”:
“Fiona Apple’s Art Of Radical Sensitivity – For years the elusive singer-songwriter has been working, at home on an album with a strikingly raw and percussive sound. But is she prepared to release it into the world?”: https://bit.ly/2XTULre
Normally the press gets it wrong. They send a writer with a chip on their shoulder who has to say something negative for their cred and… That’s not the case here, Apple emerges unscathed. She seems surprisingly normal, without airs. Sure, she’s revealing her neuroses, but that’s what an artist does, stand in for us all, we’re usually too uptight to speak our truth.
And Friday the album was released.
You need to listen to it. Because there’s nothing quite like it. And what really makes it appealing is the lyrics.
But I’m not sure you’ll listen to it more than once, if you can get through it to begin with.
“Fetch the Bolt Cutters” works on two levels, it embellishes the image of Apple, and it sets her up for a tour. But there is no tour.
So here is the difference between then and now.
Then, print would get you to buy the LP, and how much you played it was irrelevant.
Now, how much you play something is all that matters. And no track off of “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” will ever hit triple digit millions on Spotify.
But the truth is we live in a beat-oriented world, melody is secondary. So, is the audience ready for this?
Well, a certain cadre of females are. But this is not a record you play in the background, it demands attention, to say it’s got edges…it’s only edges! It’s something you can admire more than embrace.
But it’s Apple’s truth. The album hearkens back to what once was, when it was about making an artistic statement more than sales.
But all these positive reviews… If you’re expecting “Criminal,” if you’re expecting something instantly palatable, if you expect to be eating ice cream as opposed to glass, be forewarned.
So, the lyrics of every track are not so insightful they must be pondered ad infinitum. But a picture of Apple shines through. She’s her own woman. She is affected by her relationships. She’s thinking about her relationships. Men are an important focus of her life, seemingly the main focus in her life.
This is just the opposite of the feminism being sold in the media.
In the media women want equal pay, they don’t want to be harassed at work. They don’t want men to control them, men are an impediment.
But Apple is blowing off the facade to show what women really think. And it’s messy and complicated and like I said, men are a prominent feature, and they may act badly, but you cannot ignore their blowback.
Not that Apple is not powerful.
The key track on the album is “Under the Table.”
“I told you I didn’t wanna go to this dinner You know I don’t go for those ones that you bother about So when they say something that makes me start to simmer That fancy wine won’t put this fire out, oh”
Men are social climbers. They’re networking all the time. They make lunch and dinner dates, they drag their significant others along, even though they ignore them and talk business all the time, always cheery, always boasting. Frequently, they view their significant others as eye candy. If you’re good-looking or famous or rich or all three, they believe it burnishes their image. But Fiona Apple is all three, and she won’t put up with it.
“Kick me under the table all you want
I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up”
Apple is anything but subservient. She cannot be controlled.
But she can be manipulated, even if she regrets it later.
But the truth is we all do things we regret when we fall in love, we’re going with the flow, finding someone you can connect with is so difficult.
And Apple is insightful and empowering in “Ladies.”
“Nobody can replace anybody else
So it would be a shame to make it a competition
And no love is like any other love
So it would be insane to make a comparison with you”
Far different from the good-timey, banal lyrics of the hit parade.
As for that dedication to men, in “Rack of His”:
“It was because I was loving you so much It’s the only reason I gave my time to you And that’s it, that’s the kick in you giving up ‘Cause you know you won’t like it when there’s nothing to do”
Now that’s a twist on the traditional kiss-off. She admits she was so into him, she’s pissed he gave up, the loss to him is just a fillip at the end.
On the same note of connection to men, in “Cosmonauts”:
“When I met you I was fine with my nothing I grew with you and now I’ve changed What I’ve become is something I can’t be without your loving Be good to me, it isn’t a game”
She’s in this and she’s demanding good treatment. Sure, she’s standing up for herself, but she’s also admitting she’s addicted to him. Life is not cut and dry, there’s push and pull. Furthermore, the older you get, the harder it is to be pulled from stasis, your life works, even if there’s no companion, but when you throw in, it’s ever so serious.
I could quote more, but I won’t.
The positive reviews are deafening. And that’s cool, but they don’t reflect what this LP actually sounds like. And sure, you hear the words of an outsider who is sick of getting the wrong end of the stick, however unjustly, but this is music you may have never heard in your life, and there’s a good chance you won’t like it. If the album wasn’t so well-reviewed you’d put your hands to your ears and screech, TAKE IT OFF, TAKE IT OFF!
So, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters’ is a conundrum. It’s pushing the envelope, but it will ultimately leave a small footprint, more in people’s minds than in the listening.
But this is what artists do.
And I applaud Fiona Apple for her effort. She’s unafraid to go down the path less taken. She’s unafraid of judgment. She’s just being herself.
Do you want to be her friend?
I’ll let you decide.