A Lyrical Exploration of Fiona Apple’s Groundbreaking “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”

"Fetch the Bolt Cutters"

"Fetch the Bolt Cutters"

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One thrumming soundtrack to 2020’s pandemic has been Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Reviewers were jubilant over her fifth album, the first in eight years, and audiences were hungry for her intelligent femino-centric art rock; delivered here with such edgy gusto while lockdown locked us up.

Hence, bolt cutters were exactly the implements required — and Fiona Apple grabbed them and ripped the doors off. But then she’s “a good man in a storm;” one line that stuck in my ear canal for weeks.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is full of such lines, couched in a gritty, lo-fi, indie-style production where she doesn’t so much play piano as… well, punch it. Apple gives voice to all her power and fury in complex and yet simple themes that boil up and over in this compelling twelve-track release.

Let’s give it a spin, and give some of her well-crafted lyrics a closer look.


Apple is not afraid to plunder the profusely personal, including her rape at 12 years old, and tie her experiences to the full spectrum of masculine micro/macro aggression, dismissal, control, and privilege. Her lyrics are riddled with it:

“I resent you for being raised right / I resent you for being tall / I resent you for getting no opposition at all.”


“Kick me under the table all you want / I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up.”

And the unexpected couplet of the century:

“Well, good mornin’, good mornin’ / You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.”

The language is visceral, yet relentlessly crafted, and emotionally dynamic. There’s light in Apple’s shade, wit and word play a-plenty interspersed in her “Sturm und Drang.”

“Check out that rack of his, look at that row of guitar necks / Lined up like eager fillies, outstretched like legs of Rockettes.”

Well, I know I snorted at the ‘how-many-guitars-does-one-man-need-to-compensate’ in-joke. Her images are deeply domestic (“don’t you shush me”); one moment she’s speaking to us directly on her way to school (“down the windy, windy sidewalks”).

The next, she’s wryly telling a “good woman” that:

“There’s a dress in the closet / Don’t get rid of it, you’d look good in it! / I didn’t fit in it, it was never mine / It belonged to the ex-wife of another ex of mine.”

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man playing piano

She navel gazes, she barks, she misses her dead dogs, she’s outraged by evil and she wants you to love her and somewhere she spreads “like peas and beans.” All dimensions of her Appleness are presented in an album that bristles with creative energy and songwriting artistry.

She uses every lyric technique in the book — the barest simplicity (“I want you to love me”), rhymes unexpected and inverted:

“I used to walk down the streets on my way to school / Grinding my teeth to a rhythm invisible.”

And she frequently uses internal rhyme schemes:

“Every print I left upon the track has led me here / And next year, it’ll be clear.”

She assonates, alliterates, and consonates:

“Take it easy, when he leaves me / Please be my guest to whatever I might’ve left / Bang it bite it bruise it / I’m the woman who wants to win.”

She’s both deeply specific — the Grammy-nominated song “Shameika,” is the name of a real kid at a school she attended — and wildly universal: “I want somebody to want.”

+ Read more on Flypaper: “Too Many Lyrics, Not Enough Tune: How Melody Helps Grab Our Attention”

She can set a line poetic. “Fetch the bolt cutters” ain’t hers, by the way, it’s dialogue lifted from a UK crime show script. And she can swear in full colour — the last line on the album a giveaway “oh fuck it.” Sacred and secular sit side by side in Appleland.

But most of all, the words are utterly connected to her music, made with everything she can get her hands on, plus some fine players and her own virtuosic piano performances.  She’s a master of prosody — melodic and rhythmic — and when you spend time with this album, you’ll sing along to lines you never expected to.

She holds a single note on one word “you” for 13 beats until your eyes water, then raps polysyllabically, scanning like she means it:

“You arrive and drive by, like a sauced up bat / Like you know should know, but you don’t know where it’s at.”

You can hear the multi-genre influences she’s soaked up as she funks, oms, and freewheels her way through her own words, as she tells it how it is for her inside and out, bookended by the repetition, in the first and final tracks, of the lightly hopeful line, “in the long run.”

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is no cookie-cutter exercise and I love Fiona Apple for that. No wonder Pitchfork reviewed it as an unprecedented 10 out of 10.

Give it to every girl on her twelfth birthday. It’s an almanac of an artist at the top of her very unique game.

Charlotte Yates is a Soundfly Mentor. Click here to work with her to achieve your next musical goal in song and lyric writing.

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