fri 14/06/2024

Albums of the Year 2020: Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2020: Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Albums of the Year 2020: Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Making space for the things we don't talk about in quarantine times

Fetch the bolt cutters, we've been in here too long

Back in October, Fiona Apple – whose Fetch the Bolt Cutters, released in April, captured a particular early pandemic mood – was interviewed by Emily Nussbaum for The New Yorker Festival. “I think we women should be marrying our friends,” she told the journalist. “We have sexual freedom! We have dogs!

We have fun! We can do whatever we want!”

Experiences like these have been a teeny, tiny crumb of positive over these unending months. Would I trade 10 months and counting without live music (last gig: The Hold Steady, arguably the best live band in the world, at their annual London “Weekender” at the start of March – I sneezed in the middle of Euston while we waited for our train back to Scotland and tried not to laugh as people backed away slowly, it was a different time, alright?) to watch little-travelled idols perform in, and chat from, their own spaces, over video connections of varying quality? Of course not. But as the more professional streaming setups have shown, there are conversations to be had about accessibility once we are able to return to the hallowed halls and venues where some of our best memories were made.

Infamously reclusive, Fiona Apple knows a thing or two about lockdown. Fetch the Bolt Cutters was recorded over a period of five years almost entirely at home; the album’s percussive, beating heart formed of the rattling of everyday objects, barking dogs and battering on the walls. The album’s overwhelming message, though, is liberationist; its title a line by Gillian Anderson’s Stella Gibson in The Fall; its architect reckoning with childhood bullies, sexual assault and the trials of fame with a wicked wit.

The Fiona Apple of 2020, in her early 40s, has built a life of her choosing, in a home in Venice Beach she shares with her best friend and their dogs. It’s why, as I revisit the art that kept me together this year, through long months of working from home seeing only my husband, my cats and a psychiatrist (virtually), I keep coming back to her New Yorker Festival interview. Her words have the warmth and wisdom of the elder sister of the women at the centre of some of that art. I think of Olive, the protagonist of Emma Gannon’s debut novel, rebuilding her life after breaking up with her boyfriend of 10 years and the only one of her close-knit group of long-term friends with no interest in motherhood. And I think of Nadine Shah whose fourth album, Kitchen Sink, is the most innovative and ambitious record I have heard this year, and which explores many of the same themes.

Both Gannon and Shah feature multiple perspectives in their respective works: young motherhood, sexist double standards, being childfree by choice, putting on a brave face when your reproductive system simply won’t cooperate. As I inch closer to 40, my future childbearing plans – or lack of – no longer seem to be open to public speculation but I remember those jokes about ticking biological clocks, and the insinuation that I couldn’t possibly know my own mind. I’ve been childfree by choice for as long as I can remember, but there was a time those unsolicited comments stung. How much more painful for those women of my generation who are desperate for a baby, who have lost a year of their fertility or seen IVF treatments cancelled?

I am, as of eight days ago, the only childless grandchild of my mother’s parents. I’ve spent Christmas gazing at my perfect sister’s perfect daughter and teaching my four-year-old Excellent Nephew to say that the shapes he cuts into his Play-Doh are “frozen in carbonite”. I’ve had a year in isolation with these thoughts bouncing around my head, and yet “Auntie Emsamee” has had little time over the festive period to get these thoughts down on paper. Review the music, you say? I’ll take my cue from Nadine Shah, who told Woman’s Hour last month that she felt a “duty” to tell the stories – women’s stories – that just don’t get told in our youth-obsessed music industry. Shave my legs, freeze my eggs, will you want me when I am old…

Two More Essential Albums from 2020

Nadine Shah - Kitchen Sink

Taylor Swift - folklore/evermore

Musical Experiences of the Year

Roaming Roots Revue Presents Born to Run: a 70th Birthday Tribute to Bruce Springsteen at Celtic Connections, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, 27 January. Craig Finn, Jonathan Wilson, Karine Polwart, Lisa Hannigan and more performing rousing and redemptive covers, a testament to the sheer joy of singing along in sweaty rooms.

Whole Lotta Roadies: a unique compilation album recorded in lockdown by some of Scotland’s best-loved bands and their crew, raising funds for the crew members who are the backbone of the live music industry and now facing a year without work. You can order your copy, and limited edition goodies, on Bandcamp (who also deserves a shoutout for their monthly "Bandcamp Fridays", during which every penny goes to artists selling on the platform).

Track of the Year

Phoebe Bridgers - I Know The End

Below: hear "Trad" by Nadine Shah, featuring the best opening lyric of the year

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