Fiona Apple, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” (Epic)
On her first album in eight years, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter, 42, appears to regard her music as a device to process trauma: “I know none of this will matter in the long run,” she sings in “I Want You to Love Me,” the opening track on her fifth album. “But I know a sound is still a sound around no one.” Render the pain just so, her thinking seems to go, and you might contain its ability to continue hurting or staining you.
The result of Apple’s self-imposed social distancing is the stunning intimacy of the material here — a rich text to scour in quarantine. Her idiosyncratic song structures force you to listen as attentively as if a dear friend were bending your ear.
Apple delivers “Heavy Balloon,” about the weight of depression, in a breathy, slow-and-low mode but she seems determined to mostly display the frayed edges of her voice, as in the swaggering “Under the Table” and “Newspaper.” In “Relay” and “Rack of His” she’s essentially rapping, piling syllables on top of each other with thrilling abandon; in “Ladies” she repeats that loaded term so many times that it starts to shed its meaning.
You’d need to go back to the later parts of Nina Simone’s catalog to find another pop vocalist as eager as Apple is to make such a show of unprettiness — a shared result, perhaps, of exiling oneself from a business you can’t stand.
As for her lyrics, Apple has never cut closer to the bone: “Well, good mornin’, good mornin’,” she sings in “For Her.” “You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.” Yet as unflinchingly personal as this music feels, Apple isn’t always mining her own troubled autobiography. “For Her,” she told the New Yorker in a rare interview, was actually inspired by watching Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed to the Supreme Court.
In “Newspaper” she identifies with a woman unfortunate enough to have ended up with her ex. She’s seething but she’s empathizing — a feeling machine operating at full tilt.
Mikael wood, Los Angeles Times
• Lucinda Williams, “Good Souls Better Angels”
• Willie Nelson, “First Rose of Spring”
• Indigo Girls, “Look Long”
• Rufus Wainwright, “Unfollow the Rules”