Nearly a year ago, veteran indie musician Fiona Apple released Fetch the Bolt Cutters, an album that garnered significant critical acclaim and was deemed an instant classic. It came out on April 17, 2020, during the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. Although she had been working on it for roughly half a decade, she inadvertently soundtracked the entire pandemic right from the start.
The original context of the album had nothing to do with the pandemic, as obviously there was no way she could’ve known what was about to happen. Most of its songs are centered about female empowerment and relationships, such as “Under the Table” and “Ladies”. Though those messages remain poignant, you can’t relate them to the pandemic in any way. What makes it so timely is the handful of tracks that deal in isolation, whether it be emotional distance from other people or wanting to use metaphorical bolt cutters to break out of somewhere because, to quote Apple on the title track, “I’ve been in here too long.”
“Fetch the Bolt Cutters” can be interpreted a number of ways, but it’s mostly about wanting to break out of whatever crummy situation you’re in. Every state was in lockdown by the time this song came out, and so the line I quoted above as well as the rest of the song took on a whole new life and became about wanting to break out of confinement. “Newspaper,” originally about feeling a lack of emotional connection between two people, wound up feeling much more literal as society was forced to physically distance from each other. This undoubtedly fueled the feeling of emotional distance in whoever could relate to the original message. “Heavy Balloon” is explicitly about depression, a topic more potent now that more and more people are experiencing it as the pandemic rages on. The closing track, “On I Go,” is about pushing forward despite anxiety. During a time where people are still confused, anxious, scared, and unsure of what’s next, the song acts basically as a mantra to sing to yourself when it feels like the world and everything around you is caving in.
Albums have come out since this one that have directly addressed or been inspired by the pandemic, like how i’m feeling now by Charli XCX and Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore, but Fetch the Bolt Cutters was the record that set the tone, whether or not it meant to. It also continued Fiona Apple’s legacy as not only a veteran of the industry, but as one of the most forward-thinking and captivating musicians of our time.