It's been nearly 24 years since I heard Fiona Apple's "Shadowboxer" premiere late at night on X-107 (WRGX). It was a change of pace from the repeat airings of Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams" cover and STP's "Interstate Love Song" — both songs I enjoyed (and still enjoy, unironically). These days, "Criminal," the breakout hit from the album, still gets airplay on adult AOR stations or '90s throwback Sirius XM channels, but "Shadowboxer" was what drew me in.
Fast forward 16 years to 2012's The Idler Wheel..., which saw Apple work with drummer Charley Drayton on pop-tinged yet slightly more percussive tunes with pop sensibilities that played with structure and harmony. The last track on the album, "Hot Knife," gave a clue to the sound of Fetch the Bolt Cutters by featuring timpani, piano, round-style vocals...and nothing else. It's still amazing that it was released on a major label with no "sweetening" for radio, and it was the natural evolution for the artist.
Today's Fetch the Bolt Cutters ups the ante by bringing percussion further into the foreground. Tambourines show up randomly, as does timpani, odd drums, and various homemade percussive sounds. Punchy bass sounds by Sebastian Steinberg — the same musician who made "Super Bon Bon" a defining song of the '90s — meld with contrasting multi-part harmonies and melodic piano parts.
The album as a whole feels a lot like how "Good Vibrations" was constructed: with hundreds of parts that don't make sense until they're brought together. Unlike the Beach Boys hit, it's nowhere near as clean — "experimental" is what a lot of NPR reviewers will say in the coming days — but when put together with Apple's unmatched lyricism, it makes for the best music to come out in quite some time.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple is out now on Epic Records. Please consider supporting the artist directly by purchasing their album.