I have a brief history with Fiona Apple. Well, that’s a stretch cause this history is entirely one sided but it still has always stuck out to me. When I was a senior in high school, Fiona went to the night school version of my high school. I guess part of the deal of being in that night school was working during the day and she was given a job in my school office. I remember walking by the administrative office (which was right by the school entrance) and casually glancing in one day and seeing a new girl. She was sitting behind a desk just kinda staring off into space. My high school wasn’t huge so a new girl was always a big deal…and she was striking. She glanced back at me wildly disinterested and I kept it moving. As the days went on, I would actually be excited to catch a glimpse of this girl every morning. She was beautiful. Huge green eyes, pouty lips and she didn’t dress like the other cornball girls in my school. She also never smiled. I don’t recall ever seeing her smile that entire year. Just a hard return glance was all i ever got. To a 17 year old boy, that was intimidating as fuck.
As the year went on, i realized I wasn’t the only one who had noticed her and pretty much every dude I knew was buzzing about her. One time, i was in the locker room telling a friend about how hot I thought she was and this dude “Mike” walks up “You guys talking about Fiona?”. “Mike” (as i will call him here) was a handsome, charming and all around liked guy in the school. He was a few grades below me but was definitely a “cool kid” by all accounts. We nodded and he was like “Oh yeah, that’s my girl…” and he said it in a way that wasn’t meaning a friend who was a girl. He definitely made it sound like they were a thing. Somehow the conversation swung to my crush on her and he was like “Oh you like her? Hey man, lemme know I bet i can hook that up”. Now, I was confused cause, well, that was his girlfriend as far as I knew and he was talking about her like he could pimp her out. Now, looking back, this was an absurd exchange and both bullshit and kinda awful but, at the time, my young brain couldn’t even figure out what the fuck he was talking about so I sheepishly just exited the conversation and went about my day. As weeks passed, I would see mike and her playing around (actually, she did smile in those times) and once he stopped me and was like “Hey Tony, this is Fiona”. I said hi. She nodded back and that was that.
The school year ended and she was just a memory as the mysterious hot girl from night school. A few years later , I’m watching MTV and a video comes on. I squint in disbelief. holy shit…that’s the girl from the office! Her debut video :”Shadow boxer” had dropped and ,man, I was shocked. While the genre wasn’t my first choice (i was literally only listening to hip hop back then) I thought the song was cool and definitely read any article I came across on her. This was the magazine era so they were plentiful.
As the years past, I kept an eye on her career. That weird thing where you feel some sort of vague investment in someone cause you have some distant connection to them. I didn’t know her AT ALL but i felt like I knew about her before all this. like a hometown hero syndrome or something. Every time she would come out with something new, I’d check it. Usually I’d glom on to a song or two of each album and that would be that. It was a case of be music being something i knew was great but wasn’t always my specific cup of tea. That was until her album “Idler wheel…” came out. I heard the first single “Every single night” and was obsessed with it. When the album dropped, I purchased it. I don’t think I had purchased an album before or after that for years. I was on tour in Europe during that period so it was perfect timing. There is no time in my life when i get to truly sit with an album and digest it more than when I’m on tour. Traveling with my headphones on…it’s all I have. And this album was the soundtrack to that tour. I ran it back, over and over for an entire month. To this day, I can honestly say it’s one of my all time favorite albums. Ever. Ever. Ever.
Which leads me to her new album. “Fetch the bolt cutters” dropped last week and I had no idea it was coming until the day before. I was psyched and, again, what timing? Here i am, trapped in my house for who knows how long. All i do every day is eat, watch things, make beats, play videos games, jerk off and sleep. THAT’S IT. So, when the album dropped, I woke up the next morning , put my headphones on and just took a walk. Cruising through the mostly barren city, face mask on, new Fiona blaring.
Now, here’s the thing about Fiona apple’s music. It’s not for everyone. But it’s also music that seems to only work in extremes. It’s either Genius or it’s garbage. At least with how it’s perceived by listeners, from what i see on the internet. The reality is definitely in a grey area, just like all art. That said, I think Apple is brilliant. That also said, I think some of her music is unlistenable. She can be both those things at the same time. This is a trademark of innovative artists everywhere. I mean, let’s be honest, Prince is one of the all time greats but for every few hits, there’s one that missed but, hey, he tried and that’s the point.
On this album, I’ve seen her described as “unhinged” and , musically, I can certainly see that. The songs are often incredibly manic , jumping from idea to idea with what seems like no real focus. But that’s kinda the beauty of her musical mind. There is an unfiltered aspect to her recent output that makes sense within the chaos. She colors outside of the lines like very few artists and it usually works. Fiona apple is the only person who could ever make a Fiona apple album.
Now, while her being stamped as “unhinged” is generally referring to her presumed mental state i would argue that’s bullshit. Unhinged means crazy. it means no control. If we are talking about lyrics, she’s as hinged as it gets. She is razor sharp and laser focused. Her songs are about specific things and feelings that a lot of people can relate to, while also being very personal and nuanced. They are about insecurity, discomfort and complex relationships. As someone who grew up listening to rap, i’ve often scoffed at modern rock lyrics. It often comes off as either corny or some emo high school poetry written by a loser pussy. The “woe is me” factor of it has never appealed to me. Say what you will about rap but, when the lyricism is good, it’s really another level of communication. Singing may emote emotions that rapping never could but, on a word for word basis, I’ll put rap up against anything (not all rap obviously, but there are a handful of truly special writers out there). Fiona writes lyrics that are almost rap like but , obviously, leaning heavier towards poetry. But it’s not some hidden message shit that requires a cliff notes. It just requires you to listen and really take it in for what it is. It’s a feat when a song has nothing to do with you at all and it still resonates. Take “ladies” , for instance. It’s an ode to the women who date the men she dated after her and how they should unite and not disregard one another. I mean, that’s my dumbed down explanation of it but you know what i mean. The song just rings so true on so many levels and her ability to pinpoint these minute things is part of what makes her a master of her craft.
She has a truly specific viewpoint that comes across in her songs. She probably gets very pigeon holed by the media as this or that but she’s far more multifaceted and level headed that she gets credit for. She’s not an angry feminist. She’s not some crazy bitch. She’s a distinct thinker that’s able to express that in a way not many people can.
So, all that said, this album is a brilliant mess. It’s often hard to sit through. It’s often jarring. It’s maniacal at times. Other times it’s soft and warm but far less than “idler wheel” was. The thing about a Fiona Apple album is that there is no such thing as a “Shitty Fiona Apple album”. She is beyond that level of critique. She makes music entirely for her and it shows. And while this album seems to have her unraveling a bit musically , it surely is with purpose and exactly what she wanted to do. And I can’t fault her for that ever. I’m happy an album like this can not only be made but can get heard by so many people out there. This is important music. it matters. I may not run it back over and over like i did the previous album but that’s simply cause “The Idler wheel” was MY album. that’s the one that spoke to me directly. This album, less so but that shouldn’t belittle the achievement it is, as a work of art and i’m pretty sure there are tons of people for whom it channels directly into their soul. And that’s a good thing cause the world needs more Fiona apples but I guess we are stuck with only one. But thank god/satan/buddha/allah we have that one.