“Happy quarantine,” Fiona Apple, the ferocious 42-year-old songwriter, said with a matter-of-fact raise of her eyebrows in a recent video message. “This time means nothing to me really, personally, because nothing’s changed.”
She doesn’t seem to be exaggerating. When Fiona Apple McAfee-Maggart was a teen singer on the cusp of fame in the ’90s, her mom suggested that her stage name be “Fiona Lone” because she just loved to be alone. With every sporadic interview she’s given in the past decade, Apple has appeared to become more deeply fortressed in her Los Angeles bungalow. Her 1996 hit, “Criminal,” returned to the spotlight because of a scene in the movie Hustlers last year. Apple didn’t go out to see it.
But the best proof of her reclusiveness is in her saw-toothed, percussive show tunes. She has snarled trespass warnings (in 1999: “Get gone!”), sloganeered for stasis (2005: “Keep us steady, steady going nowhere”), and interrogated agoraphobia (2012: “How can I ask anyone to love me when all I do is beg to be left alone?”). Now she’s kindly dropped her first album in eight years amid the coronavirus pandemic, despite hints that the original plan was a fall release. The record’s title, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and sound—feverish, kitchen-sink jams—seem apt for this stay-indoors spring. “I’ve been in here too long,” she murmurs on the title track. Objects that could be pots and pans bang in the background. Dogs bark. She wants someone to bust her out. Who can’t relate?
A better question might be who dares relate? I recently had a moment of whiplash when revisiting her early song “Sullen Girl,” during which she sings, “Days like this, I don’t know what to do with myself / All day and all night, I wander the halls along the walls.” Great quarantine-core, right? The lyrics go on to indicate that the singer is listless because of trauma; Apple has said that it refers to a stranger raping her when she was 12. For the new album, she borrowed the phrase Fetch the bolt cutters from a scene in the drama series The Fall during which a sex-crimes investigator discovers a locked room where a woman has been tortured. Apple is evoking a specific, gendered kind of confinement, and maybe it’s wrong to compare it with not being able to go to karaoke bars anymore.