Over the past two days I have done nothing but listen to four different versions of a song called "Baby's On Fire." The first is the original version by Brian Eno; the second is a cover by German DJ Superpitcher; the third is by a Satanic industrial dance band called Electric Hellfire Club; and the fourth is a just-released remix of Superpitcher's cover.
Brian Eno, "Baby's On Fire"
From his 1974 solo debut, Here Come the Warm Jets, "Baby's On Fire" has always entranced with its two-chord churn, sado-masochistic lyrics (one interpretation, anyway), fascist, proto-glam stomp-rhythms and Steve Vai-esque dual guitar solo that comprises the song's center. Yet it's the ambiguity in Eno's voice — he's kinda pissed, kinda drunk, kinda horny, kinda ambivalent, kinda taunting — that ultimately makes the song.
Superpitcher, "Baby's On Fire"
One of the key people on the German house label Kompakt's roster, Superpitcher plays up the proto-glam elements of Eno's original via the schaffel beat, a wavering, shuffling rhythm made popular most recently by the Kompakt crew. The vocal inflections are a bit softer than Eno's — the biting consonants and exclamation pointed-lines are replaced by easy sways and soft slurs. Combined with the pulsating rhythm and the Moroder-esque keyboard teeter-totters, the vocals flash the word "sex" via wet fog-mitigated neon splendor.
Electric Hellfire Club, "Baby's On Fire"
The My Life with the Thrill Kill Cut offshoot stays true to its industrial roots with its version of Eno's classic. Oddly, the EHC version is much more musically faithful to the original recording than Superpitcher's, which seems more faithful ideologically. The differences between EHC and Superpitcher's approaches reveal a lot about the original recording: primarily that both the sexual and violent interpretations of the song's chief lyric ("Baby's on fire/ Better throw her in the water/ Look at her laughing/ Like a heifer to a slaughter") are "correct."
But what the fuck's up with the sexism of those opening couplets? The more I read them, the more disgusting they seem, and the more I wonder if they are why so many acts have covered this song, and if, deep down, why I haven't been able to escape it of late. I've found that if I make those lyrics the song's center (as in I make myself fully conscious of what Eno/whoever-is-covering-this is singing), the track is much more predatorial than you might expect. The two-chord riff feels less like fucking and more like hunting. I can easily imagine Ted Bundy hearing this song as he cruises the early-morning pavement.
Taking lyrics too literally, of course, is almost always a problem. But there's certainly a menace to the song (it's, at least in part, what makes it so intriguing), and the Electric Hellfire Club succeed in emphasizing that angle, but not much else.
Superpitcher, "Baby's On Fire (The WB's Remix)"
This takes the vocals from Superpitcher's version and places them over an entirely new track that bears resemblance to "Baby's On Fire" at first, but which later includes a very close approximation of the Velvet Underground's "Waiting for the Man" (if not the song itself). Hypnotic, stoic and pensive, this incarnation conveys absolutely nothing aside the universal truth of a thick bass bump's eternal groove. For the creepy and exhilarating outro, the song eases back to a bass line and a hand clap that sound almost exactly like a heartbeat.
Unlike the three other versions of the song included here, all of which essentially maintain a holding pattern for their entirety, the Superpitcher/WB's cover has a linear progression. It doesn't just shuffle in place, it actually travels — adding and subtracting layers, slightly altering the beat, bringing in new melodies and counter-melodies. The only constant is that vocal line. Sometimes it sounds completely detached, other times engaged, but no matter what, it never stops marching forward.
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