Saturday, 31 January 2009

Baker Baker

A longsuffering Bösendorfer piano, a crazy redhead, and evocative lyrics; bells, icicles, and cornflakes; teenage hangups, grievances against religion, a bad seafood dinner, and Anastasia Romanova. What's not to like?

From many points of view, Tori Amos' Under the Pink is a total nightmare. But if approached in the spirit, that one should attend to an artist's work but never to what they say about it, the album has a lot to give. It's now fifteen years old, and to celebrate I'd like to reflect on my favourite among the songs: Baker Baker.

The conceit is mild enough, by Tori's standards: the song is addressed to the demiurge under the figure of a baker, baking a cake that stands for the events of the day. The protagonist has driven her man away by being unavailable, and in grief and regret she comes to the baker for news, for hope that the situation might change, to carry a message ... all the while knowing that it's probably too late.

That's more-or-less it. It's a piece of ordinary sadness and dawning self-awareness, set to a heartbreaking piano tune; the device of the baker is estranging and striking enough to give some perspective, but not so intrusive as to overwhelm the material. The baker makes emotional sense: one goes to friends for help in these situations, to cry on their shoulders or to ask for their advice or intervention, knowing that in a strict sense they may not actually be able to help. From this point of view, the song is a properly integrated fantasy, like early Buffy, or a peasant fairy tale.

This fit of idea and expression makes Baker, however slight, compare favourably with the album's more famous and showier songs: Icicle, which is beautiful until you work out what it's about, at which point it becomes creepy oversharing; the glorious but overplayed Cornflake Girl, perfectly good as a nonsense song, although there apparently are baroque, bizarre motivations for most of it; and Yes, Anastasia --- would its spookiness survive too close an inspection?

But enough of this: listen to the song. It's on YouTube in a (1996?) live performance, and a performance (with mini-interview) from 1994. Lyrics are here.

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