Friday, August 3, 2012

Never Have So Many Endings Sounded So Upbeat As On Between The Days

The Good: Some decent lyrics, Good tunes
The Bad: Discontinuity between music and lines, Musically unimaginative, More "Dance" than her debut
The Basics: In her second - and final - outing Merril Bainbridge combines mostly meaningful, emotive lyrics with dance beats and produced tunes.

Merril Bainbridge strikes me as a woman who would not like to be mentioned as one who has had her fifteen minutes. As both of her musical albums were written almost entirely by herself, she strikes me as someone who at the very least has something to say. Her debut, The Garden was a weird blend of quirky pop songs with better-than-average lyrics and a light, airy, subversive voice that made for an intriguing mix. Her second album Between The Days remains her last album and looking at her body of work it is not entirely surprising to see why.

Between The Days is a fast-paced dance album that features Merril Bainbridge's unique airy soprano voice dishing out lyrics that oscillate between obvious (there are a lot of "day/say" and "light/night" rhymes) and brilliantly emotive: "I took my time in preparation / Studied hard / For this long distance conversation / But when I get you on the phone / All the courage in the world has left me" ("Hello").

In fact, one of the most infuriating aspects of the album is how Bainbridge manages to combine the two. "Walk On Fire" should be one of the most repetitive songs of all time, yet Bainbridge breaks up her endless "So I'll walk and I'll walk yes I'm walking on fire"s with clapping noises and her voice carries in it a smile that is inviting the listener to enjoy an inside joke. She makes a song about dedication, sacrifice and holding onto love long after it is gone into an upbeat, walking-in-stride ditty that one is likely to find themselves humming long after it is over.

Such things do not work all the time, for example on "Love & Terror." This track ends up more confused by the upbeat nature of the music and it finds itself lyrically deficient as well. It is a song about love, with a refrain that declares "(You're always) / There where love and terror flare / In the water in the air / And in everything you do." Yet it remains a pretty solid, standard love song. The terror never comes into it and there is no aspect of love, as defined by uncertainty or horror that enters the song either. This is not "Love and Terror," it's "Love and Let's Go Dancing!"

Similarly, "Big Machine" at the end of the album is incongruent with the remainder of the album. It's not a bad song, but after so many songs that seem to have the purpose of being danceable, "Big Machine" is neither fast, energetic or danceable. Lyrically, it takes on a heavier tone as it does melodically. This is not an effective coda to the rest of the album, instead it's a brick wall that the listener gets smashed into. This does not ease one out of the listening experience into the next or encouraging the listener to loop the album back to the beginning, but rather it kicks the listener to a stop and that is problematic, especially for an artist that might want listeners to relisten to hear the full depth of the lyrics.

At the end of the day, Between The Days brings little-known pop musician Merril Bainbridge from the pop arena to the dance halls. Her voice is impressive, but the album is plagued by the production that does not ever rest on her vocal talents. Instead, she is produced over and her thoughtful, well-considered messages are drown in dance beats.

And the music is pretty standard. There are acoustic guitars, bass and percussion. The most unique instrument on the album is Bainbridge's voice, but none of the songs hinge on it the way, say, "My Immortal" by Evanescence depends on Amy Lee's vocals. As a result, this album never seems to reach its potential and it is unsurprising that it never reached its market.

To that end, Between The Days is a hard number to track down, especially if you're looking for new and not used. Is it worth tracking down? Fans of women's rock/pop would do better with the likes of Heather Nova, Sophie B. Hawkins or even Michelle Branch. Fans of dance music are bound to enjoy it, especially those who are frustrated with how inane dance music lyrics can be. Just don't expect this album to be the musical Mecca that solves all of the problems of the dance genre.

The best track is the disturbingly incongruent "Walk On Fire," the weakest track is the ridiculously upbeat sounding single "Lonely."

For other indie pop-rock artists, check out my reviews of:
The Idler Wheel - Fiona Apple
The Crossing - Sophie B. Hawkins
Little Voice - Sarah Bareilles


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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