The Good: Lyrics, Music
The Bad: Often over-engineered, Voice
The Basics: For lovers of pop only - don't expect more. At least the catchy tunes on The Garden say something and say it well!
It's terribly difficult to recommend any album that should be classified as "pure pop." For one thing, there's the stigma that the music is therefore unintelligent drivel. The paradox of The Garden is that it manages to be one, but not the other. That is, it is fairly intelligent (especially by comparison) but it's still drivel. I've described Merril Bainbridge's work as sugary, obvious and simple, but I keep this disc in my collection. Why?
The explanation will hardly sound sensible. However, Bainbridge has some very solid fundamentals: her lyrics are good and she has a keen ear in the simple, catchy harmonies she makes. These are tunes that you'll find yourself humming. Complications ensue with how she sings them. It's hard to take the potent line "[You] Put me in a fry pan couldn't wait To burn my skin but now I miss you Yes I miss you" ("Miss You") when it's sung in the light, wispy and even enthusiastic way that Bainbridge does. The lyrics are poetic, emotive and interesting, but they are presented in a wispy, hook-oriented pop way.
There are a few tracks that overcome the discrepancy between voice and lyrics, like the poetic and image-filled "Under The Water." However, the bulk of tracks have a strong difference between the emotion of the words and the emotion of the voice. On the exceptions (the quirky "Mouth," for example), there is often a level of over-production. That is, when the voice matches the lines and the music is good, there are production elements added that tip the balance of the song.
The songs written by Bainbridge ("Garden In My Room," "Miss You," "Mouth," "Julie," "Song For Neen," and "Power of One") all share a common thing; empathetic lyrics and a strong sense of the poetic. It's clear Bainbridge has the ability to write and that she has something emotive to say.
There's difficulty in recommending this album and in the final analysis I decided I would, very selectively, recommend it to some of my friends. The songs are catchy in sound, but often discongruent with the meaning of the words. It's only for those who like pop because this is pop at it's peak.
I personally enjoy "Under the Water" most and the weak link in the album is the over-the-top gushing joy of "Reasons Why."
For other Merril Bainbridge works, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Under The Water (single)
Between The Days
For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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