a diverse pop debut

The Garden (Universal)
Merril Bainbridge

By Kory Wilcoxson

Remember the last female vocalist from Australia to make a major dent into Top 40 radio? My guess is it was Olivia Newton-John, who dropped a neutron bomb with "Let's Get Physical," that became one of the best-selling singles of all-time.

Granted, "Mouth" may not reach those kind of heights, but the song by Merril Bainbridge has captured listeners' fancies with its human beatbox opening, quirky instrumentation and Bainbridge's airy lyrics.

The good news is that "Mouth" is not even the best song on The Garden, the singer's debut album. Bainbridge has crafted a perfect pop piece, mixing tempos and moods like a veteran. At a time when too many albums sound the same from start to finish, The Garden is markedly different throughout.

Take, for example, the splendid "Under the Water." With awesome background vocals by Chris Wilson, the song floats along with Bainbridge's smooth lyrics. Not too long after is "Julie," a lingering character study that showcases Bainbridge's strength as a songwriter. Listeners then face an abrupt change in style with "Sleeping Dogs," the only true rockin' song on the album.

Bainbridge is comfortable in any of the previous scenarios. Her voice is malleable to the song, and she can do the sympathetic just as deftly as the pissed off. That's good, because "In the Garden" is a cornucopia of temperaments that speak of relationships gained and lost. Bainbridge makes for a wonderful tour guide.