Merril Bainbridge - "Mouth"

Some songs simply don't seem to fit into their decade. They seem like they were kind of always there, and even hearing them on Jack FM every so often offers little indication of their date of origin. As an adolescent, I could have sworn that Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" was released around 1994 (about the same time I first heard it on the pilot episode of "My So-Called Life") instead of 1981. I also recall my sister playing me "The Joker" sometime in 1996 and thinking that this Miller fella had a bright future ahead of him.

Along those same lines, these lyrics have haunted me for years: "When I kiss your mouth, don't wanna waste it/Turn you upside down, I wanna taste it." But they never haunted me in any sort of conscious state when I could have easily Lycos'd the lyrics (yeah, I still use Lycos, what of it?). Instead, they crept up on me in the dead of night, eating away at my consciousness, daring me to figure out where the hell they came from. One thing I knew for certain, it was not Sheryl Crow, and it was not Jill Sobule.

It wasn't until about a month ago when my bass playing roommate began trying to learn the bass part to "Mouth" that I heard Merril Bainbridge come over his shitty HP speakers. That plinking piano, the upright bassline, the vocal percussion, the timeless production--it all came together at that moment, causing me to jump out of my well-worn computer chair and shout, "Eureeka!" (or rather, just poke my head out my door and say, "hey, who sings that?"--I didn't actually jump out of my chair, I was/am tired/lazy.)

The Basics: Merril Bainbridge, a native of Melbourne, Australia became a superstar in her native country with the release of the hit single "Mouth." The song became a number one hit and the album, The Garden, went double-platinum (that means it sold about 140,000 units in the land of Yahoo Serious). Bainbridge began her career as a session vocalist, trading her talents for studio time with a producer known only as "Siew," who would go on to produce The Garden. Siew helped Bainbridge sign a deal with the Australian label Gotham, and the pair spent over a year recording her 1994 debut. Due to the enormous success of "Mouth," Bainbridge was signed to Universal, and The Garden was released stateside in the fall of 1996.

First Single: "Mouth" was the key to The Garden's initial success in the country that brought us Veggemite. Released around Christmas 1994, the album was lost in the flurry of holiday releases. Later in 1995, the single was repackaged and reissued with more promotional support. The song was soon picked up by radio stations across Oz and after six-weeks, jumped from number 42 to number one, where it stayed for another six straight weeks. After spending 21 weeks on the charts, Bainbridge broke the record for having the longest running number one hit of any female in the '90s. The 4th bestselling single of 1995, the Australian Recording Industry Association accredited the song platinum.

Nearly two years after the initial release of "Mouth," the song hit the U.S. and took a similar path. Debuting at number sixty-seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and soon peaked at number four, spending a total of thirty weeks on the charts. The song sold 600k copies and was certified gold. The rare stateside success of an artist from the country that Ray Winstone once insisted he would civilize made Bainbridge an even bigger star in her homeland. Surprisingly, the song tanked in the UK and was a top five hit in Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Though the song featured lyrics that many, many dirty twelve-year-olds (cough, me) construed as graphically sexual, Bainbridge always insisted in interviews that the song was, "definitely not a sexual song. It's just honest - about a relationship, how you feel in a relationship. Sometimes you feel you're in control and the next thing, you're insecure - it's the role playing thing."

So it's not sexual, but it's about role playing? We may want to take that back to the drawing board, Ms. Bainbridge.

Second Single: "Under the Water" followed "Mouth"--an almost impossible task for any song. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, "Mouth" is a one in a million hit--an infectious track that you want to hear over and over again and somehow don't tire of. Think how you felt listening to "Hey Ya!" or "Since You've Been Gone" in the '00s. Maybe you eventually got tired of those songs, but only after putting your iPod on repeat approximately 387 times in a row. Songs like that come around once every couple of years in the pop music world, and since Bainbridge was far from an established talent stateside (unlike, say, Outkast) anything she did after "Mouth" was going to be a let down. Though more a product of its time than the timeless "Mouth," "Under the Water" is still a good song, though not terribly different than the hundred or so Lilith Fair-esque singles around at the same time.

A video featuring Bainbridge with her super haircut (bangs, bangs and more bangs!) alternating between dry and slicked with water was released.

Though the song was big enough to give her another platinum certification in Eric Bana's Home Country--where it peaked at number four--in the U.S., the song stalled at number 91 after six-weeks on the charts. "Mouth" remains Bainbridge's highest charting single.

Whatever happened to...?: Bainbridge is one of the few one-hit wonders who, after a 1998 sophomore album, has come very close to dropping off the face of the earth. In light of how other one-hit wonders have ended up, one has to respect her for not showing up on reality TV and making an ass of herself.

The follow-up album, Between the Days was in the same vein as Garden--well-produced (again by the mysterious Siew, who I picture looking like "Cloak" from the Cloak and Dagger comic book series--come to think of it, Bainbridge looks kinda like Dagger!), light pop with Bainbridge's effortless vocals leading the way. Essentially, more clever songs and tight melodies. But it wasn't enough--even for those in the Terra Australis. The first single, "Lonely" peaked at number 40 on the Australian charts and number 18 on Billboard's "Bubbling Under Hot 100" charts (a list consisting of 25 songs threatening to make it onto the Hot 100).

Cloak & Dagger = Siew & Merril?

The same year, Bainbridge released a cover of Sonny & Cher's "I Got You, Babe" with an appearance by Shaggy. The track, recorded for the Australian film Welcome to Woop-Woop starring international superstar Jonathan Schaech, must be heard to be believed (to her credit, Bainbridge never looked cuter).

The cover peaked at number sixty-two in Australia.

Since then, Bainbridge has released several one-off singles, and recorded an as-yet-unreleased untitled album in 2003. Her last single, "Girl Next Door" faired so poorly on the Austrlian charts that the album was shelved.

As to what she's up to now, an unsourced Wikipedia update suggests she is "working backstage as a composer for other Australian pop artists." I have no idea how one works "backstage" as a composer, though if I had to translate, I'd assume this means she's doing songwriting for other artists, though there's little evidence available on the net to support this assertion.

If you're out there, Ms. Bainbridge, let us know what you're up to. We were truly sorry to see you disappear like the girls from Appleyard College in Picnic at Hanging Rock. You deserved better.

Download: Merril Bainbridge - Mouth
Download: Merril Bainbridge - Under the Water


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Anonymous said...

Lol, Lycos is my usual punchline when I want to reference the bygone era that was the late '90's. Anyway.

Cool article. *thumbs up*

Zar-Unity said...

Great article...explains why Merril dropped off the map after her first two singles. She's so talented and will never be forgotten. Thanks! :-)