Sunday, May 19, 2013

The girl who got back

2013 finds Dido returning after a 5 year gap with Girl Who Got Away - fitting title, considering that this one arrived after an equally long gap as the last one.  For the first 3, this led to a pleasant effect of "Long wait, but worth waiting for" as each album was an improvement.  This time the music is pleasant enough, but Dido seems to be spinning her wheels a bit.

"Safe Trip Home" was all quiet, reflective, haunted minimalist pieces - and was a welcome change of pace compared to the first two albums.  Between that album and this, Dido has become a mother.  One would think this would inform her music, and lend a new warmth to it - but this only happens a handful of times.  Opener "No Freedom" feels like a polished latter-day remake of album #2 lead single "White Flag."  Only this time, the subject isn't quite as head over heels - this time, it's a rumination on the price of love, or the price of not having it in the first place.  Same musical idea, much different sentiment.  This doesn't set a good stage for what's to come, as it gives the impression she's running out of ideas.  The disc's title track shows up next - and it sounds far more restless than you'd expect.  It plays off like an exhortation of freedom - as in saying that just because she's now a mother, doesn't mean she's going to give up on everything else.  A strange sentiment to some perhaps, but understandable enough.  Lead single "Let Us Move On" is well-crafted Dido-by-numbers - so certainly not bad - just something she clearly knows how to do and can do easily - so it's somewhat less exciting because of it.  Kendrick Lamar shows up late in the song to toss in a verse that could just as easily have not been there.  It feels especially shoe-horned in given Lamar's status as "hip hop artist of the moment."  

Things get far livelier later with "End of night" which is a track that may also be Dido-by-numbers, but it's something she does exceptionally well.  Cutting lines like "I feel nothing / when you cry" come across in a voice so soft and lilting, it's easy to miss the snarling put-downs buried within.  This is the kind of song that any Dido album wouldn't be complete without - and while the subject matter can feel a bit repetitive, the music itself isn't, and again - it's something she does well, so it's worth being here.  "Sitting on the roof of the world" is a slight, spare piece sharing the singer's feelings on fame.  This time, it feels like the copy is better than the song it's referencing - which is the earlier "Look No Further" - which was so light and wispy it felt under-developed - where here, Dido takes that same feeling, but gives it just enough of a boost in sound and heart to make it sound more robust.

This album ends with 2 polar opposites.  "Loveless hearts" is a cluttered trip-hop piece that is just too busy for its own good - followed by album closer "Day before we went to war" which is all subdued tones and melancholy - but beautifully done, and ending the album on a high note - even if the track itself isn't very high up on the mood scale.

Dido seems to have hit a wall with her 4th album.  There is less evolution of sound - and she plays it too safe.  It isn't bad - it's just too comfortable in its own skin.  Given the long gaps she usually takes between albums, it leads one to hope the next disc returns to a forward momentum - maybe working with different producers, leaning less heavily on Rollo (her longtime partner in crime in the studio.)  A change is needed, or album #5 will be stale as month-old bread before it is even made.

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