British chanteuse Dido writes and sings unapologetically from the heart and personal experience. That is a bold decision given the rather narrow and limiting confines of what is considered “marketable” pop music today. Sometimes, this ethic of Dido’s works in her favor from a commercial standpoint (albums such as “No Angel” and “Life For Rent“). With her last album “Safe trip Home“, it clearly did not. The album was a reflection of some of the unpleasant experiences of her life. Lyrically, it was still on point but the overall mood was downbeat and somber. It undoubtedly polarized Dido’s fanbase and had many people labeling the album as being certifiably “boring”. Fortunately, for most of us, Dido returns to being the artist we all know and love on “Girl Who Got Away” – her latest album (slated for released on March 26 in the US).
A few months ago, “Girl Who Got Away” was touted as Dido’s return to a classic sound dominated by her electronic roots and to the sound that propelled her to stardom back in 2000. It also helps that she was in a happier place personally when she wrote and recorded this album. In fact, she was pregnant with her son Stanley during the recording process. That happiness definitely translates to a substantial portion of the album. On her latest offering, Dido constantly plays “jump rope” with the line dividing her “popstar” persona from her “downtempo electronic music” persona.
The album’s opener and lead single “No Freedom” is a down-tempo acoustic ballad that will probably make listeners and skeptics wonder if Dido was actually being serious about her return to her electronic roots. While the core of the song is beautiful, it also serves as an example of the fact that the “treatment” of a song is probably as important as the song’s core. The production on the track is fairly pedestrian and does not do justice to the song one bit. For those of you that want to know what the song COULD have sounded like, check out the lush jviewz remix of “No Freedom”. It is one of two missed opportunities on this album. One cannot help but think that the current album production on this song dilutes its core.
The album’s title track is its indisputable highlight and is without a doubt one of the musical highlights of Dido’s career. On “Girl Who Got Away“, Dido showcases her trademark cracked falsetto and allows her vocals to drift in a soundscape defined by light electronic embellishments. The bit where she sings the lines below are absolutely sublime and are bound to leave the listener longing for more.
I know what it’s like
To be passed over
To go unnoticed
To be clumsy get things wrong
and I know what it’s like
To arrive too late
To be told to leave
To be walked upon
“Just Say Yes” has the ability to transport the listener to an imaginary scene of a mystery movie that follows the movie’s protagonist through the streets of Paris. The song’s mildly ominous-sounding production constantly flits from sparse electronic beats to lush string arrangements. It definitely marks one the album’s most sophisticated musical moments. For a few seconds, the song also features an acapella section by Dido thus proving that she does not need to rely on production to hide any shortcoming in vocal ability. She has no vocal shortcomings whatsoever.
“Everything to Lose” is the album’s single biggest missed opportunity. This song was featured on the soundtrack of the motion picture “Sex and the City 2” back in 2010 without much fanfare. As a result, the brilliant uptempo track went unnoticed. Typically, soundtracks are a great way to get exposure for a track. It clearly did not work with the “Sex and City 2” soundtrack. This album features an Armin Van Buuren remix of the song. It goes to prove, once again, that the treatment of a song can undermine its merits. Dido should have featured the original version with its addictive falsetto-induced “oh oh oh” on the album and also released it as the album’s lead single. After alienating fans that liked Dido more for her sonic appeal as opposed to her lyrical competency with “Safe Trip Home“, “Everything to lose” would have served as the perfect vehicle to win those fans back. It would have allowed for the repositioning she needed in the pop music landscape.
“End Of Night” builds on “Just Say Yes” by being more mid-tempo and with a few additional layers of production. In fact, it is one of the most obvious single-worthy tracks on the album. There is a certain familiarity that emanates from the song’s harmony-driven chorus:
I feel nothing
When you cry
I hear nothing
See no need to reply
I can smile now
And turn away
Come over here
So you can see me walk away
The end of night
The end of night
“Let’s Run Away” (currently only available on the album’s deluxe version) is quite similar in its overall sound to “End Of Night” and is definitely one of the album’s highlights. “Let Us Move On” is the musical twin of “Here With Me” – Dido’s second single from her debut album “No Angel“. For those that liked “Here with me“, “Let Us Move On” will be everything they wanted and more. It features a rap segment by Kendrick Lamar. Frankly, the song would have worked without Lamar’s bit just fine too.
Dido’s vocal competency is probably best showcased on the album’s acoustic track “Sitting On The Roof of the world“. While the song by itself is not particularly memorable , it does demonstrate that Dido just might be one of the finest and most unique female vocalists of the modern era of pop music.
Despite the album’s few missed opportunities, Dido still has plenty to offer on “Girl Who Got Away“. She may have also gained some significant ground in regaining some of the “fan” goodwill that she lost with her “Safe Trip Home” album. I sincerely hope she continues to make music for many years to come. The pop world needs more artists like her – unique, classy, talented, and artistically fearless.
Songs for the casual listener: Girl Who Got Away, Just Say Yes
Songs for the Dido fan: Girl Who Got Away, Just Say Yes, Let Us Move On, End Of Night, Let’s Runaway
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 Stars
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