[11 January 2009]
There’s better ways to spend an evening than listening to a Dido album. Removing the dry skin from the balls of your feet with a sheet of extra-coarse sandpaper. Emptying your elderly relative’s colostomy bag before giving them a strip wash. Even watching an Adam Sandler movie. But faced with the unenviable compulsion of hearing Miss Dido Armstrong moaning about some ex-lover for 45 minutes (you’d think people’d have a better choice of background music at dinner parties these days), all you can do is focus on the good points.
Safe Trip Home is Dido’s first new album in just over five years. So it’s not a Guns N’ Roses-sized gap between long players, but it’s enough for many of her followers to move on and find another softly-spoken English songstress to treat their ears and their CD collections to. And it means, at least in the UK and US, Dido is probably not the huge star we fell love with when she complimented Eminem’s story of a crazed fan on his 2000 hit “Stan”—and subsequently went on to shift 21 million albums.
But in terms of the music, little has really changed. Comeback single “Don’t Believe in Love” suggested a more groove-based Dido, with a funky bassline weaving in and out of a deceptively-understated tune, but it’s red herring here, the rest of the album leaning on the more mellow moments that joined up the dots on No Angel and Life for Rent. Most of the album floats by almost unnoticeably—although the death of Dido’s father in 2005 adds weight and meaning to many of the tracks, particularly “Quiet Times”, “The Day Before the Day”, and the sombre, Celtic-tinged “Grafton Street”, co-written with Brian Eno.
And the recurrent subject matter does give the album some genuinely touching moments; there’s times when you can genuinely hear the pain in her rich, glossy voice. It’s given her a new-founded maturity that does put her head and shoulders above recent newcomers, like Laura Marling, who have threatened to steal her crown.
“Us 2 Little Gods” picks up the pace a little, an almost-jaunty acoustic number, with Dido singing “Just this day / I need no other.” It’s a refreshing moment, almost at odds with ,the rest of the album’s sparse, ambient trip-pop blues. And as a whole Safe Trip Home seems to serve its purpose. But then when Citizen Cope joins her for “Northern Skies” it seems like a pointless exercise: just as downbeat and undemanding as the other ten tracks here, is it just an attempt to add credibility to an artist known for her popularity amongst young housewives?
If you come to Safe Trip Homewithout expecting the big hits or a surprise collaboration with a rapper, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re a Dido faithful who’s just endured five years of hell, you’ll find she’s is still the perfect soundtrack to your life.