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Dido: Life for Rent

Life for Rent

Dido‘s first true claim-to-fame was being a part of Eminem’s “Stan”, but since that time she has done more than very well, thank you very much! The success of her last album proved that No Angel was no fluke and, for most critics, she wasn’t just another flavor of the month but in it for the long haul. Now with a new album and a promotional schedule that sounds a bit Spinal Tap-ish (two promotional shows in London and New York on the same day), Dido’s new album builds on what she did so exquisitely on the last record. And while there might not be a “Thankyou” on the record, you can bet that the first single “White Flag” is no slouch.

The first single starts off just a bit like a Prince track, or even Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” (also a Prince track) before moving into a nice groove. Her pristine voice isn’t ethereal nor is it overtly dramatic, coming across as the British answer to Sade. “There will be no white flag above my door / I’m in love and always will be”, Dido sings. It never falters from start to finish, with just subtle keyboards and other instruments added for a nice and slightly polished track. Without the additions though, just her and a piano are more than enough to soothe the listening palette. “Stoned” has more of an ambient tone to it, bringing to mind Bowie circa Outside. And the dance vibe seems effortless for the remainder of the song. The fact she broke up with former beau Bob Page only gives these songs a great amount of depth.

The title track opens with an acoustic guitar and builds deliberately from there. It’s one of the more heartfelt songs here, with the Dido keeping the guitar in and giving the tune a hip-hop beat that rarely works so well. And the handclaps halfway through the song will be instantly getting the crowd going at arenas and venues for her upcoming tour. There is a certain innocence in her vocals that isn’t rehearsed, produced or adjusted to make the label suits happy, a rare trait these days. “Nothing I have is truly mine,” she repeats at the conclusion. “Mary’s in India” is more of a departure for her, resembling Alanis during one of her more reflective moments. It doesn’t quite work starting off as it takes just too long to get off the ground. The backbeat never gets going and where a drum should work, there is instead a distant, sparse percussion used like a street busker banging his laps or a bucket.

The quasi trip-hop beat on “See You When You’re 40” adds to this song’s luster. It is probably going to be a second or third single from this album, if the finicky public gives it the life it deserves. A somber and melodic ballad with a touch of symphonic air, Dido hits some soft notes that will definitely send shivers up some spines. “And I’ve seen, tonight, what I’d been warned about / I’m gonna leave, tonight, before I change my mind,” she sings. Again the material is very deep, as she talks about not picking her lover out of a crowd if she came across him today. Dido is also able to swiftly change the mood of the album, as “Don’t Leave Home” sounds like she’s picking herself up again although she speaks of shutting the blinds and closing the door. Light but not lightweight, she delivers another gem, although at times it sounds a tad forced in places. And “Who Makes You Feel” is by far the weakest track here, a soulful and tender track that just sounds misplaced.

“Sand in My Shoes” returns to the same approach as the title track, and Dido picks up the tempo early as she talks about not having time. And it’s not a heavy thumping dance beat she opts for, relying instead on another ambient approach that Madonna has unsuccessfully not found on her last three albums. The bridge does get a bit dance-house but thankfully doesn’t go too far down that road. “This Land of Mine” is a soothing and reflective piece that could have Travis or Coldplay recording it with big grins on their faces. Simplistic and sparse, here it’s Dido sounding just a bit like Olivia Newton-John in the early seventies. Last but not least is “See the Sun”, a sort of mini-anthem that has all the right items in their proper places. While it might not sell as many “units”, this record seems to outweigh the previous album in terms of quality and depth.