Dido is one of those artists who, despite receiving her big break through Eminem’s Stan, has always had a reputation as being a nice girl who writes lovely songs which sound great, but ultimately lack in depth. This hasn’t stopped her selling over 25 million copies of her first two albums and becoming one of the biggest selling female artists ever.
In the five years since her last album Life for Rent, Dido has taken some time off to mature. That album was about the life of a young woman growing up, with relationship difficulties, songs about drugs, and sand in her shoes. In 2006 Dido’s Irish father, William O’Malley Armstrong, passed away and this event seems to have influenced this album enormously.
Over the whole album the themes seem to have shifted to a deeper, more reflective tone. From slow-burning opener Don’t Believe in Love, the arrangements are simple, letting the vocals and melodies breathe. Each song has a tinge of sadness that wasn’t obviously noticeable before, like when she sings “I miss you” and “you’re not coming back” on Quiet Times over simple effective strings. The standout track, Grafton Street (co-written with Brian Eno) is a soft goodbye to her father, underscored again by beautiful strings and a sense of loss that’s so bare, it’s almost like you shouldn’t listen to something so personal.
She seems to grow in confidence over the course of the album, each track after Grafton Street getting a little more optimistic. “Some days I can feel it, and suddenly it’s gone” she sings on the upbeat It Comes and Goes, and “I can’t stop and catch my breath” on the gentle, Look no Further.
Overall there isn’t really a single like White Flag or Thank You, but the songs themselves are better than before and her ambition is a little stronger, as evidenced by the collaboration with Brooklyn’s Citizen Cope on Burnin’ Love and the nine-minute closing track Northern Skies.
On “Lets do things we normally do” she says “please don’t say how proud you are”, on the strength of this – her best collection of songs – she could be hearing that a lot more.