As a massive fan of her brother Rollo’s band Faithless, I was well aware of Dido a few years before she enjoyed incredible success as a solo artist. Starting with their 1997 release Reverence, Dido handled lead vocals on at least one song of every Faithless album until the electronic legends called it quits in 2010.
After obtaining a pre-release sampler of her solo music in 1999, my anticipation for Dido’s No Angel was probably as high as anyone in America considering most had no clue who she was or that she would become a star within a few years. Even Dido was unsure of what was to come. I had the pleasure of seeing her in a tiny club in Pontiac, Michigan after the release of No Angel, before it took off thanks to the unlikely combination of Roswell and Eminem. She was gracious in meeting the fans after her performance and admitted she would have to ‘sell a few more records’ in order for us to see the tour return to the area. But then the television show Roswell used “Here With Me” as its theme and Eminem sampled “Thank You” on his hit “Stan” and No Angel took off in the States, selling over four million copies.
2003’s sophomore release Life For Rent was another hit moving over two million copies in the States, but Dido’s last album 2008’s Safe Trip Home definitely stalled her career here. With a number of tracks dealing with the passing of her father, it was a rather somber affair, but the mature handling of such personal topics, and the lovely music it contained, made it my favorite of her three albums thus far. So that brings us to her long awaited fourth release, Girl Who Got Away. When news started breaking that work was being done on the album, it was mentioned Dido was heading back to her roots in dance and pop music. And it is obvious from what made it on the new album, this is a concerted effort to return her to the pop charts and the stardom she enjoyed with her first two releases. But is the American public in particular still interested enough to listen?
The first track to be released as a preview for the album was “Let Us Move On” featuring Kendrick Lamar. Teaming Dido up with one of the hottest rappers at the moment comes across as nothing other than a marketing ploy and it fell on deaf ears. It certainly didn’t create a buzz about the album and Lamar’s verse sounds completely out of place on a Dido track. The first proper single “No Freedom” is more like it, but also not much more than a re-write of the formula of songs like “Life For Rent”. A pleasant little acoustic guitar based pop ballad but nothing more.
My biggest problem with Girl Who Got Away is the blandness of too much of the material. Nothing really generates a spark until the fourth track in with “Blackbird” which has a soaring chorus and Rollo’s dreamy, electronic production. As much of an admirer as I am at Rollo’s production skills, two of the album’s highlights come courtesy of Greg Kurstin. He produced and co-wrote the best dance track here, and second single, “End Of Night”. He also did the same on “Happy New Year”, which shares a common topic of Dido’s lyrics, a relationship gone bad, but this is one of the more interesting melodic tracks on the album and Kurstin’s restrained production touches fit the ballad perfectly.
The highlight of Girl Who Got Away is album closer “Day Before We Went To War”, a song co-written by Dido, Rollo and Brian Eno. It ranks as the most beautiful piece Dido has committed to record in her career, with just her powerful vocal performance augmented by Eno on keyboards before a gorgeous string arrangement by Davide Rossi joins in. Rollo pulls these all together into a masterful production that makes the album worth purchasing for this track alone.
Girl Who Got Away also come in a Deluxe Edition with six bonus tracks including another inexplicable rap heavy track in “All I See”. Of the bonus tracks, the Kurstin produced “Let’s Runaway” is by far the best, another hook heavy dance/pop track that should have made the proper album and makes me wonder what a full Kurstin produced Dido album could deliver. I doubt this will return Dido to American chart prominence. It’s nice to have her back, there are enough good tracks to not write the album off, but it pales in comparison to the artistic triumph of Safe Trip Home and her debut.