x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dido gets away - with Rollo at the wheel

Dido's latest album, Girl Who Got Away, is more interesting for her brother Rollo's production.

Dido is back after a break during which she concentrated on her family. Bowers / Getty Images
Dido is back after a break during which she concentrated on her family. Bowers / Getty Images

Dido
Girl Who Got Away
Sony
****

Dido may be the self-styled Girl Who Got Away, having kept a low profile since the underperforming 2008 album Safe Trip Home, but one wonders whether she would have ever achieved such widespread fame without riding on some considerable coat-tails. That applies to many pop stars, of course, but the London-born singer has sold 29 million albums without any of the outstanding attributes usually essential for international success: a spectacular voice, striking looks or knack for stirring controversy.

The highest-profile influence on her unlikely ascent is Eminem, who offered residual street-cred by sampling her 1999 song Thank You for his much darker single Stan. Of longer-term significance is the input from her brother, however. Rollo, the shadowy figure behind Faithless, was responsible for some of the biggest dance tracks of the 1990s and his productions have given her otherwise fragile songs a vital electronic edge.

Rollo is back in the hot seat for this record and also sounds reinvigorated by the sabbatical: what instantly grabs you about Girl Who Got Away is the rich, dramatic diversity of its musical backing. The retro-futuristic riff under End of Night is akin to something from the pulsating Cliff Martinez soundtrack for the film Drive; Let Us Move On features crisply ominous beats (and a cameo from the new rap kingpin, Kendrick Lamar), while Love to Blame's electro-reggae would work perfectly well as a dance floor instrumental.

Rollo was clearly encouraged to experiment, but the varied moods form an impressively coherent whole, unlike recent albums by US superstars which suffered from too many studio cooks. Admittedly the great Brian Eno did help with the atmospheric closer, Day Before We Went to War, but, hey, it's Brian Eno.

Dido's contributions often pass almost unnoticed, in truth, as if Rollo purposefully put her talents in their rightful place: low in the mix. Or perhaps that's being unduly harsh. Her voice may sound wearisomely thin to many of us, but - to paraphrase a famous Elvis album title - 29 million Dido fans can't be wrong. Vocal tastes are violently subjective.

Indeed, while her lyrics are chiefly generic pop-dance fodder, there are some surprisingly bleak sentiments given that the singer reportedly spent her career break contentedly raising a family. "You were ugly when the beat kicked in, and ugly when I left," she exhales during End of Night, before concluding that "I feel nothing when you cry."

The girl who came back has moved on.

artslife@thenational.ae

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