"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
New York Times MARCH 26, 2013 - by Jon Pareles
DIDO: GIRL WHO GOT AWAY
Don't worry, Dido hasn't cheered up too much. Advance reports that this British songwriter's fourth album, Girl Who Got Away, would be a "big, fun electronic extravaganza" were misleading. Dido is still a forlorn, sensitive ballad singer, still wondering, as she does in Blackbird, "Why do I bring you love / When all you give me back is pain?"
The electronics are there, however, and they lift the album's better songs out of the sad-sack zone. Girl Who Got Away revisits the fusion of folk-pop melodies and club beats that sold more than twenty-eight million copies worldwide of Dido's first two albums, No Angel (1999) and Life For Rent (2003). Her third album, Safe Trip Home (2008), switched producers, largely renounced electronics and grew more melancholy; it found fewer listeners.
Girl Who Got Away reunites Dido with Rollo Armstrong, her brother and the leader of the dark dance-pop group Faithless, as her main producer and songwriting partner. And their songs continue to long for solace.
Breakups, separations, loneliness and attempts at self-healing fill the album, buoyed by programmed beats. Greg Kurstin, who has produced Pink and Kelly Clarkson, sends electro-pop keyboards percolating through the bitter kiss-off End Of Night, and he supplies the moody, descending bass line and trip-hop backbeat in Happy New Year, which has the singer missing an ex who may be absent or dead. Go Dreaming, which vows to rise above bullying, hints at Donna Summer's I Feel Love.
Dido is no dance-pop belter; her sweet, small voice rarely escapes its underlying reserve, which can be soothing or merely dull. In the album's title song, synthesizer chords puff gentle syncopations as Dido wishes she could be "the girl who got away" - less mousy and uptight, more passionate - but doesn't expect much. Sitting On The Roof Of The World, carried by folky guitar picking, reflects on sudden pop success and "not knowing how I got there or how to leave," insisting that she'd rather just "fit in" to everyday life.
Dido wrote and largely recorded the album before the birth of her son in July 2011; she polished the productions last year. But she found guests to keep her current, like Kendrick Lamar, whose vociferous rap tears through the conciliatory Let Us Move On. And in Day Before We Went To War, with keyboards from Brian Eno, Dido sets personal moping aside to come up with a genuine enigma: an eerily pretty vision of mass destruction.