The Observer OCTOBER 12, 2008 - by Stephanie Merritt


It's five years since Life For Rent, Dido's nine-million selling follow-up to 2001's twelve-million selling debut No Angel, so you might wonder what's been taking so long. The answer, judging by her third studio album Safe Trip Home, is that Dido has been taking some time to mature, both musically and emotionally. Where Life For Rent was a series of snapshots from the life of a newly single girl (one reviewer called it the musical equivalent of Bridget Jones's Diary), Safe Trip Home is overwhelmingly coloured by the death at the end of 2006 of her father.

Not that it's a gloomy album, but these songs are noticeably more reflective, their themes of longing and absence rooted deeper than the caprices of romantic love, and consequently it feels more serious than her previous work. The outstanding song of the album is the piercingly beautiful, Celtic-flavoured Grafton Street, a six-minute hymn to loss co-written with Brian Eno and featuring Mick Fleetwood on drums. Listen to it once and it will catch at your heart as a wrenching lament for a lover who will not return. Listen to it again knowing it's an account of visiting her father during his last illness and death ('My love, I know you're leaving, but I will stay here with you') and I guarantee you will be bawling your eyes out uncontrollably long after the album has finished. There's an honesty and depth to this song that you can't fake, even if you tend to the opinion that Dido's distinctive cracked falsetto generally has a limited emotional range.

But that light, husky sweetness lends itself well to intelligent mainstream pop, and this album has benefited from time spent in LA at the studio of Jon Brion (producer of Fiona Apple, Kanye West and Rufus Wainwright), who co-produced the album alongside Dido and her brother and long-time collaborator Rollo Armstrong. Brion is also responsible for a number of the sumptuous string arrangements that swell the sound to rather grandiose levels on songs such as Let's Do The Things We Normally Do and the first single, Don't Believe In Love, but Dido's own musical contribution is formidable: she plays keyboards, drums and/or guitar on most of the tracks. The lilting recorder solo that carries Grafton Street to its haunting conclusion is apparently played on the same instrument she played as a student at the Guildhall School of Music.

The other notable contribution is from Citizen Cope, a Brooklyn-based guitarist, DJ and keyboard player, who duets on the laid-back Burnin Love, the grit of his voice providing a welcome contrast with hers. The nine-minute closer, Northern Skies, co-written with Rollo, is the nearest Dido has ever come to poetry, experimenting with little Irish vocal quavers and an expansive musical landscape that makes the more traditional pop tracks such as Don't Believe In Love sound unimaginative by comparison. 'Don't say how proud you are,' she pleads in Let's Do The Things We Normally Do, another song that addresses an inevitable last good-bye. But this album is a mature and thoughtful collection of songs and a fine memorial to her father, who would have been right to be proud.