Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Album Review: Dido - Still On My Mind

Dido’s first album in nearly six years can be summed up in one word: delicate. Even when the beats drop and the instrumentation gets dense, things never get heavy or base. But it’s not a light-hearted affair either, as the title indicates: most songs revolve around the themes of loss or soured relationships.

The production is very layered but never gets so ornate as to overshadow the star features of the record: Dido’s distinctive, ethereal voice and her wonderful songs, which have become impressively essential.

Hurricane opens the record with a simple guitar line which showcases her pure, emotive voice front and center. As synthesisers and an electronic backbeat are layered onto the track, Dido starts harmonising with herself and the intensity builds up as the voice is drowned out in a dream-like haze.

Give You Up starts with an electric piano and Dido’s breathy vocals before the gospel choir-like backing vocals elevate the song to spiritual heights over a bass drum made to sound like a heartbeat.

Hell After This seems to start like a dance track with with an electronic drums beats and synth horn stabs reminiscent of Prince but takes a left turn with pizzicato strings, acoustic guitar and a tango feel. A very baroque track and the highlight of the record as far as this reviewer is concerned.

You Don’t Need A God is a harmonically adventurous song which could have been conceived by Björk at the start of her career.

Take You Home is a mellow electro-disco track with aerial vocals and hypnotic background la-la-las.

Under neath the synthesisers that sound like pan flutes and which chimes, Some Kind Of Love is a folk song at heart where Dido’s multi-layered vocals are set against a beautiful acoustic guitar. Probably the best tune from a songwriting standpoint.

Still On My Mind is so dainty and contemplative it veers dangerously close to new age music but thankfully never devolves into amorphous musak. In fact it’s quite exquisite.

Mad Love manages to find a balance between a jumpy, almost chipper tune and a melancholy vibe.

Walking By is another highlight where the powerful orchestral percussions add drama to the beautiful piano-driven ballad.

The record adds another mid-tempo dance song in Friends and in this reviewer’s ear is the one track that could be considered filler. Not that it’s bad by any means, it just feels less complete, especially squeezed in between two great tunes.

Chances has a wonderful, soaring chorus in which Dido double or triple-tracks her voice to striking effect.

The album closes on another highlight, the almost religious Have To Stay which almost sounds like it could have been a country ballad if given another arrangement. With its hypnotic drone bass, reverberated vocals and total absence of beat, it’s a perfect way to cap off this great set.

Still On My Mind doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises. Instead, it feels familiar and comfortable. It’s a joy to get reacquainted with such an evocative sound and the tone of a voice so recognisable and unique, that manages to convey such intimate yet mysterious emotions.

But perhaps the best feature of the record is that, contrary to many albums by similar artists, this is not a producer’s album but rather a songwriter’s album. Those wonderful songs could have dressed up in many other ways: more dance-oriented, more organic, less shiny… Instead, they sound just like Dido.

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