Safe Trip Home
Dido's disappointing third release
After five years without a new album, I was expecting more from the British siren. With Dido's first album, No Angel, she handled the arrangement and production so well, the studio told her to just keep doing what she's doing. With that strategy, her second release, Life for Rent, proved even more lush and elegant than her debut, with layers of instrumentation so savvy, they could break down any guy's defenses against sappy female vocalists. With this third one, though, titled Safe Trip Home, the idea that she has "just kept doing what she's doing" seems to be precisely the problem.
Maynard James Keenan, the singer for Tool, once pointed out that, if you think of your favorite albums by your favorite bands, the first three records by each of those bands will most likely come to mind. Past the third record, chances are you start to tune out. There are of course exceptions--Led Zeppelin made a point to constantly travel, both through physical and psychic space, pushing themselves into new sounds--but few artists transcend the pattern. Listening to Dido on this new batch of songs, I hear her soothing voice drifting over soft beds of strings, a formula that has worked magic in the past, but something is missing this time.
Invention? Maybe that's what's missing. Don't get me wrong, the record has some nice moments on it, but if this had been her debut, I would have dismissed her. Having grown up on the alternative rock that came out in the 90s, this is unfortunately a trend with which I'm familiar. Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Jane's Addiction, Rage Against the Machine, R.E.M., Dave Matthews Band, Smashing Pumpkins, Tori Amos. A lot of these artists are still around, but it seemed like the genius in all of them dropped off the edge of a cliff around the turn of the millennium. If you grew up under a different era, I'm guessing you can cite your own examples of songwriters losing their luster and innovation.
Some artists manage to move in a more experimental, less immediately accessible direction. That's different. After listening to Tool and Radiohead for over a decade, I'm used to having to listen to their records several times before I start to get it. Those are bands whose sound continues to evolve, and it takes the ear a minute to adjust to something that is groundbreaking all over again. As in any market, you rarely get away with using the same trick twice.
If you're a Dido fan, I'm not completely trying to talk you out of buying the album. She still makes the blues feel like a warm blanket, and the first photo in the liner notes alone might be worth the fifteen bucks. If she tours in the U.S. this year, I'm definitely going to buy a ticket. The only thing is, as I wait excitedly in the audience to hear her vocals wash over me, I'm not going to be yelling for the new songs. It's my contention that no album should ever be a "safe trip home," but rather a venture into unmapped, untested territory.