It’s been 20 years since Dido released her debut album No Angel to much acclaim and fervent unit-shifting. Very much the accidental artist with an unintentional approach, her fifth album Still On My Mind is a laid-back family affair featuring brother and ambient dance wunderkind Rollo heavily.
The album opens with Hurricanes, a sparse intro weaving into a trip-hop maelstrom of beats and pulses, which explores the whirlwind of emotions in unconditional love. There is a sensational break in the middle eight where we get the sense that Dido is in the eye of the storm, she cries “Hurricanes!” and the music stops abruptly. She sings softly as she comes out of the other side, peaceful and knowing, against a beautiful guitar riff that has Rick Nowels all over it. Nowels also features on the divine electronica of Take You Home, which finds Dido showcasing her blueprint melancholy and ethereal vocal to stunning effect.
If Hurricanes examines the trials of unconditional love, then the dark and gospel-like hum of Give You Up deals with walking away before having to succumb in a toxic dogfight and turning the tables. Then the celestial strings and atmospheric beats in Chances deliberate through bad days and embracing a new day and a new optimism.
There are some imposing experimental moments. Hell After This starts off skeletal, as a dark and scratchy ode to enjoying the moment and weaves into a piano and string-laden ambient break with some gorgeous vocal harmonies in a lower register. Similarly, You Don’t Need A God begins scantily with an almost tribal beat, but is then driven by beautiful strings and a haunting vocal. This is Dido’s Drowned World (Substitute For Love). This is her religion.
There is some delicate and nostalgic folktronica in Some Kind Of Love, Still On My Mind is a powerful and sweeping slice of synth and the stirring Walking By has a little nod to Orinoco Flow in the middle-eight.
The album closes in dramatic effect with a drone laying bare a vast and affecting soundscape. Dido’s honest and haunting vocal is then complemented wonderfully with sublime strings, as the song about her son builds into one of the album’s purest and most beautiful songs. This will tug on your heartstrings long after it ends quite directly.
The introspective narrative may not be uncharted territory, but Dido chose these waters. She is unrivalled in navigating them with her disarming and melodic harmonies. If we’re going to hell after this, let’s enjoy this atmospheric goddess while we can. Beautiful.