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7 April, 2004

Review: Life For Rent (Dido, 2003)

I really enjoyed Dido's debut album, 'No Angel' (2000), her ethereal voice combining with unexpectedly complex trip-hop rhythms, particularly on such tracks as 'Hunter' and 'Thank You' (as sampled by Eminem) and carrying lyrics with at least a hint of substance.

'Life For Rent' is far more formulaic; Dido's voice is as good as before, but is the highlight of very ordinary arrangements, typically backed by unchallenging programmed bass, percussion and keyboards. Strangely, the earlier album seems to have superior, and presumably more expensive, production values than the follow-up, with a wider range of (real) instruments and richer layering of the soundscape; even the synthesised elements on 'No Angel' exhibit greater inventiveness than the 'default setting' bass and synth drum tones on 'Life For Rent'. One would expect the record company to invest more in an established artist, not less. Maybe it was an artistic decision to employ a more stripped-down approach, but that doesn't work for me.

The lyrics in particular seem to be the product of songwriting-by-numbers, perhaps even overtly chosen to match the audience demographic. I'd say this album is aimed at middle-class, 18-25 year-old females in boring office jobs. Many of the songs are downbeat, but address slight, ultimately transitory concerns. In 'Mary's In India', Dido sings of 'Danny' missing an ex-partner/relative, but the less-than-tortuous 'twist in the tail' is that she and Danny are together now and everything is okay. Anyone who has returned from a stereotypical package holiday to the Mediterranean will superficially empathise with the narrator of 'Sand In My Shoes', back at work and missing the other party in a holiday romance, yet it's plain that no lasting emotional damage is done, life will go on, and the romance will soon be forgotten - much like the song. The title track (also the second? single) is a very conventional reminder of carpe diem. There's nothing particularly thought-provoking or life-changing about any of these songs.

I couldn't call this a bad album; it's mildly enjoyable in much the same way that a cheap bottle of Californian Chardonnay is entirely drinkable. It's just that there are far better wines and music available - such as Dido's own previous album.

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