After achieving notoriety as a down-tempo, easy-listening songstress, British singer-songwriter Dido shakes up her image on Safe Trip Home, her latest album, by taking a darker turn along the way. And not an album too soon, since the world probably couldn’t handle another collection of her ho-hum mellow musings.

The album’s first single, “Don’t Believe In Love,” establishes the tone for the entire album. Set to a kind of sad, kind of groovy beat, the track is laced with strings and humming to accent Dido’s pronounced disenchantment with love. This matching of somberness to a faster tempo recurs throughout; however, Dido’s voice is so soft and smooth it often almost masks the gloomy blues of the album. It’s a refreshing sound, though, and a smart coupling for Dido. Departing from past albums in which she sounded impersonal, almost as if she was merely observing and commenting on her life, Safe Trip Home feels more sung from the soul, replacing apathy with candidness and solemnity.

In fact, the album succeeds the most in the songs that sound least like the Dido we had previously known. This “newness” is largely owed to a variety of instruments and styles — her voice remains unchanged. For example, “Us 2 Little Gods” is built on a fast-tempo of acoustic guitar and clapping but incorporates cowbell, organ and humming as well. Without fail it tempts the foot to start tapping along. Similarly, “Let’s Do the Things We Normally Do” employs strings and organ again, with piano and acoustic guitar chiming in occasionally, to complement Dido as she sings to a simple bongo-drum beat. The broadest influence is the strings that creep into nearly every track, sometimes hauntingly, sometimes soothingly.

Yet it really comes down to tempo and rhythm that distinguishes Safe Trip Home as an overall successful, pleasant album. Essentially Dido has taken the sedative nature out of the easy-listening genre. While still a lighter sound, there is no meditative, sleep-inducing Enya-like quality to be found. Instead, Safe Trip Home delivers Dido’s somber yet funky take on the blues, showcasing an array of instruments from Irish flute to organ. Yet the strong basis of Safe Trip Home is built upon her consistently impressive vocals and the genuine narrative quality to the lyrics that defy the sheen of mass production.

Even the songs that aren’t terribly memorable (of which there are many) aren’t worth skipping over because they still feel infused with a little bit of soul. Such so-so songs comprise a good portion of the album, including “Quiet Times,” “It Comes And It Goes” and “Look No Further,” and tend to feel a bit like fluff between the songs more packed with life or feeling.

Although the word “edgy” is still far from describing Dido, Safe Trip Home offers a new, darker yet livelier feel that might do well to redefine her reputation a little. Hell, people might not be embarrassed to say they like Dido anymore. Maybe that’s too far. Either way, the album does well to make easy-listening a bit easier to listen to.

4 stars out of 5

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