As suggested by its title, Dido’s fourth album is almost entirely about escape — from bad relationships, the pressure of fame, back-stabbing business associates, even quotidian responsibilities. Like Madonna at her world-weariest, it’s the kind of album that only someone who experienced unexpected monumental popularity could make. Having gone from guest spots in her brother Rollo Armstrong’s dance act Faithless to recording a 1999 debut that sold more than 16 million copies after her song “Thank You” got sampled in Eminem’s smash “Stan,” the London singer on Girl sounds more knackered than ever. “I don’t want to be different/ I just want to fit in,” she sighs in “Sitting on the Roof of the World,” a renunciation of not only her sudden success but also any last remnant of coolness. Whereas Christina Aguilera got “Dirrty” and Kelly Clarkson waged war with My December, their label-mate rebels by playing it so safe here that she nearly disappears.
Girl Who Got Away offers Dido’s mellowest material at the outset: Folky opener “No Freedom” almost suggests self-parody and “Let Us Move On” blatantly evokes her star-making hip-hop turn with a typically intricate — yet, in this plainspoken soft-pop context, jarring — cameo from Kendrick Lamar. As the album progresses, though, the frosty synths heat up as the rhythms syncopate, starting with the enticing “End of Night,” and then getting even a little funky on “Love to Blame.” She and her ongoing fraternal collaborator naturally come across most engaged while reinstating their considerable, yet in the context of her solo career, largely abandoned dance music skills. Girl‘s more adventurous second half ultimately suggests Dido yearns to break free from of the obligations dutifully met by its first.