Review Summary: Would you like honesty with that?
Honesty is an issue that has plagued the pop music industry since it began. Immense amounts of money are put into hiding the flaws that pop stars exhibit, hiding what makes them human. This has two effects, the first being the star’s inevitable rise to god-like status and then their even more inevitable plummet when the world realises they’re not perfect, in fact they’re far from it. The other effect is to alienate them from the people who know about the former and have long-since stopped caring.
Dido, along with a few other pop singers, stands out from the crowd mentioned above, and she proves it with Life For Rent. It might seem pretentious to say that I know Dido Armstrong just because I listened to one of her albums but frankly that’s how I feel. There’s such a strong personal touch added to this album that I can’t help it. Simple things like the tapping toes in the background of "Mary’s In India" or how most of the stories contained within the song lyrics are told from a first person viewpoint. In particular, things like the tapping help give the production a refreshing homey feel. It’s not perfect (notice how she struggles to hit the higher notes in "See You When You’re 40") but not only is that far from being a flaw, it’s a positive. It shows that Dido and her team aren’t trying to hide anything; they’re not trying to be perfect.
When you listen to Dido’s singles you get an idea of this, but listening to the whole album accentuates it immensely. We all know the Dido Armstrong that is presented to the world, the one that sings of unrequited love (Sand In My Shoes) and philosophical messages designed so the masses can sing along (Life For Rent) but underneath that is a far darker and more intriguing side. The easiest way to show this is by giving an example of her more depressing lyrics. The downright creepy "Don’t Leave Home".
“When I’ve been here for just one day
You’ll already miss me when I go away
So close the blinds and shut the door
You won’t need other friends anymore”
The song speaks of how depression worms its way into the sufferer’s consciousness and takes over, subtly shutting out the rest of the world bit by bit.
Armstrong is also smart enough, however, to make this more than just a collection of songs. There are clever ties to other songs within the lyrics. For instance, in "See The Sun" we are presented with this line:
“I’m coming ‘round to open up the blinds.”
The progression from Don’t Leave Home is obvious and makes us feel as if the next part of the story has been told. The somewhat happy ending if you like, as the song deals with finding your way out of depression and picking yourself up from the fall.
If asked to find criticism of this album its not terribly hard, most of the musical arrangements are fairly simple (usually an acoustic guitar, piano, or drums, and occasionally violin, or a mixture of all 4). While this does support my earlier statement of the production being imperfect and honest, it also makes a lot of the album sound almost exactly the same, as the tracks tend to blend together in every way except the lyrics. If it wasn’t for that than this could easily be a 4.5, but it’s impossible to give it that when the technicality just isn’t there.
Refreshingly honest and impeccably arranged lyrically, Life For Rent is one of the better pop releases out there, there’s more here than first meets the eye, if you’re willing to spend the time with it and notice the subtle intricacies of the album.