No Angel

Part 40 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

Perspective can be a curious thing. In the context of the present, a struggle can seem insurmountable – the prospects very dim. With the benefit of hindsight you can look at that very same struggle and think to yourself “It was well worth it. It made me the person I am today”. Everyone’s struggle can be different, and who are we to judge the plights of another fellow human being? You can view this statement in the context of just about any situation you may face in life – whether it is a personal attack on your core beliefs, financial struggles, or even getting a debut record heard by the masses. It isn’t a stretch at all for me to say that the 1st record by Dido, No Angel, was a slow burner that has gained mainstream recognition.

It is easy to sit here 13 years after its release and acknowledge that it is one of the biggest albums of all time (over 20 million records sold worldwide). Back in 1999, it wasn’t so clear-cut. Dido Armstrong had contributed a few tracks to albums by the band Faithless (featuring Dido’s brother, Rollo) and was relatively unknown in the United States. The album No Angel slipped out in the early summer of 1999 to almost no press. I recall picking it up after reading a blurb about the Faithless connection and receiving absolutely no interest from my friends to go see her live in a tiny venue in Philadelphia, PA later that year. The track “Here With Me” was then chosen to become the theme song to the TV show Roswell. Slowly, momentum was building. The real turning point for Dido came almost 18 months after the album’s release – when Eminem used a sample of the track “Thank You” for his hit single “Stan”. Perseverance had paid off, and Dido became a household name.

I missed the bus and there’ll be hell today (album breakdown)

Here With Me – Dido’s connection to the band Faithless is clear on the opening track. It starts out with a catchy trip-hop type backing before Dido’s voice comes in taking it to the next level. It is immediately catchy and positively explodes with the chorus. Everything is perfect about this track. The only downside is that it has been played quite a bit over the last decade or so. Key lyrics:

Oh I am what I am
I’ll do what I want
But I can’t hide
I won’t go
I won’t sleep
I can’t breathe
Until you’re resting here with me

Hunter – just voice and acoustic guitar to start, the catchy beats and instrumentation enter the mix 30 seconds in. Pop music, sure – but it is perfectly done. Do you remember when the media tried to sell us the “Electronica” movement in the mid 90’s? This is probably what they were thinking of, though it came out 2 or 3 years after that manufactured movement fizzled out. The lyrics have an edge to them that can be unsettling when read away from the music. Key lyrics:

With one light on in one room
I know you’re up when I get home
With one small step upon the stair
I know your look when I get there
If you were a king up there on your throne
would you be wise enough to let me go
for this queen you think you own
Wants to be a hunter again
wants to see the world alone again
to take a chance on life again
so let me go

Don’t Think of Me – possibly my favorite song on the record. It is instantly memorable as Dido sings sarcastic lyrics in her sweet and soulful voice. The music soars and gives a feeling of empowerment to the spurned lovers in the world. It surprises me that this is one of the only singles that didn’t eventually become a huge hit. Key lyrics:

Does it bother you now all the mess I made
Does it bother you now the clothes you told me not to wear
Does it bother you now all the angry games we played
Does it bother you now when I’m not there

When you see her sweet smile baby
Don’t think of me
When she lays in your warm arms
Don’t think of me

My Lover’s Gone – Electronic sound f/x fill the mix as Dido sings from a perspective of loss and pain. It is an unsettling song with the lyrics providing a mental picture of the anguish Dido is emoting. Percussion gets progressively higher in the mix which allows the atmosphere to really envelop the listener. A song that is perfectly executed. If you only know Dido from her radio hits, give this one a spin. Key lyrics:

My lover’s gone
I know that kiss will be my last
no more his song
the tune upon his lips has passed

I sing alone
while I watch the ocean
My lover’s gone
no earthly ships will ever bring him home again
bring him home again

All You Want – an acoustic lament, smack dab in the middle of the record. The beat is fairly middle of the road (especially compared to the previous tracks), but it all works fairly well. The chorus again seems to explode out the speakers before reverting back to the acoustic lullaby feel. Key lyrics:

It’s been three years
One night apart
but in that night you tore my heart
If only you had slept alone
If those seeds had not been sown

Oh you could come home and you would know that
All you want
Is right here in this room
All you need
Is sitting here with you
All you want

Thank You – the song that helped turn Dido into a superstar by way of Eminem’s use of it in his song “Stan” (full disclosure: I am a huge Eminem fan). It’s context is changed without Eminem’s verses, though it is still very catchy. Very much a pop song with soulful vocals and a simple beat. Key lyrics:

Push the door, I’m home at last and I’m soaking through and through
then you handed me a towel and all I see is you
and even if my house falls down now, I wouldn’t have a clue
because you’re near me and

I want to thank you for giving me the best day of my life
Oh just to be with you is having the best day of my life

Honestly OK – An almost hip hop beat over top of an electronic soundscape provides an evocative backdrop for this stunning song. The music fades away and Dido delivers some of the darkest lyrics of her career. It is haunting the way she delivers these personal thoughts but allows the listener to sing along and perhaps relate to those feelings of loneliness. Key lyrics:

I just want to feel safe in my own skin
I just want to be happy again
I just want to feel deep in my own world
but I’m so lonely I don’t even want to be with myself anymore

Slide – slowly builds towards a stunning pop song, it adds layers of instrumentation as it progresses. By the time we reach the chorus we are ready to sing (or shout) the life affirming lyrics along with Dido. Key lyrics:

Even at a time like this when the morning seems so far
Think that pain belongs to you but it’s happened to us all

It’s all right to make mistakes
you’re only human
Inside everybody’s hiding something
Take time to catch your breath and choose your moment

Don’t slide

Isobel – a dirge like introduction, not quite as catchy as the preceding tracks. A darkness in Dido’s vocals as the atmosphere builds around her. The darkness eases in the chorus and we are left with the sigh of empathy for the Isobel the song is directed towards. A noisy coda is unexpected and effective over the last-minute or so. Key lyrics:

Dear Isobel
I hope you’re well and what you’ve done is right
Oh it’s been such hell
I wish you well and hope you’re safe tonight

It’s been a long day coming and long will it last
when it’s last day leaving, and I’m helping it pass
by loving you more

I’m No Angel – the title track is stunning contrast of experimental beats and ridiculously catchy pop music. Dido sings her heart out as she offers up a plea to be understood. I can completely relate to the lyrics (though from a different perspective). Aren’t we all just trying to find our place in this crazy world and find common understanding among friends & family? Perfection. Key lyrics:

I know I’m not perfect but I can smile
and I hope that you see this heart behind my tired eyes
If you tell me that I can’t, I will, I will, I’ll try all night
and if I say I’m coming home, I’ll probably be out all night
I know I can be afraid but I’m alive
and I hope that you trust this heart behind my tired eyes

’cause I’m no angel, but please don’t think that I won’t try and try
I’m no angel, but does that mean that I can’t live my life?

My Life – A bluesy song with heavy percussion and minimal piano backing. The lyrics are defiant and in your face. The focus is on Dido’s voice, emanating emotion in every phrase. Key lyrics:

What I choose to do is of no concern to you and your friends
Where I lay my hat may not be my home, but I will last on my own

‘Cause it’s me, and my life
it’s my life

Take My Hand – Haunting introduction, Dido’s voice layered in echo and acoustic guitar backing. The song progresses into an uplifting melody, with her soulful vocals giving us assurances that it’ll all be OK. The beat kicks in and we are swept away into a disco anthem for the ages. A perfect concluding track. Key lyrics:

Feel the sun on your face and tell me what you’re thinking
Catch the snow on your tongue and show me how it tastes
Take my hand and if I’m lying to you
I’ll always be alone
if I’m lying to you
Take your time, if I’m lying to you
I know you’ll find that you believe me
you believe me

This is one of those records that is now so mainstream that it is almost a punk rock notion to declare your love of it. Lost over time is the fact that it took almost 2 years for it to become a hit. The songs are sing-a-long anthems married to a subtle electronic backing with production help from Dido’s brother, Rollo. Her other records are great, but this one is a masterpiece. Go ahead and blast it, get in people’s faces and let them know that for once the mainstream got it right. Dido’s here to stay.

This is the last Flashback Friday article of 2012 – thank you for reading my thoughts as I’ve gone though 40 albums from every section of my life that have encompassed a variety of styles. My love of music is an addiction and has provided moments of solace when it has been most needed. It’s been fun sharing moments from my life and how they related to the records playing. There is still more to tell, so in 2013 this series will move to a monthly series going live on the last Friday of each month. I’ll see you at the end of January as I discuss the Sixth Great Lake’s Up the Country.

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