New Music: Albums by Dido, OneRepublic, Thompson Square, Tomasz Stanko

March 26th, 2013

Sarah Jonek/Picture-Alliance-DPA, via Associated Press Images

OneRepublic performing last week in Bielefeld, Germany. It serves up layer upon layer of glossy keyboards, reverberant guitars and choirlike backing vocals.

“Girl Who Got Away”

(RCA)

Don’t worry, Dido hasn’t cheered up too much. Advance reports that this British songwriter’s fourth album, “Girl Who Got Away,” would be a “big, fun electronic extravaganza” were misleading. Dido is still a forlorn, sensitive ballad singer, still wondering, as she does in “Blackbird,” “Why do I bring you love/When all you give me back is pain?”

The electronics are there, however, and they lift the album’s better songs out of the sad-sack zone. “Girl Who Got Away” revisits the fusion of folk-pop melodies and club beats that sold more than 28 million copies worldwide of Dido’s first two albums, “No Angel” (1999) and “Life for Rent” (2003). Her third album, “Safe Trip Home” (2008), switched producers, largely renounced electronics and grew more melancholy; it found fewer listeners.

“Girl Who Got Away” reunites Dido with Rollo Armstrong, her brother and the leader of the dark dance-pop group Faithless, as her main producer and songwriting partner. And their songs continue to long for solace.

Breakups, separations, loneliness and attempts at self-healing fill the album, buoyed by programmed beats. Greg Kurstin, who has produced Pink and Kelly Clarkson, sends electropop keyboards percolating through the bitter kiss-off “End of Night,” and he supplies the moody, descending bass line and trip-hop backbeat in “Happy New Year,” which has the singer missing an ex who may be absent or dead. “Go Dreaming,” which vows to rise above bullying, hints at Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.”

Dido is no dance-pop belter; her sweet, small voice rarely escapes its underlying reserve, which can be soothing or merely dull. In the album’s title song, synthesizer chords puff gentle syncopations as Dido wishes she could be “the girl who got away” — less mousy and uptight, more passionate — but doesn’t expect much. “Sitting on the Roof of the World,” carried by folky guitar picking, reflects on sudden pop success and “not knowing how I got there or how to leave,” insisting that she’d rather just “fit in” to everyday life.

Dido wrote and largely recorded the album before the birth of her son in July 2011; she polished the productions last year. But she found guests to keep her current, like Kendrick Lamar, whose vociferous rap tears through the conciliatory “Let Us Move On.” And in “Day Before We Went to War,” with keyboards from Brian Eno, Dido sets personal moping aside to come up with a genuine enigma: an eerily pretty vision of mass destruction. JON PARELES

ONEREPUBLIC

“Native”

(Mosley Music Group/Interscope)

There’s a thin line where ardent emotion meets maudlin simpering, and that’s exactly where Ryan Tedder, OneRepublic’s lead singer and main songwriter and producer, has built an impressive hitmaking career. “Feel Again,” the 2012 single that previewed OneRepublic’s new album, “Native,” has already sold half a million copies.

Mr. Tedder is America’s anthem guy: a thorough student of the midtempo Britpop arena-rock processional, emulating the music of U2, Peter Gabriel and Coldplay while substituting melodramatic endearments for their literary ambitions. He often writes for OneRepublic with the band’s cellist and bassist, Brent Kutzle, whose parts bring a chamber-music formality to the songs; Mr. Tedder has also collaborated on hits with Beyoncé (“Halo”), Kelly Clarkson (“Already Gone”), Adele (“Turning Tables”) and many others.

Mr. Tedder reaches for the hymnlike melody — usually with a dramatic upward leap somewhere to test and reward his reedy tenor voice — and the majestic crescendo, with booming drums and opulent keyboards. If cellphones aren’t being waved from the balconies by the end of the chorus, the song isn’t working.

It’s the kind of pomp that has also conquered hip-hop; OneRepublic got its big break in 2007 when the hip-hop producer Timbaland slightly remixed “Apologize” to become a worldwide hit. Hip-hop beats gave OneRepublic million-selling singles, like “Good Life,” from its second album, “Waking Up,” in 2009.

But that was then; now pop has turned to the four-on-the-floor beat of European-style dance music, and on “Native,” OneRepublic won’t be left behind. Goodbye syncopation, hello stomp and shimmer; in a song like “If I Lose Myself,” the band’s old Coldplay-style marches merge easily with the pulsating keyboards and kickdrum impact of trance.

The craftsmanship is painstaking and impressive: layer upon layer of glossy keyboards, reverberant guitars and choirlike backing vocals (although Mr. Tedder applies too much obvious Auto-Tune to his leads). But these crystal-palace productions are proud showcases for unctuous, sometimes oddly morbid lyrics: “In this world full of people there’s one killing me/And if we only die once I want to die with you,” Mr. Tedder sings in “Something I Need,” while in “Burning Bridges” he implores, “I want you to burn my bridges down/Set me on fire.” The best anthems are never so sappy. JON PARELES

THOMPSON SQUARE

“Just Feels Good”

(Stoney Creek)

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