I purchased No Angel 2 days after it came out in 1999. Back then, no one had heard of Dido. It took about a year before she even had a sizable fan base. And then with a combination of Here With Me's appearance on Roswell and Eminem's sampling of "Thank You" her career exploded.
Since then, being a Dido fan has had it's ups and downs. The downs mostly consist of the long wait between albums. Long waits can be good for artists. It gives them a chance to live a normal life so they don't end up writing songs about things that are boring to most other people (like songs about touring or trying to write songs, for instance.) The down side is that expectations can be raised through the roof.
The problem with the latter, in the instance of Safe Trip Home, is that this album isn't really about first impressions. On a first listen, the album can be listened to without any one thing really striking you. It's pleasant and pretty but it can sort of go in one ear and out the other. Some people may never get past this step. This is usually a problem for me. Not that I want an album full of pop hits, but I do like at least a few songs that hook me right away.
But this isn't that type of album. For one thing, it very much feels like a complete unit. Dido comes back to the same themes again and again. The predominant ones seem to be death and love on this one. Some people might call it repetitive, but she never tackles them in the same way and dealing with the same themes isn't necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, as long as you're saying something new. And in fact many of the songs can be read in a variety of ways if you don't just rely on Dido's bio info.
The thing that might surprise some is how the album works it's way into your brain. It only took a couple repeat listens before I realized I was often humming parts of songs. The album reveals itself as more layered and complex then you might imagine on a first listen. I keep finding little things I missed before. I realize there's a greater emotional and tonal range then I first realized. I do miss having a real roof-raiser like Take My Hand on it, but Northern Skies is a lovely, more measured ending to the album.
Dido's voice is the best it's ever been. It's incredibly confident - at the front of the songs, and relating emotion in a measured way rather then having to shrilly belt it out like some wannabe diva.
As for individual songs, Don't Believe in Love, Grafton Street, It Comes and It Goes, Burnin' Love and The Day Before Today are definite standouts.
I'd definitely recommend spending a little extra on the deluxe version. "For One Day" is an amazing song that is far catchier then it's subject matter might suggest.
So far the critics seem to love this one, and the general public seems to be a little mixed about it. I think, given time, people will see this for the masterpiece it is.