Month: April 2014

Eurovision 2014: The Entrants (Part 4)

Here’s the fourth part of my daft run-through of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest hopefuls. This week we’re into the final batch of semi-finalists. Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be found here, here and here respectively.

Be warned: the opinions contained within may be dangerous and/or silly. Proceed with caution.

BELARUS: Teo, “Cheesecake”

Cheesecake, you say? Well, I do like cheesecake. Eight points straight away to Belarus. You’ve set the bar high now, Teo – don’t let me down.

Hey, remember a while back how we were all asking, begging, pleading for a Belarusian Robin Thicke? We were doing that, right? Well, now we have one, and he’s singing about cheesecake, Google Maps and Dirty Dancing. It’s a quirky start, and by “quirky” I mean “the instrumentation is all over the freaking place” – there’s horns, record scratches, guitars, maracas, what sounds like someone opening a can of Sprite… but then the song kicks in and, honestly, it’s actually pretty catchy. Teo isn’t the best singer but the melody works for him – it has enough hooky moments without being too challenging. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, but it has an odd charm that makes it kinda click. Judging by the video it clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously, either, which could boost or hinder its chances on the night – Eurovision voters tend to prefer the acts to go all-out with their zaniness. Still, I liked it, perhaps against my better judgement. Breezy, daft, toe-tapping fun from Belarus – just don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics.

FINLAND: Softengine, “Something Better”

A song called “Something Better” at Eurovision. I’m sure there’s a joke to be made here somewhere but I can’t quite tell what it is. It’s times like this I wish I was better at the funny.

So Finland have entered another band this year, eh? Trying to catch the old embers of 2006 again, are we, phweh heh heh? (It helps greatly if you read those sentences in a gruff old sailor voice).  The song is carried by a simple chord sequence that, if my barely-trained musical ear knows anything, sticks pretty close to the four chords of pop music (which is fine – this is a pop contest, after all), while the melody drops and soars so you know when to drink and when to punch the air. It has that radio-rock sound that was quite popular in the mid-Noughties: think Coldplay with more energy (or, for that matter, any energy at all). It’s not bad: kinetic, melodic, enthusiastic, anthemic, all the other -ics (Stereophonics?). I can’t drum up the interest to listen to it more than twice, but I could see it doing quite well.

GREECE: Freaky Fortune feat. Riskykidd, “Rise Up”

And again, Greece entering an act called Freaky Fortune? Again, it feels like there’s something to make fun of here, but I just can’t…

You don’t hear rapping at Eurovision all that often, do you? Kinda sounds like the guy from Rizzle Kicks, doesn’t he? Anyway, enough questions, let’s get down to some observations: for the most part it’s, once again, club-minded, synth-driven dance-pop, which I’m thinking should have its own hotkey on my keyboard by now. It’s punchier and more fun than other entries, though, which I do appreciate (seriously, the show itself had better be a laugh-a-minute riot because we desperately need some fun injected into this year’s contest). It also has a horn section and rapping, which I think are quite unusual for a Eurovision entrant – but are they unusual enough? That’s not one of those rhetorical, vague-for-effect blogger questions, either: weird and wacky help at Eurovision, but you really have to throw yourself into it. That said, I don’t mind this as much as I thought I would. Hope you do well, Greece.

IRELAND: Can-Linn feat. Kasey Smith, “Heartbeat”

Can-Linn win? Oh ho, I am hilarious.

It’s Eurovision and the song’s called “Heartbeat.” What were you expecting, Black Label Society? Mind you, it does have a slightly darker synth-pop sound than similar Eurovision entrants this year. That’s kinda cool. And look – or listen, even! Celtic influences! I can’t overstate how refreshing it is to hear even the mildest trace of traditional folk influences in a Eurovision song at this point, particularly as I have a seriously soft spot for pretty much anything Celtic: music, imagery, mythology… anything goes with me. Yeah, the song itself isn’t amazing- for the most part it’s the same generic dance-pop we’ve been hearing for the last four or five years – but Can-Linn does have a nice voice. It is Can-Linn singing, right? I must have missed Kasey Smith’s contribution. Anyway, it’s Celtic and I like that. It’s dance-pop and I don’t like that. So… there you are.

F.Y.R. MACEDONIA: Tijana Dapčević, “To the Sky”

I’m sorry, all I can think of at the moment is Weebl and Bob as Team Laser Explosion:

Sorry about that. Anyway, let’s see what Tijana has for us:

Have I heard that chorus somewhere before? I’ve no idea. It sounds like something I might have heard on the radio recently. Never mind, let’s focus on the music – what is there to say? Well, she has a good voice; and I quite like the chorus, particularly the way the melody in the “where do we go now?” line rises and falls towards its end. Call me Quixotic, but I like the little things in a song. It’s not like I have much else to discuss here, to be honest: it’s the same club-minded, synth-driven dance-pop you heard back in 2010. The verses are subdued and simmering, the chorus is loud and punchy. If you liked that, there’s a good chance you’ll like this. If you don’t, this one’ll just pass you by.

ROMANIA: Paula Seling and Ovi, “Miracle”

Hey, it’s these guys again. Remember them from 2010, when they sang “Playing with Fire”? Well I do, and I also remember I quite enjoyed that song. Four years on and they’re back, but can they still deliver the goods? Or at least the adequates, anyway.

It’d be crass to directly compare “Miracle” to “Playing with Fire”, but the quirky, bouncy and kinda-brilliant pop of the latter did give me similar expectations for the former that, unfortunately, just weren’t met. “Miracle” is – say it with me – a club-minded, synth-driven dance-pop song, and to say it’s no better and no worse than any of the other songs I’ve written about recently or heard over the past few years is all I have to say about it. Honestly, I’d like to say more, but these songs all start to sound the same after a while – and not a very long while, either. It’s a shame, really, as I did genuinely enjoy “Playing with Fire.” You know what? Go listen to that instead. You’re welcome.

SLOVENIA: Tinkara Kovač, “Round and Round”

Aerosmith once wrote a song called “Round and Round.” That’s interesting, right? Honestly, four parts into this thing, you’d think it would be easier to come up with these pre-video bits by now.

Flute? Yes. Yes yes yes. Eurovision needs more flute, just all over the place. Musically it’s a cold, gloomy ballad which… I don’t know, is Slovenia all that cold a place? There is a guitar player in the video, but I swear I can hear that doomy, droning synth line you sometimes hear in the background of songs that really don’t need it (I’m thinking the chorus to Olly Murs’ “Heart Skips a Beat“). I like this – it’s dramatic but subdued, which gives it a dark, romantic feel. It isn’t a particularly catchy song, which won’t earn it much love if it’s performed somewhere towards the middle of the night. I do quite like the verse melody, though. And it has a FREAKING FLUTE SOLO YOU GUYS!

SWITZERLAND: Sebalter, “Hunter of Stars”

The title vaguely reminds me of Dio’s “Hunter of the Heart.” Ten points for that alone.

“Liiiar, tell me your intentions are good”… yeah, okay, let me just shake the Dio song out of my head. Actually, “Hunter of Stars” does a decent job of that itself with its opening wall of sound -drums, guitars and vocals all hitting you at once. There’s a fair amount to discuss here, so I’ll have to focus myself a little: the melody has a folksy bent (always good) and the instrumentation sounds a lot more natural and earthy than other entrants, which is very nice. What makes this really stand out, though, is that it doesn’t take itself even the slightest bit seriously. The whole thing is just fun with a capital F-U to every other dramatic, emotionally-intense song on the roster. It’s uptempo and upbeat with a freaking catchy whistle hook – there’s even a violin solo, for crying out loud: how could anyone not like this? Well, I do. I like this one. Man, I really like this one.

Part 5 coming next Monday. The second Eurovision semi-final takes place Thursday 8th May, with the final airing Saturday 10th May.

Advertisements

Eurovision 2014: The Entrants (Part 3)

Here’s the third part of my brainless run-through of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest hopefuls. Only seven performances this time as we move into the second batch of semi-finalists. Parts one and two can be found here and here respectively.

Be warned: the opinions contained within may be dangerous and/or silly. Proceed with caution.

AUSTRIA: Conchita Wurst, “Rise Like a Phoenix”

So going by the fact that this is a female singer with a song called “Rise Like a Phoenix” I assume I can expect the usual dramatic, quasi-Gothic piano ba–wait, is that a beard?

With a bit of research (i.e. Wikipedia) it transpires that “Conchita” is actually the drag persona of Thomas Neuwirth, an Austrian singer. Well, that’s going to get some people talking on the night, eh wot? As for the song, a surprise, in that it wasn’t a surprise. See, I generally write the pre-video bits before I’ve even watched the video, so they’re usually some jokey drivel based on a passing observation of the performer, song or even the YouTube thumbnail; therefore I wasn’t actually expecting this to be another dramatic, quasi-Gothic, piano-driven ballad like so many of the entrants I’ve heard this year. But guess what? It turned out to be exactly that, and it’s no better or worse than any of them. Conchita can sing, at least, but for Eurovision that’s pretty much a prerequisite anyway. The beard might get teeth chattering on the night, but unfortunately I can’t say the same about the song.

GEORGIA: The Shin and Mariko, “Three Minutes to Earth”

Is that an ETA for a shuttle return, or part of an electrician’s panicked announcement? (Let it sink in…)

Okay, so Georgia are providing this year’s “old people sitting down” entry, with some added craziness around the edges just to spruce things up. What is there to say about it? Er, there’s yodelling. Not enough for you? Well, the music mirrors the all-over-the-place prog-folk sound that Jethro Tull pioneered – one of the singers even sounds a bit like Ian Anderson. Being the huge Tull fan that I am, it’s probably why I don’t mind this more than I do. I’m not crazy about it, but it has its charms and some decent melodic hooks buried beneath the weirdness. Will it win? Eh, probably not, but since it provides a nice, charming respite from all the heavy ballads this year I’m behind it all the way.

ISRAEL: Mei Feingold, “Same Heart”

Phil Collins once sang about two hearts, believing in just one mind, beating together till the end of time. Mei Feingold has presumably taken that concept to its logical conclusion by physically fusing said hearts together to produce the “same heart”. Just takes up less space, y’know?

“We don’t beat from the same heart.” So I didn’t get that right, then. Musically it’s the typical, effusive, big-build-up dance-pop that all the big-name singers were doing and all the stations were playing a couple of years ago – seriously, you could throw a rock into an empty room and still somehow hit a radio playing a song from this genre. Do I care for it? Not particularly. Could it do well? Possibly: it’s not original but it is kinda catchy, I guess. Plus if they stick with the video concept and have Feingold wielding a sword on stage, that’d be pretty cool.

LITHUANIA: Vilija Matačiūnaitė, “Attention”

That name must be so much fun to write out on tax forms.

She can sing and dance at the same time? How many times do you actually see that in pop music these days? That’s an energetic little number, too – kudos for that, at least. Musically it’s not particularly memorable (though the whole ‘attention’ hook is hard to forget), so it’s difficult to say anything else about the song. It’s big and it’s brash, though, which always helps: with a massive display this could actually do quite well on the night.

MALTA: Firelight, “Coming Home”

I know a lot of songs called “Coming Home,” from Deep Purple, Alter Bridge, Iron Maiden, KISS, Megadeth… that’s it, actually. But anyway, that’s a high caliber of artists right there. What they have to do with the Maltan Eurovision entry, I don’t know, but it’s probably not daft to say that I will absolutely definitely be judging this song by the incredibly high standard set by those bands. S’only fair.

It certainly has the most conceptual video, though I’m not sure if I can see any of that making it into the performance on the night. As for the music, it’s another of these homely folk songs you’ve been hearing recently on that there musical box that has talking on it sometimes. Think a Maltese Mumford & Sons, unless that concept frightens you.  Musical commentary-wise, that’s all I’ve got, to be honest. Oh, and I quite like the female vocal towards the end. It’s catchy and passionate with a decent message behind it (even if it gets a little overwrought at certain parts). Given the weird neo-folk revival we’ve had in the pop charts in recent times, this might do good on May 10th.

NORWAY: Carl Espen, “Silent Storm”

A silent storm, ey? That’s quite the evocative image: the carnage of a violent thunderstorm, played out to eerie silence. Sounds good. Well, Mr Espen, what have you got for us?

Another piano ballad? Come on, guys. At least this one goes for more of a indie, lo-fi direction. He’s got a nice voice, too. It’s pretty minimalist, though it does start to swell towards the end. The whole thing is pretty simple, but it does have a lot of passion for what is actually quite a short song at three minutes (even the thriftier pop songs tend to go on for another thirty seconds or so). Honestly, this one could go either way: it’s hard to dislike, though it might be just as hard to love. I hope that clears things up.

POLAND: Donatan & Cleo, “My Słowianie – We Are Slavic”

You know, you don’t see dashes all that often in song titles. I suppose I should commend them for that.

I asked for traditional influences, and dear sweet Easter did I get them. The last time I remember something so in-your-face European was the 2010 Lithuanian entry, InCulto’s “Eastern European Funk“. I really enjoyed that song at the time and I remember being severely disappointed when it didn’t get through to the final. This song? Er… well, it’s quirky, it’s brash, it’s memorable and, going by the video alone, will certainly make a lot of men very happy indeed (sweet mercy, one cleavage shot is cheeky, two is gratuitous… I lost count of how many there were in this video). It’s one of those weird songs that’s hard to ignore but difficult to remember: really the only catchy part is the shouty bit in the chorus. The rest just washes past in a wave of bright colours, traditional Polish dress and seriously confusing sexual imagery. I’ve no idea what to make of this one. It’s fun – let’s leave it at that.

The question remains, though: who is Johnny Cootie? And how do Slavic girls know how to use him? Answers on the back of a postcard.

Part 4 coming next Monday. The second Eurovision semi-final takes place Thursday 8th May, with the final airing Saturday 10th May.

Eurovision 2014: The Entrants (Part 2)

Here’s the second part of my idiotic run-through of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest hopefuls. Part 1 can be read here.

Be warned: the opinions contained within may be dangerous and/or silly. Proceed with caution.

BELGIUM: Axel Hirsoux, “Mother”

Motheeeeer, youuu haaad me… seriously, that’s all I could think of to precede this. Sorry about that.

Of course, the operatic entry. Well, operatic-ish. The guy’s got a killer voice and the song itself… you know, I actually don’t mind it at all. It’s passionate and emotional without being too bombastic or cheesy. Musically its surprisingly simple, but the way it just builds and builds towards that climax is pretty great. I like this. Didn’t think I would, but I did. S’all I’ve got to say on this one.

HUNGARY: András Kállay-Saunders, “Running”

The word “running” was also one half of the title of the 2011 winning entry, “Running Scared.” That’s not relevant in the slightest, but you’re still reading. You are still reading, right? Please do read.

Ooh, doom-y piano intro with lots of black and red. The pianist’s even got a teddy bear giving her the evil eye. Deceptively minimal instrumentation at the start forces the melody to carry the weight of the song (and it isn’t a particularly strong melody at that) for the first fifty seconds or so before those Red Bull synths kick in and everything sounds like it’s running (heh) a marathon. Do I like it? Not really: musically it’s pretty weak and, going by this performance alone, the singer doesn’t sound all that emotionally invested in his words (obviously that could very well change come May). Could it do well, though? Maybe. It definitely sounds like something you’d hear in the charts, which might earn it some interest on the night.

UPDATE: If my research is correct, this song actually has a very personal meaning attached to it, which makes my remark about him not being “emotionally invested in his words” come off as, er, somewhat tasteless. For that I sincerely apologise. This is why you always need to do the research, folks.

MOLDOVA: Cristina Scarlat, “Wild Soul”

The singer’s name is similar to Cristina Scabbia, lead vocalist for Lacuna Coil. Six points go to Moldova.

Another dramatic, quasi-Gothic, piano-driven ballad sung by a singer with a powerful voice. Honestly, I can’t really think of anything else to say about this one. The stuttering beats and dubstep elements might win it some love on the night, but otherwise “Wild Soul” leaves me pretty cold. I’m not even familiar enough with the musical culture of Moldova to know if it sounds “Moldovan” enough. Sorry, Cristina.

MONTENEGRO: Sergej Ćetković, “Moj svijet”

From what I gathered (through Google Translate) ‘moj svijet’ translates into the English ‘my world’. So, yeah. Also worth noting: while other entrants’ videos on the Eurovision channel have generally split their viewership, this video has an unprecedentedly high approval rating (at time of writing 9250 thumbs up to 788 thumbs down, which is about 92% positive). I’m approaching this with cautious optimism…

Okay, so it’s a soft folk song. I’m actually glad about that. As I mentioned in Part 1, I like hearing songs at Eurovision that have some European folk influence – it’s the reason I liked “Only Teardrops” so much last year. So do I like this song? Well, the flute’s nice. It sounds like something from a late-Nineties/early-Noughties Disney animated film, which some people might like. I’m not particularly taken myself, but the guy can sing and the song has a lot of passion. It could do well.

NETHERLANDS: The Common Linnets, “Calm After the Storm”

According to the internet, a linnet is a small member of the finch family common throughout a good part of Europe. Given that I was once pretty obsessed with birds, I probably should have known that.

Huh. Well, this is surprisingly good. It kinda sounds like a Fleetwood Mac deep cut from the Seventies, or some lo-fi folk/country duo you’d hear on 6Music. It’s got a neat, acoustic-driven beat and some lovely harmonised vocals. Not a lot happens, but given the genre I wouldn’t have expected a sweeping, Westlife-style chord change at the end. It’s good. It’s original. This one could do really well, actually – provided Pitchfork’s readership tune in to the semi-final.

PORTUGAL: Suzy, “Quero ser tua”

So what have Spain’s Siamese twin got in store for us this year? (I’m kidding, of course. Seriously, I’m just kidding. No, don’t cry. Oh, please don’t cry. No, I… can we get some Häagen-Dazs in here?)

So it’s another entry in the folk-flecked in-da-club music genre that’s been thrown our way for the past few years (or am I just making that up? I might be making it up). I can’t say I care for it. I don’t dislike it. I don’t really anything it – It’s not memorable enough to elicit any lasting reaction from me. So what reactions do I have? Well, those drums are pretty big and those backing singers are kinda pretty. Will that do? Sorry, Portugal, but I don’t see you winning this one this year.

SAN MARINO: Valentina Monetta, “Maybe (Forse)”

So the song’s called “Maybe” with the subtitle “Forse,” which loosely translates into the English word… “maybe”? So its called “Maybe (Maybe)”? Sure. Whatever (qualunque).

Yet another dramatic quasi-Gothic, piano-driven ballad? You know, I remember a time when Eurovision was about having fun. What happened to that Eurovision, huh? What happened? Okay, it’s a nice song on its own and it does pick up momentum towards the end, but it doesn’t really stand out, y’know? Again, I’m sorry, but there’s really not a lot to say about this one. The spoken word bit towards the end is pretty funny, though, even if I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended to be.

UKRAINE: Maria Yaremchuk, “Tick-Tock”

…on the clock, but the party don’t stop? Yes, I’ve resorted to four-year-old pop culture references. You do better.

Woah. Well, this is a refreshing change of pace. Obvious MJ ripping-off and slightly dumb lyrics aside, I really like this. It’s got a strong chorus, exciting visuals, actual melodic hooks, crisp guitars, a brisk, syncopated beat and a whistle-riff I actually want to whistle (screw you, Flo-Rida). Is it amazing? Probably not, but it’s easily the best thing I’ve reviewed yet in this run-through: catchy, contemporary, fresh and fun. If this doesn’t do well on the night I will be shocked. SHOCKED, I tell you. And you know what? I think I even dig the MJ influence. Something about an attractive woman in a suit and hat… yowza.

Wait, does that mean I’m attracted to Michael Jackson?

Part 3 coming next Monday. The first Eurovision semi-final takes place Tuesday 6th May, with the final airing Saturday 10th May.

Eurovision 2014: The Entrants (Part 1)

I have an odd relationship with the Eurovision Song Contest (by the way, hello again – and yeah, we’re on this now). It’s the flashiest, cheesiest entertainment show humanity could dare come up with, complete with awkward presenting, weird visuals and some really strange pop music (barring the odd exception – no matter what anyone says, I will defend Alex Swings, Oscar Sings!’ “Miss Kiss Kiss Bang” to the bitter, bloody end). So you wouldn’t think it’d be the sort of thing I’d normally go for (assuming you knew me, of course).

Not creepy at all. Thanks, Denmark.

In reality, though, I actually really enjoy it. I didn’t use to when I was young, because WHERE’S THE RAWK, PEEPLEZ?!!, but now I’m older and less rage-y I just see it as a fun, unpretentious night of entertainment. I’ve long since accepted I’m never going to hear anything I’d want to hear on the night, but I’ve got my own CDs for that anyway – and what I do get to hear is a quirky mix of folk- and pop-influenced music that provides a lovely little reprieve from exam revision, deadlines and the general misery of life. It’s also nice to get a looking-in view at other European cultures and how they’re kicking about these days, something I wouldn’t normally get in my day-to-day existence (though Google Streetview makes for a nice substitute).

Now the 2014 contest is coming up soon – the final airs 10th May – and I’ve gots me this ‘ere blog, y’see, so as part of my self-imposed duties to chronicle everything silly and weird in the world of music I’ll be writing a quick run-through of every entrant trekking over to Copenhagen this year, giving a brief review of each song along with my informed(?) opinion as to whether they’ll do well on the night, or whether they’ll even get to the night at all. It’s also a handy way of familiarising yourself with this year’s contestants, provided you’re the sort of person who likes to do that (and I’m told the sort of person who does that gets, like, all the women and cash, so it’s a lifestyle worth considering).

For the sake of keeping this readable I’ll be dividing my overall run-through into four parts – the first four will be divided between the two semi-finals, while the fifth and final part will be given over to the entrants from the “Big Five” nations and Denmark, this year’s host country. If you’d like to keep informed of this year’s contest, you can head to www.eurovision.tv and get the news straight from there. As for me, I’ll be posting these every Monday up to the first semi-final on 6th May.

Right, essay over – on to the first eight participating nations. Be warned, these are not serious, academic- or even AV Club-level reviews. The opinions contained within may be dangerous and/or silly. Proceed with caution.

ALBANIAHersi Matmuja, “Zemërimi i një nate” (Eng. trans. “One Night’s Anger”)

Jeez, that’s an unusually cool song name for a Eurovision entrant. One night’s love? One night’s passion? Nah, one night’s anger, brother! Hell yeah, let’s break something! So I’m hearing this, in my wonderful head, as this brutal heavy metal song with roaring guitars and thunderous drums and harsh, guttural voc–

Ah. Yeah. Well, to be fair, there are guitars here, albeit briefly (I like the solo towards the end – it’s not very long, but at least it’s there. Kudos). It’s not what I was expecting, but the melody is quite nice (and very vaguely reminiscent in parts of Emeli Sandé’s “My Kind of Love”) and it’s sung well. I don’t know, you know – Albania’s not a nation that generally ranks very highly in this contest, but this song has that right, weird balance of bombast and lightness-of-touch that seems to go down well at Eurovision. I could see this doing quite well. Of course, I’m only one man. One intelligent, handsome, well-dressed man with, like, loads of girlfriends, honestly.

ARMENIA: Aram MP3, “Not Alone”

Yes, the artist has “MP3” in their moniker. Nothing to get worked up about here: a good deal of us use MP3s to listen to music these days. There’s no reason to be snobby about this…

Didja think I was going to say something justifying snobbery, didja? In a humorous, unexpected inversion of my previous statement, didja? Didja now? Nah, seriously, this is actually kinda nice. It’s a little melodramatic, but that’s Eurovision for you, and although the dubstep is a bit depressing to hear it does give it a nice, angry edge that puts it above the other entries. That build to the breakdown is pretty cool as well… you know, I think I like this. Six points, or something.

AZERBAIJAN: Dilara Kazimova, “Start a Fire”

Fire. Fire, fire, fire. Yes, that old lyrical chestnut is back roasting over the open… you know.  And we’re starting it as well, with our… desire, presumably? Is somebody a liar? Will they take us higher? Or throw us on the funeral pyre?

I know I’m only three entries in here out of 37 (I think) and there’s no reason to make any rash judgements at this point, but why so many sad ballads this year? Come on, Eurovision, the world’s not all that bad. Get the champagne going, put out some appetisers, make it a party – come on! That aside, the song is nice, if a little unspectacular – mellowness doesn’t tend to work at Eurovision. She’s got a good voice, though, I’ll give her that. I don’t dislike it at all, but there’s nothing to go crazy over here either.

ESTONIA: Tanja, “Amazing”

So what have Estonia brought to the competition this year? And how obvious is it that I’m already running out of ways to precede these videos?

Finally, something a bit more upbeat. The video’s flashy and Tanja’s putting a good deal of work into her singing, but does it have the X factor (or the Eurovision equivalent – the E factor, I suppose)? I’m not so sure. See, passion and a decent light-show do drum up brownie points on the night, but you still need a strong melody and/or chorus if you want to stand out among the sizeable pack, and I’m not sure if “Amazing” has that. It’s got a good… beat, though, I guess? To be honest I’m not 100% sure what a dance beat actually sounds like. Let’s move on before I embarrass myself any further.

ICELAND: Pollapönk, “No Prejudice”

That’s… an interesting name you’ve got there, Pöllaponk. No, no, I don’t want to be culturally insensitive here. I’m sure it does mean something truly profound in Icelandic. Does it? Well, according to Google Translate it means “poll punk”… so that was massively helpful, huh?

Ah, I get it now: they’re a political band and they write… well, I wouldn’t call it a punk rock song, exactly, but it does skirt around the idea of maybe possibly sounding close to a loose approximation of what you might possibly think of as something similar to punk. There’s guitars, anyway. For the most part, though, it’s a bouncy pop song about defying prejudice and tolerating others. Musically it’s not my cup of tea or coffee or any associated hot drink, but it’s catchy and colourful with a more meaningful message than most Eurovision entries, so I wouldn’t mind seeing this do well on the night.

LATVIA: Aarzemnieki, “Cake to Bake”

Say what? Something about cake? I like cake.

You know, I was about to say this: for a song contest that covers such a musically- and culturally-diverse continent as Europe, I couldn’t point to anything on this list so far that sounds all that… y’know, European. One of the (few?) joys of watching Eurovision is hearing traditional European folk elements contrasted against, or merged with, more current pop sounds – it’s how (I like to think) “Only Teardrops” won last year. So I’m glad to hear something even as vaguely Euro-folksy as “Cake to Bake” thrown into the mix (pun intended). Admittedly the chorus is pretty annoying and the whole “white-guy-with-acoustic-guitar” image (or WGWAG, as Todd in the Shadows would call it – check him out, he’s ace) might grate on some, but it’s chirpy and pleasant and the lyrics are endearingly quirky. It’s a nice light relief after all the heavily-orchestrated ballads, anyway.

RUSSIA: Tolmachevy Sisters, “Shine”

You know, it’d be easy to make a joke about Russia here given the recent situation in Crimea, but I’m going to rise above that and review this song from an apolitical angle. Also, I couldn’t think of any good jokes.

So it’s another ballad, but it’s a tad darker than the other entries with a bit of a Gothic edge to it. The whole thing sounds just a little bit sinister, though I’m guessing that’s not what they were going for. Mind you, it actually sounds like it came from Russia, which is what I want to hear in a Russian Eurovision entry. Could it do well on the night? Possibly. The YouTube commenters don’t seem to like it very much, but then what do they ever like? It hasn’t got the most inventive melody, but it makes up for that in atmosphere. It also helps that both Tolmachevy sisters are very pretty, so it’s pleasing to the eyes and ears. What more do you want, Europe?! Honestly.

SWEDEN Sanna Nielsen, “Undo”

From the brief insight into the Eurovision appreciation micro-culture I’ve gained in the process of writing these mini-reviews (it’s a strange, strange place), I can tell you that Sanna Nielsen is tipped to do great things in Copenhagen this May. ‘Well,’ the people of Europe scoff, gathered in their tumultuous masses, ‘that’s all fine for the Eurovision appreciation micro-culture, but what does the Archbudgie think? You know, that guy with that blog? The one about the… you know? Come on! It gets, like, literally tens of views every month!’

Well, she’s got a good voice and she’s confident enough to play with the melody a little in the chorus. It’s another dark ballad, like “Shine”, but it’s a bit more experimental: the verses have this cold, haunting quality to them that I like (I like dark songs, y’see), while the chorus is an electronic explosion that’s, er, quite different. I would have preferred it to have foregone the EDM entirely, to be honest, and maybe thrown in some guitars instead – but then I am a certified idiot. It’s contemporary and it’s catchy – could do well.

Part 2 coming next Monday. The first Eurovision semi-final takes place Tuesday 6th May, with the final airing Saturday 10th May.