Good gracious, is it that time again? Well, you tell me: is it May? Well, not yet, but very nearly. Yes, it’s time (almost) for the annual Eurovision Song Contest, this time lifting up its traditionally weaved skirts and high-tailing itself to Vienna, Austria for its sixtieth year on the trot. This year we’ve sadly lost Ukraine from the contest, although Cyprus, Serbia and the Czech Republic are making their grand return, along with a one-off appearance from Australia to celebrate the show’s diamond anniversary (Eurovision’s big in Australia, you see. Not totally sure why myself, either).
On this end, once again your old pal the Archbudgie is rolling up his sleeves and getting his freak flag on (okay, so it’s a weathered old beanie hat that’s lost most of its elasticity and could probably do with a wash – what do you want from me?) to review, for you, all forty entrants in this year’s contest – just as I did last year, which officially makes this a tradition. Yay. As usual I’ll be looking out for any traditional European sounds I can find while copy-and-pasting “dramatic, quasi-Gothic piano ballad” and “club-minded, synth-driven dance-pop” as many times as required. Fun stuff.
So here we go with the first half of the first semi-final. Loosen your morals and hold on to your minds, everybody – we’re going in…
Be warned: the opinions contained within may be dangerous and/or silly. Proceed with caution.
GREECE: Maria-Eleni Kyriakou, “One Last Breath”
And so we’re off with the Greek entry. Remember, you lot, your ancestors basically created modern civilisation. There’s a whole lot to live up to here. Can you do it? Can you?
Oh boy, this is going to be a long show. I don’t hold anything personal against “One Last Breath”, either – it just happened to be first on the list – but we’re gonna have to come to a point where we all agree that we’re submitting too many of these dramatic, quasi-Gothic piano ballads and, as a result, none of them stand out amongst each other. Kyriakou has a strong voice and I do like the way it picks up at the end, especially with that effusive “I’m begging you, take me” bit, but it’s still not remarkable enough to be a winner. Yes, a dramatic, quasi-Gothic piano ballad won last year but I personally don’t think that had much to do with the song and, deep down, I know you agree with me.
F.Y.R. MACEDONIA: Daniel Kajmakoski, “Esenski Lisja” (English: “Autumn Leaves”)
And FYI, Macedonia, I expect good things this year. Ha! To be honest, I’ve been waiting a while to use that line. I think we can all agree it wasn’t worth the wait.
Yep, another upbeat Eurovision ahead of us this May. Kajmakoski goes for an echoey chamber-pop sound here indicative of many indie artists, and while I don’t care for it particularly I admit it can work with a strong melody and atmosphere, which I think “Autumn Leaves” just about manages to nail. Just. Are the verses cloying? Is the chorus generic? Oh yeah – in fact I’m still not convinced they didn’t swipe the accompanying music from Sia’s “Breathe Me” – but it is passionate and vaguely memorable, which might be enough to score them a decent place in the final (assuming they get there, of course).
ESTONIA: Elina Born and Stig Rästa, “Goodbye to Yesterday”
Estonia – now there’s a country you don’t hear enough about these days. How’s it going, you guys? Got enough of… those things you guys like? Yep, those things. You do? Ah, great. Great stuff.
Well, this is certainly different. Born and Rästa have gone for a Sixties baroque pop sound and aesthetic, a bit like The Last Shadow Puppets did a few years back. With a clean guitar sound, a moody melody and a good crisp production I can see this making a nice splash not only on the night but for a while afterwards as well. Born’s vocals are great; Rästa’s I’m not completely sold on, but they compliment each other very nicely in the duet sections. Dark, stylish and catchy with a great vocal pairing, this is definitely an early favourite of mine. Anything with a brass section automatically gets some points from me, too. Classy stuff, not to mention a refreshing change of pace. Eight points to Estonia.
THE NETHERLANDS: Trijntje Oosterhuis, “Walk Along”
The Netherlands came up with one of my favourite entries last year with The Common Linnets’ “Calm After the Storm“. Can they repeat themselves this year?
I would say this sounds like something from a Nineties Disney movie, but I swear I already made that crack about another song last year. The syrupy orchestration, that pachyderm stomp of a beat, the “everything’s gonna be all right” melody, it’s all trying just a bit too hard to be upbeat and positive. It’s not an amazing song but I can see it doing quite well on the night: Oosterhuis has a strong voice and the melody is memorable enough, if only for that “why-y-y-y” hook. Not a lot happens but enough happens, I guess, to… yeah, this song doesn’t do much for me, I’m afraid.
MOLDOVA: Eduard Romanyuta, “I Want Your Love”
I want love, too, Moldova. Two points to you. And yes, that’s all it takes – I’m a bit of a points whore. Well, not really.
Okay, so we’ve had mid-Nineties Disney movie and now we’re hearkening back to 2007 and the Timbaland craze. I remember being consistently peeved-off with the music that was coming out then – jeez, if only I knew, right? Anyway, this song: I don’t mind it. Like, at all. Sure, it’s a bit cheesy and the synths can be abrasive at times, but it’s catchy, it’s danceable, it’s colourful and it’s fun. I think that high-pitched six-note synth line in the main refrain is supposed to give the song some sort of vaguely-folksy feel that I’m not sure it even needs (it sure doesn’t add a great deal). Just let the song be its bouncy self. Yeah, I like this. I probably shouldn’t, but I do.
FINLAND: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, “Aina mun pitää” (English: “I always have to”)
The British press practically creamed themselves with glee when it was announced that a punk band would be playing at Eurovision. Yeah, Britain’s still got a pretty big chip on its shoulder when it comes to punk. Me? Well, I’ve had my rant about the subject. Three times. Anyway, the music.
Right, what do I say about this? I’m fully aware that the band was formed by adults with developmental disabilities, so before I’ve even said anything I’m already walking on eggshells. First of all, then, let me just express my opinion on how cool it is that these guys are not only doing what they’re doing but have been given this opportunity with this size an audience to have their voice heard. That really is ace.
As for the song? I don’t like it. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of punk on the best of days, but even if I were I’m not sure how I’d feel about this song. The singer growls the same few words, there’s a guitar riff, some drums and… that’s it. It just sort-of happens for a minute-and-a-half. Even for punk rock it’s barebones. If it were faster and more aggressive it might work but it’s too stilted and safe (and no, I don’t know what the lyrics are about or whether they redeem the music – shame on me for not speaking fluent Finnish). That said, who wants to place bets on the number of articles professional punk posers NME.com are going to have published about this closer to the day? I’m saying seven.
BELGIUM: Loïc Nottet, “Rhythm Inside”
Rhythm inside… well, there’s one inner rhythm that springs to mind and that’s your heartbeat. We talking ’bout heartbeats here, Belgium? Of course there are other rhythms made by other body parts but, yeah, none that are exactly suitable for a Eurovision audience.
Well, for a song called “Rhythm Inside” it at least has a decent groove to its name. There’s a faint neo-soul element to those backing vocals and handclaps while Nottet’s clear ringing vocals and the occasional synth rushes lend themselves to the minimalist production. There isn’t a terrific amount to say about the music because there’s comparatively little of it. The melody is strong, catchy and memorable and the groove has an infectious head-bopping snap to it, while Nottet’s vocals are exactly the sort of clear-cut, higher-pitched deal that artists like Years & Years are doing now. On that note, this is easily the most contemporary Eurovision I’ve heard yet this year and, speaking as a Brit with one eye on the pop charts, sounds like something that, with the right push, could actually do pretty well if it were released over here. I quite like this. The video’s weird but the song is all right.
ARMENIA: Genealogy, “Face the Shadow”
Wait, there’s a group called Genealogy? Why aren’t they the punk band? Punk’s all about -ologies and -isms and stuff like that. Well, the Manics are, at least, and they certainly have punk influences, even if they’re more of an alternative rock–I’m getting off topic, aren’t I?
“Don’t Deny” or “Face the Shadow” or whatever it’s called is a step above the other ballads we’ve had so far. Sure, it’s a piano ballad with dramatic, quasi-Gothic elements, but something about it sells the package so much better than anything else I’ve heard so far. The vocals don’t always mesh or transition too well into each other (on that note, how many singers are there in this band?) but they’re all strong and distinctive with an excellent use of harmonics. I really like the 12/8 beat this has going for it: coupled with the occasional spaces and darker, colder touches of the music it gives it the feel of a moonlight waltz. In fact for a Eurovision ballad it’s surprisingly complex at times, especially that final run where the electric guitar slinks in and you can’t tell where the rhythm’s going. Needless to say, I rather like this. Also, little info nugget for you: apparently the instrument used in the bridge is a duduk, a traditional Armenian windflute. Learn something new every day, don’t you?
Part 2 coming next Monday. The first Eurovision semi-final takes place Tuesday 19th May, with the final airing Saturday 23rd May.