Month: May 2015

Eurovision 2015: The Entrants (Part 5)

Here’s the fifth and final part of my run-through of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest hopefuls. We’ve made it to the Big Five (er, Six) and the host nation now, so there’s no semi-final process for this lot – you’ll definitely hear these songs on the night and only on the night. Parts 1 through 4 can be read here, here, here and here. Be warned: the opinions contained within may be dangerous and/or silly. Proceed with caution.

AUSTRIA: The Makemakes, “I Am Yours”

And so we come to the immortal question, the one the architects of our society pondered all those millennia ago: just what on God’s green earth is a Makemake? Well, as it turns out it’s actually a bunch of things: a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a god in Easter Island mythology, a designer clothing brand… and that’s about all I could find. So I guess those architects of society can stop pondering now. *cough*

I’m sure a host country must have won at some point in Eurovision’s sixty-year history. Might Austria do it this year? Er, I have my doubts, honestly. I mean, it’s an all right song – kinda sounds like a deep cut from one of Supertramp’s poppier albums – with a charming, relaxed feel to it, but it’s not really striking or catchy enough to leave any sort of impression on you once it’s ended.

FRANCE: Lisa Angell, “N’oubliez pas” (English: “Don’t Forget”)

So, France, learned from the whole Twin Twin faux-pas last year? Yeah, I thought you might have.

GERMANY: Ann Sophie, “Black Smoke”

Funny story: this wasn’t supposed to be Germany’s entry this year. Somebody else won their competition to pick the entrant – public vote and everything – but stepped down from the position and, as the runner-up, Ms Sophie was put forward instead. Okay, it wasn’t a funny story, exactly, but it was fascinating, right? Could it not just at least be that?

She kinds sounds like Paloma Faith, doesn’t she? Jury’s out on whether that’s a good thing or not, though. As for the song, I actually really like it. It’s got class, it’s got passion, a decent melody, good atmosphere – you know, most of things we used to look for in music before the ntss-ntss generation took over. Is it spectacular? On it’s own perhaps not, but compared to its competition it’s a freaking gem. I have to say, though, that I still prefer Blues Pills’s “Black Smoke“.

ITALY: Il Volo, “Grande amore” (English: “Great Love”)

Great love, as opposed to the rubbish anemic love Eurovision usually promotes. See also Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love“, Sweet’s “Strong Love” and T. Rex’s “Hot Love” for further reference.

Yep, this is pretty much what I expected from a group whose name kinda looks like Il Divo but not quite: bombastic, grandiose opera-pop sung by anywhere between two and five attractive but indistinguishable male singers. I’m not too sure what to make of it, to be honest. I mean, yes, it’s another OTT ballad (and one with a video that, for some reason, riffs on Ghost, Back to the Future and Spider-Man) but at least it wears its OTT-edness with panache. Do I even know what I’m talking about anywhere? I’m not sure. It’s been a long five weeks, guys.

SPAIN: Edurne, “Amanecer” (English: “Dawn”)

An interesting direction Spain have taken this year in dedicating their entire entry to the legendary English comedienne, Dawn French, with the… oh, is that not what this is about? No, of course it isn’t, is it? And yet why does my brain insist that it should have been?

Okay, I’ll be honest: I laughed at the tiger. I couldn’t help it. It was just like, okay, summery meadow, open-shirted man – boom, tiger. Perhaps I shouldn’t have laughed – it’s always tricky with different cultures to take these sorts of things too lightly – but in a way I had to. When life gives you random tigers you make the most of it. The song? Yeah, it’s dramatic, bombastic and boring, but you already knew that, right? The electronic touches are underplayed, at least, and the singing is strong and… oh, right, she’s the tiger. Right, this is getting interesting.

UNITED KINGDOM: Electro Velvet, “Still in Love with You”

On to Blighty, then. Our entry for this year has been met with mixed reactions by the internet, because when has the internet ever met anything with anything else? Come on, guys, it’s swing music – is it even possible to screw up something as awesome and classy as swing?

Well, the dance beats don’t help, nor do the slightly flat male vocals – and just what is that bizarre breakdown bit in the middle? Yeesh. I like that it doesn’t take itself even the slightest bit seriously, though, while the violin refrain gives me happy memories of watching the Nineties Jeeves and Wooster series on a dodgy VHS. Sure, the hooks could have done with being sharpened a bit, but it’s limber, punchy, colourful and should stick out among all the turgid power ballads this year. Hey, at the end of the day Eurovision is supposed to be daft fun, and what is “Still in Love with You” if not that?

AUSTRALIA: Guy Sebastian, “Tonight Again”

Yep, so this is happening: for one year only Australia (who, apparently, are big fans of the contest and broadcast it every year) are taking part in Eurovision. I’ve seen commenters losing their mind over the country’s inclusion in this year’s contest on the video for this song, perhaps forgetting that this is a pop song contest and not a summit on trade regulations.

Hey, look at that – Australia brought some game. This actually sounds like a perfectly fine piece of contemporary pop. In fact it’s better than fine, it’s pretty freaking great. It’s got a funky stride, an endearingly soulful melody, a thoroughly infectious melody, a modern production and sound that bolsters the music rather than overpowering it – and it’s even got a horn section! You read me so well, Australia. Yep, I like this.

There we are – that’s all of ’em! As usual, here are my personal favourites for this year’s contest in no particular order:

  1. Estonia – Elina Born and Stig Rästa, “Goodbye to Yesterday”
  2. Australia – Guy Sebastian, “Tonight Again”
  3. Georgia – Nina Sublatti, “Warrior”
  4. Germany – Ann Sophie, “Black Smoke”
  5. Denmark – Anti Social Media, “The Way You Are”

Thanks again for plowing through this with me. I hope you enjoy the final on Saturday – I know I will – and once again, if any of my favourites make it to the top five, you owe me a pint. I think I’ll have a nice, cool Old Speckled Hen this time around. The drink, not an actual hen stuffed into a glass, you freak.

The Eurovision final will take place this Saturday 23rd May – good luck to [insert country of your choice]!


Eurovision 2015: The Entrants (Part 4)

Here’s the fourth part of my run-through of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest hopefuls as I cover the second half of the second semi-final. Parts one, two and three can be found here, here and here respectively.

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

SWITZERLAND: Mélanie René, “Time to Shine”

Could this be Switzerland’s time to shine? (Yes, I realise that was a terrible pre-video bit. Forgive me, I’m still burnt out after last week.)

Ah, there go the electronic touches to make this operatic ballad a little more Nine Inch Nails-y. The melody has its moments but tends to trail off in the verses, while the chorus isn’t distinct enough to stand out from said verses. I like that it’s a little different than the other overcooked ballads we’re getting this year – the electronic elements are well integrated and don’t feel too out of place – but it still feels a little underwritten. I’m not really sure how to feel about “Time to Shine”. It could’ve been worse but it could’ve been better. René has a strong voice but she seems to lack enthusiasm for the music here, which, honestly, I wouldn’t blame her for. That said, I do appreciate the guitar solo, as brief as it is. Nice touch. And is it me, or does she actually sing “no more mucking around” in the chorus? I’m pretty sure that’s not a Swiss colloquialism.

AZERBAIJAN: Elnur Huseynov, “Hour of the Wolf” Well, if there’s a special award for Best Song Title, Azerbaijan have got that covered.

Slow, gentle, heartfelt and tender – all not qualities I, nor anybody else, would associate with wolves, so why does Azerbaijan? Yeah, I’m disappointed. Can you blame me? For a better idea of what I was anticipating, play Scorpions’ “Hour I” and Rainbow’s “Run with the Wolf” back to back.

But yeah, the song. Uh… well, it’s another ballad, guys. Is it passionate? Yes. Is it memorable? No. Whichever of those qualities you’re looking for in a song like this will probably influence how you feel about “Hour of the Wolf.” No offense intended, Mr, Huseynov, it’s just… there are a lot of ballads this year and, eventually, you start to run out of things to say about them. You understand, right? We good here, you and I? Are we good? I think we’re good.

SLOVENIA: Maraaya, “Here for You”

Nice to know, Slovenia. It’s nice to know you’re here for me. On that note, I’m moving next Saturday and I was wondering if you could help take over some–hey, where are you going?

There’s quite a lot going on in this song and I like a fair amount of it. The catchy melody, that killer violin riff, those Reznor-esque industrial beats, Maraaya’s expressive yet distinctive voice… there’s some good stuff happening here. For some reason, though, “Here for You” never quite equals the sum of its parts, perhaps because it never seems fully sure what it actually wants to be: a pulsating club-banger, a funky pop song or a theatrical bit of cheese. Whatever it is I don’t mind it at all, though, and it’s definitely a colourful standout among an otherwise beige bunch.

LATVIA: Aminata, “Love Injected” Love what? Steady on, Latvia, children watch this thing as well.

I’m just putting this out there now: if you’re looking for a winner, I’d peg this as a safe bet. It’s not an amazing song structurally or musically, but aesthetically it has just enough of that sultry, minimalist, electro-pop weirdness that’s popular right now with both the mainstream unit pushers and the right-minded snarks of the alternative scene. It helps that the song is actually rather catchy in parts, but if there’s one song to get anyone over at Drowned in Sound salivating it might just be this one. There’s also something very particular about the pitch of Aminata’s voice that strikes me very familiar, but I can’t for the life of me put my finger on it – a little like Kiesza when she goes falsetto, I guess. Also, doesn’t she just look lovely?

POLAND: Monika Kuszyńska, “In the Name of Love”

I wonder if Poland are feeling any pride towards their entry this year? Hey, I know I get it – do you too?

Oh come on. Who was the coordinator behind this year’s contest? Diane Warren? Yeah, you can already guess how I feel about “In the Name of Love” and, again, it’s nothing personal. I suppose it’s my fault for not anticipating so many syrupy ballads this year. More fool me, as usual.

ICELAND: Maria Olafs, “Unbroken” Well, if it ain’t unbroken, don’t… er… un-fix it?

Okay, so technically this is just another ballad, and frankly one that doesn’t sound as if it would be out of place on a Demi Lovato album. So why does it do more for me than nearly every other ballad has so far this year? Honestly I couldn’t tell you. Olafs is a great singer with a lot of power and energy, but then so are most of the singers in this contest. It’s got an effusive chorus but, again, that doesn’t make it an anomaly. But then why do I actually quite like this? Why doesn’t this bore me like nearly all the others have? I don’t know. I just don’t know. Let’s just leave it at that and move on.

ISRAEL: Nadav Guedj, “Golden Boy”

You know, given the direction of most of this year’s entries I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this was a cover of Freddie Mercury + Montserrat Caballé’s “The Golden Boy” which, as you might recall, is a full-blown freaking opera song. It would likely also be better than the majority of this year’s entries.

Ah, but instead for this year’s contest Israel have gone for “Sexyback”-era Justin Timberlake. No, I mean it, there’s something so 2007 about “Golden Boy” I’m wondering why there isn’t a Timbaland cameo somewhere around the 2:00 mark. There are notable folk influences in the chorus melody and instrumentation, which is probably more than any other entry has bothered with this year, so I appreciate that. As for the greasy-slick yet weirdly jagged R&B, I’m torn. My brain is telling me, “this is just dumb,” but that doesn’t do much for the grin on my face. Guedj is clearly enjoying himself and dash it all if I’m not compelled to join in. “Golden Boy” isn’t great by any means – it might not even be good – but it is utterly daft and utterly likeable.

CYPRUS: Giannis Karagiannis, “One Thing I Should Have Done”

Ooh, let me guess, let me guess – you should have painted your bedroom wall eggshell white instead of floral white? Or, maybe, you should have road-tested your new Mazda MX-5 properly before deciding whether it was the right car for you? No, wait, I’ve got it, you should have visited Conwy in beautiful North Wales with its romantic Celtic sights, rich culture and history, great range of restaurants and wide selection of amenities and entertainment facilities suitable for the whole family while you had the chance? No? Well okay, then, Mister Karagiannis, enlighten us all – what is the one thing you should have done?

Well, mild spoilers: the one thing he should have done isn’t particularly interesting. As for the song at least it’s a stripped back acoustic guitar ballad with only slight string accompaniment instead of an overbearing violinskrieg like the rest of this year’s entries. It’s difficult to judge these kinds of songs: they’re certainly pleasant, but that’s hardly a positive comment in context, is it? It’s like the girl you fancy telling you you’re such a great friend.* I don’t really have anything else to say about it, though. It’s nice but formulaic, sweet but harmless, acceptable but uninteresting. *Which is not to suggest that Karagiannis or Cyprus fancy me – it’s just an analogy. A weird one, admittedly, but an analogy all the same.

SWEDEN: Måns Zelmerlöw, “Heroes”

We could be heroes, for ever and ever… well, one night in May, at least, which is further than I’m getting any time soon.

Okay, Sweden, I have to ask – what’s with the banjo and the Southern twang? Is this an EDM club-banger or some weird country hybrid? Wait, does this mean the new club-country scourge known as Metro-Politan (as coined by Saving Country Music – see here) has now drifted across the Atlantic to Scandinavia? I’m not too sure, actually, because this is clearly more club than country… not that that gives the country influences any more reason to be there, mind. As for pros, I do quite like his vocal performance – there’s a fair bit of passion in his delivery. The rest, though, is pretty standard-issue EDM, and I can barely stomach club-pop on a good day. So that’s a meh from me, but it’s certainly different, and as depressing as the country touches are they do at least add a touch of cultural folk influence to the proceedings, even if it’s the wrong culture.

Part 5 coming next Monday. The second Eurovision semi-final takes place Thursday 21st May, with the final airing Saturday 23rd May.

Pop Song Review: Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth, “See You Again”

Well, as fascinating as these Eurovision reviews have been it’s nice to pop into the Western monoculture every now and then to see what I’m supposed to be paying attention to this week. With that said, today’s pop song review is “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth.

First impressions: So is this supposed to be a tribute to someone? I feel as though they’re holding back on me there.

/freaking obvious sarcasm

The music: First of all, let’s get this out of the way: yes, this song obviously has a greater emotional context to it due to its association with Furious 7 and the tragic death of lead actor Paul Walker in November 2013. That is something that is still deeply saddening and it’s actually pretty inspiring that it still sends emotional ripples through popular culture to this day. Even if he never got his chance to truly shine, I think it’s great that we can celebrate what he did offer us in his too-brief time on this planet.

That said, screw this song.

Look, it’s an unpopular opinion for sure, and I don’t expect any martyr cred for this one, but someone somewhere had to be the git to point out that this is just not a very good song at all. I get that an up-tempo, all-pistons-blazing hard rocker would have been an insensitive tribute considering the circumstances of Walker’s death but… honestly, could we not have had something with a little more, I don’t know, passion put into it?

I mean, meet me halfway here: context aside, what am I actually supposed to like about this song? The melody is predictable and yet utterly forgettable: you know what’s coming but you somehow don’t know anymore once it’s actually been and gone, which is to say that this melody actively removes information from your brain. If it strayed any further from its perfect cadence it might get the variation it needs to be somewhat memorable, but nope – as soon as it’s out it just races back to that fifth before I can get too interested. Puth’s voice is technically strong but undeniably bland while Khalifa’s delivery is his usual disinterested monotone, propped up in the verses by a skipping beat and the pre-chorus by those butt-ugly synths. And then it all drops for that chorus, just Puth and his piano, before it explodes for the ‘ah-ah-ah-oh’ bit you’ve heard in a thousand pop songs before it. Er, passionate, I guess.

(Also, do I find it a little odd that an artist whose main lyrical focus up until now has been weed and general opulence has been tasked with fronting such an emotionally-charged song? Yes. Yes I do. Thank you for asking.)

Maybe it’s because I never knew Paul Walker and have no interest in these films, but the whole thing strikes me as a little too calculated and a little too exploitative. “Oh, you’re not crying? You’re not getting the feelz? What are you, some sort of heartless monster?” Call me crass, but surely Paul Walker deserved better than a bored-sounding stoner trading vocals with a Sam Smith clone?

The lyrics: Right, I don’t want to rip on the lyrics too much because that really would be me being unnecessarily mean about this whole thing. The music is lazy but these lyrics may very well have a deep personal resonance with the subject matter… assuming they’re even about Walker.

“Damn, who knew? / All the planes we flew.” Wait, hold on, planes? When did they ever fly a plane in a Fast & Furious film? Okay, there’s my first red flag telling me that this wasn’t actually written about Walker himself but was given juuuust enough lyrical relevance to make people think it was.

“How could we not talk about family when family’s all that we got? / Everything I went through you were standing there by my side / And now you gon’ be with me for the last ride.” Okay, that’s nice. I’ll give them that.

“It’s been a long day without you, my friend / And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.” I want to give this line the same props, just for its admirable simplicity and emotional rawness, but I’m still having trouble shaking the feeling of disconnect I’m getting from it. Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” might have been mawkish but at least that tribute had some emotional weight due to the close personal relationship between the two artists. Did either Khalifa or Puth even know Paul Walker?

“First you both go out your way / “And the vibe is feeling strong.” I know I’m nitpicking here, but both? Who’s this third person Khalifa’s mentioning?

“Remember me when I’m gone.” You… do know we’re paying tribute to Walker at the moment, don’t you, Khalifa? We can plan your memorial later.

Verdict: Let me just reiterate that I in no way intended to discredit either Walker or the sentiment behind this tribute with my review. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that this is a boring, generic piano ballad with no value of its own beyond its unfortunate context. It’s brilliant that they wanted to celebrate Paul Walker’s life and work – I get that completely and I’m 100% behind that – but that doesn’t mean I have to like the way it’s been done. Frankly I think he deserved better than “See You Again” but, obviously, millions of people disagree, so who cares what I think, right? 2 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Say Hello 2 Heaven” by Temple of the Dog.

Eurovision 2015: The Entrants (Part 3)

Here’s the third part of my run-through of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest hopefuls as I cover the first half of the second semi-final. 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.

NORWAY: Mørland & Debrah Scarlett, “A Monster Like Me”

Fun fact: the original singer for this entry? Sully from Monsters, Inc. True story.

Well, it’s dramatic, it has Gothic touches, it’s driven by a piano aaaand it’s a ballad. Go figure. Is it any better or worse than the others we’ve had so far this year? Honestly, I don’t remember the others enough to really say. I like what they’re dressed in, at least. Aren’t they dressed all classy?

IRELAND: Molly Sterling, “Playing with Numbers”

Let’s hope Ms Sterling is the only one playing with numbers this year, amirite? Amirite, though? Seriously, though, if there is something dodgy going into the votes of this thing, what does it matter? It’s a pop contest. Let it go, people.

Well, it’s a piano ballad but it hasn’t got any Gothic leanings so that’s… something, I guess. There’s also something quite distinctive about Sterling’s voice that I can’t quite put my finger on. And it’s in 3/4, which… it’s like a waltz, isn’t it? That’s neat. Or is it 6/8? We may never know. So, how’s your day going?

CZECH REPUBLIC: Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta, “Hope Never Dies”

…Until it’s the end of the night, there’s five countries yet to reveal their votes and you’re placed at #28 in the overall tally, at which point it might be best to just put hope out of its misery.

Okay, were they actively trying to write a song that could’ve fitted in on the Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack? Like, you could call this “Hope Never Dies (Quasimodo’s Theme)” and I’d buy it. Well, I wouldn’t actually buy it, but I’d get it, y’know? I like the key change, at least, and there’s something Daughtry-esque about Bárta’s voice. So really it’s everything you’ve been asking for all these years.

LITHUANIA: Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila, “This Time”

INXS also had a song called “This Time.” It’s not great but it’s okay. That’s, uh, that’s all I could come up with here.

“This Time” doesn’t know if it wants to be a charming roots rocker or a club anthem, but at least it’s not a freaking ballad. It’s not very good but, you know what, I’ll take it. It’s limber, it’s upbeat, it’s… not much else, honestly, but I’ve sat through so many turgid ballads this year that I really will take anything that so much as nicks the mould, let alone break it. Oh, and the two singers kiss in their performance. That’s, uh, something, I suppose.

SAN MARINO: Anita Simoncini and Michele Perniola, “Chain of Lights”

Chain of lights? You mean, like the lights of a UFO? It’s been confirmed, people! We’re headed for an alien invasion! We… okay, that’s not what’s happening, but imagine if it were. Wouldn’t that be exciting? Just imagine.

The electronic beat at the beginning threatens something genuinely interesting before the piano keys hammer down and we segue into, you guessed it, another dramatic, quasi-Gothic, piano-driven ballad. The staccato violins are nice and the singers seem genuinely invested in making this as dramatic as possible, while the electronic touches give it some flavour (though I swear I’ve said that about, like, five other entries at this point). Unfortunately there’s no clear hook and the melody isn’t strong enough to stand out against the accompaniment, so it all gets washed away in the atmosphere. How many more of these do I have to review?

MALTA: Amber, “Warrior”

Hang on, haven’t we already had a song called “Warrior”? Yeah, that Nina lass from Georgia had one as well. Are she and Amber in cahoots? Are they?! It’s a conspiracy, I tells ya!

If you haven’t listened to it yet, just guess, just go on and guess what it sounds like. That chorus certainly gets your attention with the cello scratch followed by Amber’s “break!” Unfortunately that one moment is one of the few times this song shows any genuine signs of life. For the most part it’s all one beige, stringy wash. Georgia’s “Warrior” song at least sounded like a call to arms. This is more like a call to remind you that your car is due an MOT.

PORTUGAL: Leonor Andrade, “Há um Mar que nos Separa” (English: “There’s a sea that separates us”)

Which sea are they referring to, I wonder? Well, going by my basic knowledge of geography there’s only one sea that separates Portugal from anything and it’s actually an ocean. Unless this is a metaphorical sea, which it probably is. Is it obvious how bored I am at this point?

It’s a dramatic, quasi-Gothic, piano-driven ballad, just like all the other dramatic, quasi-Gothic, piano-driven ballads I’ve looked at so far. I… I’m sorry, Portugal, but I have nothing left to say at this point. If this is a war of attrition to see how many beige ballads the few people paying attention to these things can take, then I’m losing.

MONTENEGRO: Knez, “Adio”

Okay, we’re at the end of this part now. We’ve sat through saccharine ballad after saccharine ballad waiting for something crazy and wild to come along and peak our interest. Redeem it for us, Knez. It’s all up to you now. Bring on the wackiness. Bring it…

Eh, forget it. I do appreciate the use of traditional instruments, even if my culturally-ignorant brain couldn’t name them to save my life, and this is the first Eurovision entry I’ve heard so far, I think, that sounds as if it was written in Europe, but that’s not enough to save what is ultimately just another ballad in a contest already plump to the gills with them. Soz, Knez.

P.S. If this set of reviews seems underwritten, I apologise, but this “part” in particular has been really tough to write about just based on how monochromatic the entries have been. Finding eight different and worthwhile ways to write “meh” is not an easy task. At least we survived it together, but even so there is an inherent problem to be addressed here: there are too many of these dramatic ballads and they all sound the same. The semi-final voters aren’t going to know which is which if all the entries sound alike, so as many ballads as there are I wouldn’t be surprised to see a whole load of them left out of the grand final on May 16th, just because nobody knew which one to vote for and so ended up voting for none of them. Of course I could be wrong and all the interesting, unique entries could be left out, resulting in one of the most tedious Eurovision shows in a long, long time. Fitting for its sixtieth year, I suppose.

Part 4 coming next Monday. The second Eurovision semi-final takes place Thursday 21st May, with the final airing Saturday 23rd May.