Albums I’m Looking Forward To in 2015 (Part 2 of 1)

Right. So, brief update before we get started: there’s another Playlist coming on Monday with some newer songs, as opposed to last month’s Eightes Metal Binge edition, and I’m hoping to get the pop and rock single reviews back in action sometime in August as well, with possibly a playlist of songs I missed out on while I was writing this dissertation of mine – you know, “Bad Blood”, “Cheerleader”, “Want to Want Me”, stuff like that. I’ve also got a few ideas rattling around for some new features I can work on, as well as new editions of Cover-parisons (jeez, one year on and that name is still a howler) and Second Spin. As for the Red Dwarf reviews? They’ll arrive when they arrive, I keep telling myself, but with series 11 and 12 coming up in 2016 and 2017 respectively it might be worth me revisiting that philosophy.

One thing that has become apparent to me, though, is the sheer groundswell of new albums arriving in the second half of 2015. Seriously, there’s a whole load of them, a lot coming out on the same day (21st August, in particular, is a very busy day for yours truly, with new LPs from The Strypes, Buckcherry, The Sword and Kadavar all seeing release at once). I did say last year that there wasn’t much point in me reviewing albums because, well, reasons explained here, but as I’m so excited about these new releases coming out I might actually have to find a method of talking about them that gives my informed, honest opinions in an informal manner without feigning any sort of critical authority. G’luck with that, right?

So to get ready for that potential swell I decided to come with this, a list of albums I’m looking forward to in the second half of 2015. There’s a bunch of them as well, but I’m keeping it to ten because it’s a nice, round number. As for the 2 of 1 part up there, that’s a reference to the fact that there really should have been another of these earlier in the year; and in fact, at one point, I think there was. So this is a part 2 despite there only being one of them. But what can you do? Go back in a time machine and make me write the first part? I’d like to see you try.

No, really, I would. That would just be impressive.

Note: though it should be fairly obvious, just to cover my back I’d like to point out that I don’t hold copyright on any of the images in this post – only the words are mine. I use the imagery purely for noncommercial, illustrative purposes. To make the post look a bit nicer, basically.

1. Megadeth, TBA (expected late 2015/early 2016)

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Image “borrowed” from Blabbermouth.

This is a no-brainer. Megadeth are one of my favourite metal bands of all time, so almost anything they put out is an instant purchase for me. The more melodic hard rock sound of their last album, 2013’s Super Collider, received what could kindly be called a mixed reception from fans and critics, and while it took a while to grow on me I ended up really enjoying it in the end. That might be because when I got into them their new album out at the time was Th1rt3en, which had a greater focus on melody and cohesive songs rather than the aggressive technical thrash they’re best known for.

They’ve apparently gone back to that aggression for the new record, and while I’m quite glad to hear that I do hope they haven’t done a pendulum swing away from the songcraft. In my opinion Megadeth were always the best songwriters of the Big Four and it’d be a shame for them to lose sight of their strengths for the sake of appeasing a metal crowd who aren’t exactly easy to please as it is. I’m also excited to hear how new guitarist Kiko Loureiro (of Angra) and session drummer Chris Adler (of Lamb of God) add to the Megadeth sound.

Also, they’re doing a cover of Budgie’s “Melt the Ice Away.” Budgie being another of my favourite bands, I’m understandably quite psyched.

2. Vintage Trouble, 1 Hopeful Rd (released 14th August)

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Image “borrowed” from Rock ‘n’ Reel Reviews.

I don’t know if there’s a band I love for their aesthetic as much as their music as I do Vintage Trouble. The music is great enough – a blend of rock, soul, blues and classic R&B – but their look is just fantastic: that classy Forties/Fifties style that makes me want to go play L.A. Noire again. If I thought I could pull off that look I’d never wear anything else.

They released their debut record, The Bomb Shelter Sessions, back in 2011, and it was really rather good. Aside from producing music videos for all ten songs from their debut (no, seriously, even the ones that weren’t singles, and I’m not sure if they’ve even finished) and touring relentlessly with the likes of Paloma Faith and AC/DC they have been gradually working on new music, firstly with last year’s very decent Swing House Acoustic Sessions EP and now with their second album, 1 Hopeful Rd.

Strangely enough the record is set to open with “Run Like the River“, a song that’s been around since 2012 and actually first appeared on an expanded version of The Bomb Shelter Sessions. It’s a great song, don’t get me wrong, and if you like that one you’re bound to love the rest of their stuff, so maybe this is just a case of being unable to keep a good song hidden in the shadows – a bit like how the new Eagles of Death Metal album opens with a rerecorded version of a solo track the frontman released four years ago.

3. Graveyard, Innocence and Decadence (released 25th September)

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Image “borrowed” from The Obelisk.

If you haven’t been paying attention to Graveyard these past few years, you really should be. The mid-European/Scandinavian “retro-rock” scene is really ablaze right now with bands like Kadavar, Blues Pills, Horisont, Spiders, The Vintage Caravan and Witchcraft all leading the crowd for well-crafted songwriting with a classic rock vibe, and Graveyard are definitely leaders in this field of… leaders. I didn’t care much for their debut album but the follow-up, 2011’s Hisingen Blues, is up there with my favourite records of the past decade, while 2012’s Lights Out was also very good indeed.

At the time of writing no music has yet been released from forthcoming fourth record, Innocence and Decadence, so we only really have the head-bending artwork to go on for now. We do also have the track listing, which tells me that I’ll soon have a song called “Magnetic Shunk” in my music library. I can’t wait.

4. Buffalo Summer, TBA (expected mid to late 2015)

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Image “borrowed” from the Buffalo Summer website.

Countrified blues-tinged rockers Buffalo Summer released their debut self-titled album in 2013, and if I’d put together a Best Albums list for that year it almost certainly would have topped it. It’s a great album, top notch. Here, go buy yourself a copy. Go do that now. Done that? Good.

Anyway, they’ve now finished recording their second album, produced by none other than Barrett Martin (former drummer for Screaming Trees and Mad Season). Funny thing is I saw them back in October last year, when they were supporting The Treatment, and they said then the album was finished for an early 2015 release, so presumably they weren’t quite as finished as they thought they were. I recall a tweet around January or February mentioning that they were recording a cello part, so maybe they were just throwing in some spices while the broth was still simmering. Or something.

That said the band do seem to be absolutely positively finished with the record, and by all accounts it just needs a record label to distribute it through (the first album was released on their own label, Retrobution Records, and presumably they don’t want to go that route again). Now, I can only speculate, but they’re touring the UK and Europe later this year with Crobot and Scorpion Child who are both Nuclear Blast signings, and given how that label’s been snapping up promising new bands recently I wouldn’t be surprised if Buffalo Summer were brought on as well. Earache and Napalm would also be decent labels to sign to, but again until there’s an announcement made we can only speculate, and speculate I shall.

5. Diamond Head, TBA (expected late 2015)

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Image “borrowed” from Blabbermouth.

Another of my all-time favourite bands, Diamond Head were hyped for huge things back in the early Eighties but somehow never made the break through to the big time, and to date they are best known for being one of the primary influences behind Metallica and the thrash metal scene. Their most recent album, What’s in Your Head?, came out in 2007 and for a while it seemed that the band was done with releasing new music, but a post on their website back in June stated they were “midway” through writing sessions while another in July confirmed that they had started recording.

I mentioned in my last playlist that long-time frontman Nick Tart recently left the band because he wanted to make a new album but the rest of the guys didn’t, and the fact that now he’s gone they jump into album sessions still strikes me as a little strange. If I wasn’t so happy that we’re getting new Diamond Head music I’d call shenanigans. I also mentioned last time that they played some new songs at the gig I went to that month. What I didn’t mention is that they actually opened with one as well, a ballsy move for a band that, until a few months ago, had seemingly resigned themselves to a legacy act. The new songs are good, too, and much more reminiscent of their Lightning to the Nations/Borrowed Time sound than anything else they’ve done in quite some time.

So yeah, I’m hyped for this. A late 2015 release has been mentioned but, given that they’ve only been recording for a few weeks now, I imagine that could change.

6. Cheap Trick, TBA (expected mid to late 2015)

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Image “borrowed” from Billboard.

The most recent Cheap Trick album, aptly titled (at least for now) The Latest, came out in 2009. Although it lacks the harder edge of their earlier sound, I really love that album – to me it might be the best thing they’ve done since One on One, or at least Standing on the Edge. The six years that have passed since its release haven’t been without incident, the most notable and infamous of these being a legal feud between the band and drummer Bun E. Carlos, a feud that has since been resolved with Carlos’s status as an official bandmember intact despite him not touring or recording with them. The law is weird.

Anyway, a new album has been mentioned several times in those seventy-two-odd months. Robin Zander mentioned in his interview with Eddie Trunk for the latter’s podcast (which, if you have any vested interest in classic hard rock and heavy metal, you should really consider subscribing to) that the record was about half-done (this was back in February, so I assume more work has been done on it since then) and that they expected it to be released around late summer/early autumn. In fact the band’s management cancelled an appearance that had been planned for Zander on Trunk’s VH1 Classic series That Metal Show back in the spring because they wanted to reschedule and time it for around the album’s release. No news has emerged since, but given that new That Metal Show episodes are currently being optioned for “the fall”, as the Yanks put it, I choose to remain optimistic.

7. Living Colour, Shade (expected late 2015)

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Image “borrowed” from Karsten Staiger and USA Today.

Definitely one of the most underrated heavy metal bands of all time, since their reunion in the early 2000s Living Colour have only put out two new studio records: 2003’s Collideoscope, a weird record marked by one of the best, prettiest and downright darkest songs the band ever wrote, “Flying” (about the 9/11 attacks); and 2009’s The Chair in the Doorway which, though not bad at all, felt a little cold and uninspired to me in its sound.

So I’m curious to hear what they’ve come up with for their sixth studio album, Shade, which was supposed to be released last autumn but has since been pushed back to this year (and could easily be pushed back again, though they did finish recording the album some time ago so hopefully an official announcement is imminent). Living Colour were always a socially-conscious band, especially when it came to black issues, and recent events in America will no doubt have given them plenty to talk about. There are at least two covers to be expected as well: Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” and Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?”, both of which the band have been performing live for some time now.

8. Gentlemans Pistols, Hustler’s Row (expected later this year)

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Image “borrowed” from Metal Blade.

Every music fan has at least one artist or band where it seems unfathomable, almost cruel, that they don’t have a wider audience. I have a list of about eight or nine or those, and while I can’t say Gentlemans Pistols are actually at the top of that list they’re pretty freaking close. A Leeds based band who count Carcass guitarist Bill Steer among their number, they’ve only released two albums since 2007 but they’re both well worth a listen: cracking slabs of bawdy, swaggering blues-tinged rock and roll.

The band have been performing new songs live for a couple of years now and a spurt of tweeting back in January confirmed the album was about done. Now a recent press release confirms the band have signed to Nuclear Blast (after spending many years on Rise Above) for their new album Hustler’s Row, joining a healthy roster that includes Anthrax, Crobot, Death Angel, Scorpion Child, Orchid, Blues Pills and Graveyard. With the sort of profile this deal can offer them, who knows? They might just get that wider audience they deserve.

9. Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls (released 4th September)

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Image “borrowed” from Consequence of Sound.

News of a new Iron Maiden album is a bit like news about Bigfoot: even if you want to believe it you can’t really bring yourself to until the thing’s sat in front of you. Is that right? I don’t know. Point is, even a serious health scare for frontman Bruce Dickinson couldn’t fell these titans, and now we have a new Iron Maiden record stampeding towards us this September, one which is looking to be a doozy. Not only is this their longest LP, a double-album clocking in at 92 minutes, but it also features their longest song yet, “Empire of the Clouds”, a whopping eighteen minute long epic to close the album out (beating previous record holder, 1984’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, by a good four-and-a-half minutes). That’s a lot of new Iron Maiden to digest and I personally cannot wait.

(Also, am I the only person who’s noticed that they’ve brought back the “classic” font with the pointed R, Ns and M for the album cover? That would make The Book of Souls the first studio album to feature it since The X Factor back in 1995. I think that’s pretty cool.)

10. Queensrÿche, Condition Hüman/Operation: Mindcrime, The Key (released 2nd October and 18th September respectively)

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Image “borrowed” from Bravewords.

This is a two-fer. Queensrÿche’s self-titled 2013 album, the first with new frontman Todd La Torre, was a good album in many ways – “In This Light” possibly being one of my all-time favourite Rÿche songs, it’s that good – but its kinda-rushed delivery (in the context of a legal battle with former frontman Geoff Tate over the band name) and relatively brief running time made it feel more like a primer for greater things to come. Now that La Torre is fully bedded into the band mechanic those greater things are beginning to surface. Condition Hüman, the band’s fourteenth studio album (fifteenth if you count Frequency Unknown, which I’m sure many Rÿche fans would rather not) is set to be released 2nd October, while new song and album opener “Arrow of Time” can be streamed here, and it’s very good indeed.

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Image “borrowed” from Music Enthusiast.

On the other hand, Tate has been working on a trilogy of records with his new project, Operation: Mindcrime (named after the classic Queensrÿche album), the first part of which, The Key, is set to be released 18th September. It’s a conceptual piece with what so far sounds like a pretty intriguing story, while an official teaser (see below) released to YouTube a while back suggests a heavier, more progressive sound than the material Tate was making with Queensrÿche shortly before he was fired. Though it’s had, to put it kindly, a mixed reaction on YouTube, I’m actually digging some of the stuff in that teaser. It’s certainly closer to the classic Queensrÿche sound than anything they put out with Tate in the last twenty years or so.

Obviously the close proximity of these two released will probably have some people trying to make some sort of contest out of it all. For the rest of us there are two promising sounding prog-metal albums coming our way this autumn.

Playlist: June 2015 – Eighties Metal Binge Edition

Right, so the new releases I’m paying attention to have dried up for the time being. That’s not to say there aren’t new albums being released or that I won’t eventually check them out, but I’ll have to let them slip by me for now. I’m also expecting a large influx of new releases around August, by which point this dissertation of mine should be reaching a final draft, so that should be a good time to pick up on new music again.

So I thought I’d treat yourself and myself to a finely-picked bumper playlist of a genre I’ve been rediscovering these past few months: Eighties metal. This is an interesting period of music that only occasionally gets the credit it deserves in the public eye. Most of the time it just gets scorn for being preoccupied with sex, drugs and good times, because apparently rock and roll at its best is all about tea parties and polite discussion of current events over a game of cribbage.

TWISTED SISTER, “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” (1983)

I’d always disregarded Twisted Sister as being a doofy band with a doofy frontman singing doofy teenage angst anthems about wanting to rock and not taking it. Listening to Dee Snider’s interview with Eddie Trunk on the latter’s podcast (as well as Snider’s own excellent new podcast) and the outpouring of grief that met longtime drummer AJ Pero’s death, though, made me reconsider my long-held prejudice, so I gave their stuff the time of day. What surprised me was just how heavy and dark this band could be behind the more obvious pop hits: stuff like “Burn in Hell” and “Like a Knife in the Back” are downright vicious. This is one of my favourite TS standards: a simple, propulsive hard rocker with a sound and aesthetic straight out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

QUEENSRŸCHE, “Eyes of a Stranger” (1988)

I haven’t listened to the new Muse album, Drones (and not being a Muse fan I have no pressing intention to do so), but what struck me most was how similar its concept and approach was to Queensrÿche’s 1988 concept album Operation: Mindcrime. Think about it – an ordinary man indoctrinated into a system where he is trained to kill without remorse but instead falls in love and turn against his masters, only to lose everything? I might have hedged a couple of the details there but I maintain there’s a similarity. That said I haven’t seen anybody else make this connection, which is funny considering that Operation: Mindcrime is pretty much the grand slam of concept albums and Drones is… well, it’s getting okay reviews from what I can see.

Was there a point here? Well, if there wasn’t here’s one now: this song is everything Muse wish they could be.

W.A.S.P., “Wild Child” (1985)

This is the epitome of Eighties metal right here: a driving beat, crunching guitars, mad outfits, sleazy lyrics intended to convey romantic intention and a chorus so infectious you’ll need to see your GP afterwards (insert joke about rockstar VDs here?). Blackie Lawless’s vocals take a little while getting used to, but once you do they’re actually pretty endearing. He has a good command of melody while the throaty rasp maintains the metal credentials required for a song as cocksure as this (come on, who else could cry “naked heat machine” like that and pull it off?). Possibly the best song they ever wrote.

Also, this video has eleven million views. Sure, it’s been up for nine years, but still, somebody out there must really like them some W.A.S.P.

QUIET RIOT, “Don’t Wanna Let You Go” (1983)

Kevin DuBrow was another Eighties metal singer whose voice was something of an acquired taste. Anything less than a foot-stomping anthem like “Metal Health” and his quintessential rattling shriek threatened to outstay its welcome. However it proves to be really quite effective on this laidback, surprisingly tender ballad, a song with a steady, grooving pace that you might not have expected from the band that essentially broke Eighties metal to the mainstream (when the Metal Health album displaced The Police’s Synchronicity at the Billboard 200 #1 spot).

L.A. GUNS, “Showdown (Riot on Sunset)” (1989)

It’s definitely questionable as to whether L.A. Guns deserved as much credit as sister band Guns N’ Roses (whose original guitarist, Tracii Guns, made up the “guns” part of both band names), but I don’t know, those first two records are still pretty terrific, and if you took the best moments from both and put them on one album you’d probably have something that could rival Appetite for Destruction for sheer Eighties sleaze wonderment. Also, L.A. Guns occasionally used horn sections in their songs (such as this one), which Guns N’ Roses, to the best of my knowledge, hardly ever did. So there’s one point to L.A. Guns already.

JUDAS PRIEST, “Freewheel Burning” (1984)

I figured this list needed some Priest, so I chose a prime cut from the underrated classic Defenders of the Faith. Funny thing is, as much as people go on about British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance those albums both have their fair share of filler (“Pain and Pleasure”, “You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise”, “(Take These) Chains”, etc.). Defenders has none, and the sheer ferocity of opening track “Freewheel Burning” gets you absolutely pumped from the off. Killing Machine (or Hell Bent for Leather, for all you Yankee doodles) is still my favourite Priest record, but Defenders is a close second.

DEF LEPPARD, “Die Hard the Hunter” (1983)

Opening with a gentle yet haunting guitar line, “Die Hard the Hunter” lulls you into a false sense of security before slamming into its headbanging groove, complete with deceptively simple and contagious chorus. The guitar tone cooks and the drums pound, while Joe Elliott’s raw vocals are a joy to listen to. Pyromania might just be their best album as well, a neat bridge between the tough, riff-driven melodic metal of their pre-breakout era and the giant pop hooks, huge production and gang vocals of Hysteria.

IRON MAIDEN, “Caught Somewhere in Time” (1986)

Given the recent announcement of Iron Maiden’s new album, The Book of Souls, coming this September, I thought it’d be worth revisiting some of their vintage stuff. This is an overlooked gem from an overlooked album. As Maiden moved into the late Eighties they started incorporating synth guitar into their increasingly progressive sound, combining the best and most gloriously over-the-top elements of each into a shiny, roaring metallic beast of a record. I’m just putting it out there: this album is better than The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind.

CINDERELLA, “Bad Seamstress Blues/Falling Apart at the Seams” (1989)

Cinderella were one of the bluesier bands to emerge from the late Eighties metal crowd, as evidenced by this classic track where a brief acoustic section eventually kicks into the song’s main driving groove. Kiefer is another singer, like Lawless and DuBrow, whose rasping vocals can either be highly fitting or woefully out of place. Thankfully here they fit the huge, stomping blues swing perfectly.

As for the band’s current state I have no idea. They haven’t released any new material since the early Nineties, frontman Tom Kiefer’s been doing his solo thing for a while now… I’m not even 100% sure they’re still together. At least Twisted Sister managed to put out a few stray tracks over the years.

MÖTLEY CRÜE, “Wild Side” (1987)

It makes perfect sense that ’87 was around the time when the Crüe peaked in terms of sheer ruddy decadence, because the Girls, Girls, Girls album, despite its slightly/suitably daft cover, was where they really showed their teeth, with some of Mick Mars’s leanest, nastiest guitar work and Vince Neil’s most aggressive vocals probably to date. I was going to go with one of my favourites, “Dancing on Glass“, here until I figured, you know what, let’s end the playlist on a classic. You have to love the part where the song slows down and almost becomes this high-kicking cabaret showtune… or is that just how I’m hearing it?

Playlist: May 2015

W.A.S.P., “Babylon’s Burning” (2009)

W.A.S.P. have been talking about their new album, Golgotha, for a while now and it looks like it might finally see the light of day this summer. I’ve really been digging W.A.S.P. recently and, although my focus has been largely confined to those first five albums, I’ve heard good things about their last LP, 2009’s Babylon. For some confounded reason the album is now out-of-print, despite only being six years old, but the video to its lead single is still available on YouTube. Every time I hear it I’m reminded that W.A.S.P. never really deviated too far from their OTT metal sound, which for many I presume is a sticking point. As someone who hugely enjoys that sound, though, I’m fine with this. The band are tight, Blackie’s sounding great… it’s all good.

MILLION DOLLAR RELOAD, “Roll the Dice” (2015)

Million Dollar Reload holed themselves up in Rockfield Studios (in Wales, boyo!) for what we were originally told was an EP, but given that the band hasn’t released a new studio record in three years I’m hoping they might have changed their minds in the meantime and put together enough material for a full LP. The L.A. Guns-style hard rock template is still in place but the addition of piano to the band’s sound really expands the music nicely as well as adding to the sense of drive, making for a rollicking little number that promises good things for the upcoming release, whatever it turns out to be. Plus if you like the song yourself you can download it for free from their website here.

FAITH NO MORE, “Superhero” (2015)

So that new Faith No More album finally came out. As I expected in my post about the announcement from last year it largely expands on the moodier sounds of their last record, 1997’s Album of the Year, but to call it a direct progression wouldn’t be doing it justice at all. There’s some great stuff on here, particularly “Separation Anxiety”, “Cone of Shame”, “Matador” and this song, “Superhero”, which stands as one of the punchier cuts on an album of dark and sombre textures. It fits in well here but it could have also slotted in nicely on their 1992 masterstroke Angel Dust, which is always a good sign.

QUEENSRŸCHE, “Jet City Woman” (1990)

I’ve made up my mind: this is going to be the first song at my wedding. Sorry, future bride. You can have the rest of the playlist to put in whatever disco hits from yesteryear you want the in-laws to shift about to on the social club dancefloor but we’re kicking off proceedings with this. If gran wants KC and the Sunshine Band then gran can wait.

HALESTORM, “I Like It Heavy” (2015)

The first in a quartet of tracks in this playlist where my prevailing sentiment has been “hm.” I talked about Halestorm’s new album in last month’s playlist but its vaguely pop-rock direction is still bugging me, particularly this closing song. It has enough of the trademarks of bro-country, like a cod-Southern stomp and inane lyrics that namedrop “big bass drums” and veteran artists for no good reason, to raise red flags in my head. In fact I half-expect Lzzy Hale to start dropping rhymes about sun tans, dirt roads, tail gating and Daisy Dukes any minute. It could also do without that weird bit at the end where Hale waffles on about being taken to church (but it’s a church of rawk, or something). It’s still one of the best songs on the album and I still enjoy it immensely – how could anyone not? It’s catchy as sin – but I’m no less bugged.

ART OF ANARCHY, “Small Batch Whiskey” (2015)

I’m torn on this – not just the song but Art of Anarchy in general. It’s a “supergroup” similar to last year’s White Appice Mendoza Iggy project, though instead of one famously self-destructive singer and one guy from Guns N’ Roses backed by a bunch of nameless hands, that project featured as its talents a trio of highly competent veteran session musicians as well as a young rising talent. So naturally that project sank without a trace while this one rides its little wave of controversy all the way to… well, wherever it’s going.

In fairness I don’t mind this song. It’s got a decent grind to it and Bumblefoot puts in some good guitar work but Scott Weiland just sounds bored, which does tie in with his out-and-out rejection of this band. I do like that album artwork, though. Couldn’t tell you why, just do. In fact I might pick the album up sometime just for that.

THE STRYPES, “Eighty-Four” (2015)

The Strypes released another EP this month, Flat Out, and the two new studio songs it features (alongside a cover of M5’s “Kick Out the Jams”) are softer, smoother and more melodic than their previous material, which kinda worries me. I like The Strypes for their rowdy, throwback rhythm and blues sound, not whatever this is trying to be. We have enough faceless indie bands aping The Replacements right now. I do like the funky bass work, even if it is a little derivative of Arctic Monkeys’ earlier work, and the chorus is certainly infectious, so overall I’d give it a thumbs up. They’ve also got a new album, Little Victories, coming out in July and I anticipate there’ll be some rawer material on there. I still worry, though – if they’re not careful they run the risk of turning into the Vaccines, and nobody wants that.

ZAC BROWN BAND, “Heavy is the Head” (feat. Chris Cornell) (2015)

I don’t know what to make of this. I’m not a country guy so I’ve never really given the Zac Brown Band too much attention, but it seems the guy’s trying to appeal to people like me with his/their new album, Jekyll + Hyde, which from what I gather is a strange mixture of country, alt-rock and dancier tunes. This is the big scratchy alt-rock number of the album – they even finagled the mighty Chris Cornell into doing some vocal work – and honestly it isn’t too bad. The initial triumvirate of distorted bass, climbing riff and Cornell’s vocal hook is admittedly sick (I also really appreciate the Soundgarden-esque shifting time signature), while Brown has a decent stab at playing the rocker, but ultimately something about it doesn’t quite click for me. And yet I couldn’t count how many times I’ve listened to it this month. Weird, that. It’s almost as if you can criticise a piece of art while still earnestly enjoying it. Anybody mind telling the rest of the internet about this breakthrough?

WOLFMOTHER, “Colossal” (2006)

I find it strange that Wolfmother were criticised for openly displaying their heavy Sabbath/Zeppelin influences back when they first hit the scene, even though nowadays everybody in rock music is doing that and nobody cares. I mean, how did it turn out that a band with such a “retro” sound made the mistake of being too ahead of their time?

Anyway, Wolfmother have been writing their fourth album recently with plans to put it out on Universal later this year after the independently-released New Crown hit Bandcamp and iTunes back in 2014. I’m not sure how much good that’ll do them – after all I was one of the three people who bought Stockdale’s 2013 solo album Keep Moving, which was also a Universal release – but if it means they can start rebuilding a wider audience then I’m all for it. Let’s just hope they can write more songs like this instead of the raw stoner jams that characterised New Crown. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed those jams, but they still can’t beat the craft, the fullness and the epic scale of that first album.

STEREOPHONICS, “C’est La Vie” (2015)

The ‘Phonics recently announced that their latest album, Keep the Village Alive, will be released this September. It’s their ninth studio record and first since 2013’s Graffiti on the Train, hopefully returning them to their classic biennial release schedule, as well as their second album whose title begins with “keep” after 2009’s Keep Calm and Carry On. This is the lead single and it’s probably the loosest, most fun thing they’ve put to plastic in quite some time.

NOTE: The song starts about a minute into the video, so just skip past that douchey Welsh bloke and enjoy.

ROBIN ZANDER, “Say You Will” (2011)

I finally got around to “locating” Robin Zander’s mysterious second solo album Countryside Blvd., an album that was out for a whopping two days in April 2011 before it was pulled from sale. Why? Nobody knows. Well, maybe Zander and his management do. It has more of a country sound than his previous solo record, released nearly twenty years earlier, and this is one of the livelier songs on what is, as it turns out, a rather lethargic set of music.

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.