pop music

Pop Song Review: Demi Lovato, “Cool for the Summer”

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in terms of British weather this has to go down as one of the weirder summers of recent memory. I expected to be paralysed by August heat and yet I spent most of the month with my nose pressed to the window watching the rain. But anyway, enough about my sad life. Today’s pop song review is “Cool for the Summer” by Demi Lovato.

First impressions: My gut is telling me that I should dislike this song intensely, and yet I don’t. What could it be? The bizarre vocal inflections in the verses? The aggressive synths in the chorus? The fact that Ms Lovato looks really rather fine in that outfit? Could be anything, I suppose.

The music: I don’t think I’ve actually enjoyed a Demi Lovato song since “La La Land” back in 2008, and I especially don’t like that she’s jumped on the EDM bandwagon when her earlier guitar pop sound was far more interesting, but “Cool for the Summer” is easily among the better efforts she’s put out recently.

The song takes, for the most part, a very typical dance-pop route from a performer not exactly known for stretching the envelope, even for former Disney wunderkind, but in a lot of ways, though, it’s also quite atypical. It starts out generically enough with the piano line establishing the motif before we sink into a plastic, sticky clomp of a beat with a very faint New Wave influence in the moody synths. With atmosphere and the beat established it’s up to the melody to carry the actual “music” quotient, and it’s here where the song starts taking a couple of intriguing turns. The way Lovato intones the words in that breathy voice… okay, it’s not exactly original, but it’s different enough to make an effect on me, especially that strange way she flattens the note at the end of each line.

Then we get to the bridge, which drops the beat briefly as the melody repeats the motif, eventually crashing right into the chorus where that same motif is transformed into an explosive, abrasive synth riff that borders on being some sort of dance metal (and don’t laugh – tell me you couldn’t headbang to that chorus) – and I really like it. Seriously, as out-of-place as it is with those verses, I do like it. In fact, maybe that’s why I like it, the fact that it’s just so odd for a song like this. I mean, name another song this summer that just goes for it in the chorus the same way this song does. I even like the second part of the chorus where the music mellows out a bit and Lovato cries out the melody the way she does. It’s catchy, it’s different, it’s… it’s downright likeable.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, though. I may have praised this song for taking a few more risks than others in its genre, but it almost certainly wasn’t written with that in mind. The likelihood is that this song was churned out, just the way all EDM pop songs are, to fill dancefloors, executive wallets and the heads of exhausted parents whose kids insist on playing Capital FM in the car on their drives to the beach. But there is enough going for “Cool for the Summer” that makes it stand out from the pack in my opinion, and if it weren’t for the fact that it’s nearly September I could easily see myself listening to this more often.

Mind you, summer doesn’t officially end until the autumn equinox on September 23rd, so this song’s still good for another month or so if you choose to see it that way.

The lyrics: I just realised that Demi Lovato is only a month older than me. That’s weird. That’s pretty weird, guys. I could’ve sworn she was about 26 or 27, which admittedly isn’t that much older than 23, but still, that means I was about 16 when she first broke out. I’m getting old. Bones are creaking, the hair’s getting all grey and wispy, it’s taking longer than ever for me to complete a sudoku, and I can’t shake the feeling that it’s all downhill from here. We make our own ghosts, people, and mine is slowly taking its ghoulish shape, reminding me of who I am and how fragile it all really is, this strange obligation we call existence. There’s nowhere to run to, either, and nowhere to hide when the thing you’re running from, the thing you’re trying to escape, is the very thing you’re so desperate to hang on to: yourself. It makes you think.

…Hm? The lyrics? Oh, they’re about love or something.

“Got my mind on your body and your body on my mind / Got a taste for the cherry, I just need to take a bite.” The cherry… hm. Okay, I know what the traditional metaphorical meaning of “the cherry” is, but what’s it alluding to in this lyric? If we’re talking about sexual temptation then surely “the apple” would have been a better choice of imagery. You could’ve gone with “the peaches” as well – you know, in the Stranglers sense – but I don’t think she swings that way. Unless she does and the other, traditional meaning is what she’s talking about, in which case, for the love of all that’s good and pure, Ms Lovato, reconsider the biting part of your plan.

“Take me down into your paradise / Don’t be scared ’cause I’m your body type.” Down into paradise? Wrong direction, surely, unless Lovato is also coming out as a Satanist (which, let’s be honest, is probably the crux of at least a couple of conspiracy theory websites out there). Also, I have a body type now, it seems, and if Lovato is anybody to go by my type is apparently “physically fit and highly appealing.” That’s, ah, that’s probably a few peoples’ body type, come to think of it. I’m beginning to think this song isn’t addressing me personally.

“Don’t tell your mother / Kiss one another / Die for each other / We’re cool for the summer.” It’s like Romeo and Juliet summarised in one pop song lyric. Well, the first three parts, anyway, unless there was an epilogue where Friar Laurence discussed his holiday plans.

Also, curious phrase, that, when you think about it. “Cool for the summer.” Does she mean a bodily coolness or an acceptance/preparedness of the situation? You know, when you’re cool about something, like you’re not massively fussed about it but you dig it nonetheless? A little like me and this song, actually. Wait, does that mean I’m cool for “Cool for the Summer”?

Verdict: I really don’t mind “Cool for the Summer” too much. I mean, sure, there’s nothing great about it exactly, but if you had to go with one EDM-pop song to soundtrack your summer this was about as good as it got. 3 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Summer’s Almost Gone” by The Doors, because this is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end. Of summer.

Pop Song Review: Charlie Puth, “Marvin Gaye” (feat. Meghan Trainor)

Piggy-backing on more popular artists: like snail gel masks and proper bantz, it’s what all the hip young kids are into these days, specifically hip young pop artists looking for an easy road to a wider audience. Case in point, today’s pop song review is “Marvin Gaye” by professional hang-on-wasn’t-he-the-one-playing-piano-in-that-Fast-&-Furious-7-song-yes-I-think-he-was, Charlie Puth, featuring Meghan Trainor who, as far as I’m aware, has not sung for any car movies to date. But the century is young.

First impressions: Oh, it’s that song. You know the one.

The music: Like a lot of Meghan Trainor’s music, “Marvin Gaye” is an upbeat, midtempo pop song whose retro-Fifties sound and aesthetic fits in well with her catalogue so far. The problem: this isn’t a Meghan Trainor song, or not technically at least. No, this is a Charlie Puth song, a performer you know so little about you’re not even sure how to pronounce his last name.

What I’m getting at here is that Mr. Puth (Mr. Pooth?) doesn’t have much of a musical personality or resumé beyond being the chorus guy on Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.” Now admittedly that song did do very well in the charts, so on achievements alone he’s doing okay for himself, but it’s still only one song in which his contribution basically amounted to plonking out a few piano chords while doing a passable Sam Smith impression.

Speaking of that impression, I can’t say it fits the music too well here. You can tell Puth is doing his best to rein in his vocals, presumably so as not to overpower the melody, but as a result he never sounds like he’s particularly enjoying himself, which you kinda need to in order for a song this exuberant to really work. Instead he goes for this husky, yearning baritone (is it a baritone? Sounds like a baritone) that’s all out of place. He does at least employ a higher register for the chorus, but it still sounds like he’s being coerced into his performance by a hefty-sized producer with a knuckle-duster.

Is it me or is the beat really askew in Trainor’s verse, too? Puth’s verse has a decent plod to it that, while not too exciting, is at least consistent. I can nod my head to it. But then Trainor’s verse comes in and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. I mean, sure, her voice fits the music more than Puth’s does, but for a woman who sang that she was “all about that bass” there sure isn’t much of it around when she’s taking her turn at the mike.

So, some positives? Well, the chorus hook is memorable, if not terribly catchy, and the production is generally quite smooth. And, er, the video has some pretty people in it. I… look, I’m sorry, guys, but this sounds like something that was written for a Disney movie. It’s simplistic, competently produced and just pleasing enough to the ears that you won’t even realise you’re sick of it until it’s lodged in your brain like an ice pick.

And by the way, if this is supposed to be some sort of tribute to the man, it’s a weird one. I haven’t actually heard a lot of Marvin Gaye’s music beyond the hits, but the little I have heard this doesn’t sound anything like. Marvin Gaye sang sensual R&B slow jams, not bouncy bubblegum pop with a vague whiff of doo-wop.

The lyrics: “You got the healing that I want.” Oh jeez, is that what this song’s going to be? A series of Marvin Gaye puns? If it is, I’m out. I’m out, people. There’s the door, right over there, and these boots? Pfft, well, they’re just doin’ what they do. Bootz, start a-walkin’! I’m-a coming, door! I’m-a… okay, fine, let’s give it a chance.

“We got this king size to ourselves / Don’t have to share with no one else.” I… that… what does this mean? “Don’t have to share with no one else”? Was that ever a possibility? What couple shares their bed with… I’m overthinking this, aren’t I?

“Don’t keep your secrets to yourself / It’s kama sutra show and tell.” Show and tell: a school exercise, common at elementary level, in which one pupil presents a personal item to their class and discusses it for a few minutes. The Kama Sutra: a popular ancient Hindu book of sex positions popular with married couples looking to spice up their love lives. These two things are a lot like sushi and ice cream: separately, fine enough, but put them together and you create something… unspeakable.

“And when you leave me all alone / I’m like a stray without a home / I’m like a dog without a bone / I just want you for my own.” Bet you really burnt the midnight oil on that one, didn’t you, guys?

“Just like they say it in the song / Until the dawn, let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on.”

Geddit? Because Marvin Gaye sang “Let’s Get It On.”

So yes, this might just top Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” for Dumbest Pop Song Lyrics of 2015, but is there really any point in analysing it further? It’s a doofy line in a doofy song. But let’s poke it a little bit. This line is the chorus hook of the song. It’s where the perfect cadence – you know, that bit at the end of the chorus where it sounds really good and satisfying – is created by the final two notes. This is the part of the song that your ears are waiting for, the part that makes the build-up of the verse and chorus worthwhile for them, and it’s hinged on a reference to another, better song. A gold star for anyone who can point out why this might not have been a great idea.

So from what I can see, the songwriters came up with one bad joke and built a song about it. How much money did they funnel into this? That much, huh? Jeez, that’s depressing. And how much did it make back? That much? Seriously? Where’s that door again?

Also, “just like they say it in the song” is a weird line. It’s just clunky and awkward to say, let alone sing. So… yeah. Let that one sink in.

Verdict: Again, here’s another song that isn’t overly good or overly bad but is more or less just there. It’s catchy enough but you wouldn’t miss it if they took it off the radio tomorrow, and while it might have a small nostalgic following years down the line I think even Heart FM might find it a little too sugary for their future playlist. The healthiest afterlife this song can have is as “that song that tried to make Marvin Gaye into a verb and failed.” A meh out of 5.

Today’s double-up would logically be some Marvin Gaye, but instead I’m going to go for a song that has about as much to do with the man as this song does: “Vincent Price” by Deep Purple, which at least makes the most of its own tongue-in-cheek premise. It also has a sexy nun doing a pole dance, so top that, Charlie Puth.

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.

Eurovision 2015: The Entrants (Part 2)

Here’s the second part of my run-through of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest hopefuls as I cover the second half of the first semi-final. Part 1 can be read here.

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

SERBIA: Bojana Stamenov, “Beauty Never Lies”

Except when it does, which is a whole lot of the time. I hope Junior Eurovision’s putting out more positive messages than this.

Dramatic? Check. Quasi-Gothic? Check. Piano ballad? Check and… well, the predominant instrument isn’t a piano, so that’s something at least. It even has some electronic elements bubbling beneath the surface, giving the song a modern edge without going full-on cheese – aaaand then it all falls apart with that horrible Eurodance breakdown that sounds like one of Eiffel 65’s rejected beats. You were so close as well, “Beauty Never Lies”, so close, but you flew too far to the sun and went full cheese. You never go full cheese, and if you do, go full cheese – by which I mean if you’re going to put some stupid Eurodisco beat in your Eurovision song, put it in the whole song. Don’t just cram it in at the end. So no, I don’t care for this song. Even without the irksome dance beat it’s not particularly notable or impressive, which means it’ll probably do quite well on the night.

DENMARK: Anti Social Media, “The Way You Are”

Anti Social Media? Well now, that’s a delightfully charged name for a Eurovision act. You’ve got me pumped now, Denmark.

Okay, so it’s not nearly as aggressive as I would have guessed from the band name – there’s nothing particularly antisocial about any of this – but I do really rather like this. Naturally the YouTube commenters don’t care for it, being the globs of impotent rage they are, but I think it’s got something. It’s chirpy, it’s bouncy, it’s happy, it’s catchy enough and, unlike most Eurovision entries this year, it doesn’t seem to be taking itself too seriously. I’d put a decent bob or two on this doing well on the night – it’s just too upbeat and smile-inducing to not do well, and frankly Europe could do with a bit of cheer right now. Eight points go to Denmark, whatever that’s worth.

BELARUS: Uzari and Maimuna, “Time”

Sorry, Belarus, but you’ve already shot yourself in the foot. Oh. this isn’t a comment on your music, which I’m sure is fine. It’s just that… did you have to name your song “Time”? Do you realise how many songs there are out there called “Time”? (Here’s a very, very small list to get you started.) How did you expect to stand out in this year’s contest with a name like… but I’m rambling. On with the music.

Well, that’s a surprise: I actually like this. It’s a little dancier than I thought it would be, and given my general disdain for EDM that should’ve been even more of a reason to turn against this. But it’s the strangest thing that I actually don’t mind this at all. The vocalist is strong, it’s got a killer violin part, the chorus hook is catchy and the music is enjoyably corny, the dance beat complimenting the dramatic music rather than stepping over it (take notes, “Beauty Never Lies”). I’m not sure how well it’ll do in the final, assuming it gets there, but I wouldn’t be at all bothered to see this getting quite far. Does it stand out from the crowd? Not really, but still.

ROMANIA: Voltaj, “De la capăt/All Over Again”

According to my sources (read: Google Translate), “de la capăt” translates to “the end”, so the full English title is “The End/All Over Again” which, yes, is exactly how helter skelter slides work: you get to the “end” at the bottom then go back up to the top and ride it “all over again”. I’m sure that’s what Voltaj are trying to get at here. For further reading, consult Dr McCartney’s thesis on the matter.

Voltaj: Romania’s The Wanted, apparently. So it’s a cheesy ballad with strings, strong harmonic voices, slight electronic elements and no distinguishable hook, with a strange blend of singing in English and the artist’s native tongue. Yep, sounds like a Eurovision entry all right. But wait, is that a flute? It is, it’s a flute in the verse. Sure, it’s hidden beneath everything else, but it’s there. Could that be a sign of *gasp* folk influences, as in the diverse European folk music influences I always hope to hear but rarely ever do? Possibly. Also, this is far too polite. Where’s the wackiness this year? Where’s the attention seeking? This contest needs another “We Are Slavic” and stat.

RUSSIA: Polina Gagarina, “A Million Voices”

A million voices, you say? Well, I’m sure that must have been quite a crowded studio on the day you recorded this but I’m sure you–hey, wait a minute, there’s only one singer credited on this track. You’re having me on, Russia.

There are two things you can expect from a Russian Eurovision entry these days, apparently: beautiful, talented female singers, and weirdly icy songs. We had it with the Tolmachevy Sisters last year and now we have Ms Gagarina to remind us that Russia is a wintry, wintry place filled with pretty, pretty women singing wintry, wintry songs. Actually, “A Million Voices” does get a bit warmer and busier as it goes on. Again, yes, it’s a piano ballad and, honestly, it’s no better or worse than any of the others I’ve reviewed so far, but it’s bombastic and stuffed to the gills with strings as Gagarina’s slightly breathy vocals coo like a crisp breeze over the shimmering production, so it fits the bill. Could do well, may do well, might not though, who knows? And are those marching drums? Ahem. Might want to hold off there, Russia.

ALBANIA: Elhaida Dani, “I’m Alive”

Ms Dani was originally meant to represent Albania in this year’s contest with a song called “Diell”, but for some reason that song (which you can still listen to here, assuming the link hasn’t been pulled) was canned and now she’s singing a number called “I’m Alive.” I’m kinda glad, to be honest: “Diell” was another syrupy string ballad and I’m already running out of things to say about those. Here’s hoping “I’m Alive” is, if not better, at least markedly different.

Huh. What do you know, it actually kinda is. All right, it would have been unfair of me to expect something as out-there as, say, Anthrax’s “I’m Alive” (as cool as that would have been), but even though we’re in the same ball-park here I’d say “I’m Alive” was a better choice over “Diell”. It’s looser, it’s more relaxed (at least initially) and it’s got a little more energy to it, not to mention that neat acoustic guitar part that peeks back in every now and then. The big, strings-led bombastic crescendo is there as well, for the musical gluttons who require more dramatic, quasi-Gothic ballads from a contest that’s already drowning in them. It’s not all that catchy or colourful but it is nice, and sometimes nice is all you need. Is it a contest winner? Hard to say.

GEORGIA: Nina Sublatti, “Warrior”

Well, it’s nice to see Amy Lee’s still getting work.

This isn’t too bad. It’s not incredible, either, but Sublatti has a power and an attitude to her voice that does kinda sell it. The harmonic minors in the middle-eight are either a valiant or lazy attempt to add some Middle Eastern flavour to the overpowering EDM sound, but it’s more than most of these songs have bothered to put in this year. I’ll admit, it charges you up, this song. It’s got the right attitude, the right stomp and a chorus catchy and enough to belt from a mountaintop while surrounded by your wolf brethren. This studio recording does rely quite heavily on a production the live performance won’t be able to match, though, and if she does make it to the final I imagine Georgia’s final placement will pretty much live or die on the oomph and passion of Sublatti’s voice, so let’s hope she can conjure that same energy on the night.

As a sidenote, did you see those freaking dogs? They were just far too happy to be there. I mean, what’s up with the one on the left? Is he dead or something?

eurovisiongeorgiadogs

HUNGARY: Boggie, “Wars for Nothing”

Well gee, I wonder what this song’s about?

Funnily enough, Boggie doesn’t refer to an old Cornish demon, but rather a very pretty Hungarian woman with a lovely voice. In fact you’d better get used to Boggie and her voice because, aside from light acoustic guitar and backing vocals, she effectively is the song. “Wars for Nothing” is one of those campfire/protest songs (or “hippie jams” if you do so prefer) light on actual music and heavy on message and emotion which, while being a nice idea, probably won’t actually make much change in the greater scheme of things (hey, if “Imagine” couldn’t end all the wars, how do you fancy your chances?). There isn’t a great deal else to say, really: the melody, though hardly crammed with hooks, has a nice comfortable singsong movement to it, while the song is so spacious I’m actually moving in next month, so really it comes down to how much you care for these sort of sweet-‘n’-calm acoustic songs. As a double-up, may I direct your attention to Bill Ward’s (of Black Sabbath) naively sweet “Children Killing Children” – and no, the title does not reflect on the music.

Part 3 coming next Monday. The first Eurovision semi-final takes place Tuesday 19th May, with the final airing Saturday 23rd May.