Review Part XV: Denmark, Australia, Ireland

Yeah, I know, I’ve been slacking off lately with the reviews. The highlight of it was that today I spent about an hour searching my glasses and not finding them in time I was supposed to review songs. But I promise you that somehow we still make it before Eurovision week. Today’s late episode brings the land of MOR, the land down under and the land of celtic ornaments together. Welcome Denmark, Australia and Ireland.

Denmark: Lighthouse X – Soldiers of Love

Denmark is also known as the country that mostly does well and somettimes extremely well without anyone really knowing why, and occasionally fucks up a lot and everyone does know why. Basically, they’re Eurovision’s average kid doing reasonably well without anyone caring, until he occasionally delivers an embarrassing moment or turns up at the school dance with the school beauty and nobody knows how or when that happened. Of course, Denmark would never select anything weird or so, and they kept to their recipe this year.

Denmark decided that last year’s effort stood out a little too much and found an even blander song. It’s still more or less the same thing – a bunch of boys looking not too bad singing a pop song – but they decided that it was time to use an incredibly average arrangement and production as well and (probably accidentally) turned the whole thing into an English version of a Helene Fischer song. Except that Helene’s work usually has a little more energy in it, but that might be alienating potential voters! I definitely admire the amount of averageness in this song, cause that must have been hard to achieve.

The staging is remarkable by basically being non-existent, so they kept the theme of averageness. Even in the lyrics. “Take my hand and never let go” and “step for step we make a new start”. One must be the most overused line in love songs of all times, the other was likely in their 2011 entry. The only way they could have turned this into a more average Eurovision song would be if the songwriters were Swedish. I can’t even do a proper review on it because there is nothing to say about it – it’s not bad, it’s just been heard a 10’000 times before. And because Denmark is starting to annoy me with that, it gets only 2/10.

Australia: Dami Im – Sound of Silence

Australia is our newest addition to the family, and of course trying to prove they deserve the place in Eurovision. I think they succeeded with that last year, and I had Tonight Again down as a potential winner for some time. It’s still one of my favourites of the 2015 contest, and Australia has changed the style but tried to send another “real world” entry.

I kind of like the low beginning, and the heartbeat-like drums may be a little overused, but always effective. Notice how they suddenly disappear in the buildup to the first chorus? Me likes that. However, the chorus is where it goes wrong for me. I mean, this is totally not my style, but it also gets very big to a point where I can’t really take her serious anymore. Until there, the song is a nice picture of the grief I imagine she feels waking up to silence and apparently alone. But there, her image in my head turns into “total drama queen who wants my pity”, no matter how often she tells me she’s being strong. And vocal showoffs always bore me. Overall, it’s just a well-executed version of something I dislike.

This will obviously depend a lot on the vocal abilities of Dami, and I assume she can sing this song perfectly, cause she’ll need to. And probably should get rid of the video hairstyle, cause it makes her look weird. I fear she won’t keep it open like when she’s wearing the dark dress in the video, so that hope has gone… Lyrically, there’s not much to criticize I think – the English-speaking countries seem to be safe there unless they don’t even try to be. Apart from the endless repetition of “it beats to the sound of silence”, that is. But I assume that’s part of the plan. Well, I am trying to judge something I am just not into by definition, and I can see it’s well done. But I am judging on my taste, so that’s no more than 4/10.

Ireland: Nicky Byrne – Sunlight

Ireland is still the record winner until Sweden takes its next crown, which is somewhat hard to believe if you only know their more recent attempts. The focus on showcasing celtic heritage has somewhat faded (luckily), but there’s still a lot wrong with Ireland’s latest entries. One looked like it was the entry of Egypt, one had a singer never smiling and hiding behind a piano – I can totally see (especially see, actually) while it never worked. And now?

Like in the past year, there’s not really so much wrong with the Irish entry, just also not too much right. Actually it’s a bit a case of Denmark with less quality. In this case, the whole thing also sounds like it comes straight from 2001. A 5-10 year delay is somewhat acceptable in ESC as shown by others, but a throwback to the times of boygroups… I am not sure about that. There’s a weird lack of bass in this song (I think it’s not an issue of my computer as it was fine on Australia and Denmark), which makes it even more weird and forgettable. And a lack of distinction between chorus and verse. In the second part of the song, everything sounds kind of the same to me. It all makes a quite unfinished impression.

Nicky himself fits the boygroup vibe of the thing (not surprising thinking he has been in one) as in he looks like a rather replacable prop rather than the artist of the song. I wonder if they can get him to look like he means the song until May 12th. And then there’s the bad bad decision of making a lyric video to a song with such a weird text. “Touch who you wanna” – that’s called sexual assault, Mister. “Kiss who you gotta” – I doubt kissing was ever as unattractive as this. It sounds like a job. “Dance like you mean it, sing like you feel it” – that’s a piece of advice you should listen to, my dear Nicky. And the fact it ends with a “suuuun” but no “light” disturbs me more than ist should. Well, Ireland did try but failed with this, I guess. I’ll be nice, cause I can see they did probably try, so here’s 4/10.

After this rather low-scoring round of review, we’ll take the last of our kind to an utopian land and show them the real thing. Join us again or Switzerland, Montenegro and Greece!

Review Part XIV: Spain, Finland, Netherlands

Hello everyone, did you survive the first day of rehearsal madness? It was once planned that we are finished today… yeah, right. But there’s not a lot left to go, and today we take three more off the to-do-list. Three classic western Eurovision nations, all with various success over the last years. Let’s check out Spain, Finland and the Netherlands.

Spain: Barei – Say Yay!

Spain has tried various things lately, but they tend to do best when they return to the dramatic female ballad. Things like Dancing In The Rain look like the only way to the top for España, which is a little weird as they should be predestined for summer hits as well. But let’s not forget their attempts at this were usually simply bad. This year, they decided to try it again, and Say Yay! seems to be pretty popular. Will that prove right?

My favourite thing about the song is probably Barei’s voice. I love love love this type of female voices. And the song itself? It can turn out either way, really. She has a high risk of coming out shouty and aggressive, which would be horrible, or she can end up powerful and making me dance, which would be great. The song offers both possibilities. There seems to be quite a lot going on in the instrumental that doesn’t really translate to the track, which is a little annoying – I note a lot of sound happening, while the end product is just a blend of noise. Or, to put it less nicely, a lot of sound elements wasted.

I guess there has been a lot of talk around about Barei’s style and dance moves, but I admit I like both of them. The dance reminds me very much of Kurt Calleja of Malta, and it never did him any harm. And about the style, hey, I like a little “street” on stage. I’m more concerned about the staging, as the Spanish have proved they’re capable of very weird stuff with Amanecer. Or that anyone notices how little sense the lyrics seem to make. They sound like someone put every motivational line that one can think of together and added a catchy hook. But then again, who listens to them anyway? Spain, you can do better but you’re on a very right track. I’ll reward the effort with a rather generous 7/10.

Finland: Sandhja – Sing It Away

Finland has blessed us with many of my favourites, as they are what I am to the fan community, the household guitarboys and girls. I always throw some interested looks their way, and who else could bring metal to the Eurovision throne? They took another route this year, so let’s see how I like that.

This starts a little less shouty and energetic than Spain, but quickly takes a very similar route. The fact Sandhja’s verses are less loud makes it sound more structured though, and the backing track is a bit less noisy. It’s very un-Finnish however, with the brassy sound bits in the background which sound rather like something Azerbaijan would use. Everything in the song seems to be directed at creating a fun uplifting sound, which makes it a great starter. However, it’s also not very memorable in consequence, as it seems rather “flat” to me, not doing anything except creating fun. I think that while it’s good for the show it’s on the first position, it’s rather bad for the Finns.

I can’t understand Sandhja in the chorus even if I try, not live and not in studio. I keep hearing “melting your balls away”, but surely she can’t be singing that? The whole live thing is not really working for me, at least not in the video of UMK. First of all, she looks rather uncharming I think. I’m not against short hair per se, but it doesn’t really suit her. Then, I can definitely make out some missed notes and a lack of energy in some places. Not exactly what she needs – she can do with a few wrong tones, but the energy needs to be there 110% for such a song. Give it all you’ve got, Sandhja, and I can let you get away with 4/10.

Netherlands: Douwe Bob – Slow Down

The Netherlands have been chronically unsuccessful when I started watching Eurovision, and it was often easy to see and hear why. Until their 2013 rebirth at the hands of Anouk, that is. Followed by a country episode that would probably have won in another year, when there was no potential Eurovision icon on offer. It kinda makes sense they’re back to country now.

The sond starts out with the ticking noise and the voice of Douwe Bob, which is nicely slower than the ticking (and the song in general in the first few bars?). Nice effect! It’s a fairly simple arrangement, guitars, drums, bass and a piano that is adding a nice depth to the song. It may be a little repetitive, but I personally don’t really mind. At least this makes sure that the hook is stuck in your mind. And it’s a great singalong song after all. Little weird detail: Why is the song speeding up when he says “Slow Down” for the first time?

A lot of the success of such a song will depend on the vocal performance and the staging, and both better be good. The Dutch have proven they’re capable of staging country in 2014(even though that was a very different song), but they also showed their capability of colossal fuckups more than once. The little bit of rehearsal footage we’ve seen makes me positive about the staging, but it’s hard to judge by it. A band setup is definitely what’s needed for this song. And I totally hope they include the beer bottle slide guitar of the video. I’m usually no country lover, but here it’s a nice breath of air, and worth 8/10.

We are getting cloesr and closer to the end of the review round (and to Eurovision), and tomorrow we’ll finish the S songs. Next on the list: Soldiers of love listening to the sound of silence in the sunlight. Or in other words, Denmark, Australia and Ireland.

Review Part XIII – Italy, Hungary, Estonia

After a quite busy weekend, we finally have the time for another review. Say Yay! No, not that one. Instead we get the latest Big 5 addition Italy, the country of hipsters, runners and unearned love, Hungary and the first Baltic state to win Eurovision, Estonia. Quite a nice combo, isn’t it? I’d say less talkie more singie. Let’s go!

Italy: Francesca Michielin – No Degree Of Separation

For the first time ever, Italy has decided on a song with an English title. Which is a pity, because to my ears, Nessun Grade Di Separazione sounds a lot nicer, even though both titles are unfluent and a little weird. Oh, and as a little bonus, Francesca has been votest hottest female ESC participant 2016 by the crowd on the ESCnation message board. I think I approve.

The song starts out very Italian in a way, with a vocal showoff, but it’s some kind of “radio Italian”, reminding of Laura Pausini and the likes. Which is quite new for Italy in Eurovision I’d say. What I notice is that, at least compared to her voice, the instrumental is rather flat. There’s not really a distinctive melody in there as (extreme example) we get in the Balkan ballads, or anything standing out. The English part blends in quite nicely, but I still doubt its necessity. I also would have placed it in the end, the Italian final lines make it seem a little forced. Good English though!

Looking at the video, what is it with Italians and movies? First the references of Il Volo (which I didn’t get) and now Francesca’s 3D thing. She should probably avoid being so emotionless in Stockholm as she is in the first part of the video. Also, she definitely proves my point that women don’t need to wear dresses to look good while singing, thumbs up for that!
I wonder about how this will look live. Not only the staging, which I expect to be unspectacular, but also backdrop and styling of her. I’d love them to keep the rather casual vibe of the video (the non-film parts with the 3D glasses) and somehow incorporate elements of that. And this song obviously requests a killer voice which I kinda hope she has. Italy sent us a nice piece of pop (rare to hear me saying that!) and I reward that with 7/10.

Hungary: Freddie – Pioneer

Hungary has not really been anywhere on my ESC map despite masterpieces like Unsubstantial Blues (another woman without a dress!) and fan favourites like the – in my opinion dreadful – What About My Dreams? until 2013, when some hipster guitarboy came along. Somehow they managed to deliver twice in a row, but fell down last year with Boggie. So what does this year have to offer for Hungary?

I have already hinted at that earlier, but for a song called Pioneer, it’s surprisingly conventional. The main selling point of the song is, in my opinion, Freddie. Not only is he apparently not unattractive, but damn this man has a nice voice. Given he hits the notes of course. But the tone of his voice is something I love, and the song has some very nice elements too. Those six notes in the verse (the whistling noise that’s probably no actual whistling) is quite good at taking my attention, and the whole thing is definitely not dated, just very un-daring I think. It’s far from cutting any edges, but it’s good at being what it is.

If the A Dal staging is anything to go by, they already kinda have a working way figured out. Except the fact that the drummer is incredibly cliché of course. And the slightly disturbing sweater that he should definitely change (or for the benefit of more interested watchers, get rid of). The only thing I can see that may be a problem is the backings. They look like traffic cops, and they’re a weird combination of hidden yet not really hidden. Can you overthink that please, Hungary? And while we’re at it, Freddie’s voice could use some extra confidence and security. But I guess they’ll sort that out, which would give them a solid 6/10.

Estonia: Jüri Pootsman – Play

Estonia tends to produce one of my favourite NFs, and out of it can come both very good things (2015), rather weird stuff (2010, 2011) and sometimes pure uselessness (2014). What it rarely produces, though, is a completely indifferent song, even though that has happened before. Overall it’s not hard to see why Estonia was rather successful and the first Baltic winner. And this year?

The first verse definitely makes sure you’re listening. Jüri’s voice is quite captivating in combination with this music, and somehow doesn’t sound like what I’d expect from seeing him. I like the progression leading up to the chorus – it makes it really obvious something’s gonna happen, but you don’t know exactly what. I like that. And the rhythmic use of the keyboard (or whatever that is) in the buildup. Interestingly, the Estonians have managed to create a song that’s both rather dark and interesting and getting stuck in my head, which is usually not the case for me (Exception: Poland!)

Now I already mentioned Jüri’s looks – he looks like a bank apprentice. And what I find weird is that the song is called Play, yet he has probably the least playful expression of all participants. The lyrics, which are not exactly easy to understand when he sings them by the way, are not exactly clear to me either. “Play / Cause that’s the only way / To find out if it’s love / That we’re falling into”. Is he suggesting to sleep around to find out if he actually loves his partner? No, I totally don’t see how this could go wrong. But given that Stig Rästa wrote the song, that may explain how he ended up with Elina. It’d kinda make sense why he leaves her if he suddenly realized he actually loves Jüri… Overall, job well done for Estonia! I assume you can do that again, Jüri, so you get a 8/10.

Next time, we’ll Say Yay to sing it away and then slow down, which is not only a good description for a karaoke party but also our next program, with Spain, Finland and the Netherlands!

Review Part XII: Israel, Georgia and Azerbaijan

Hello everyone, and welcome to the 12th part of the MfE review! Keeping up the current pace, we’ll finish sometimes next week, which will clash with rehearsals. I wouldn’t necessarily mind that, but if you’d do, please tell me in the comments. I could probably do some extra reviewing on the weekend then. Now let’s move on to Israel, Georgia and Azerbaijan!

Israel: Hovi Star – Made Of Stars

After the adventures with Armenia last time, we move on to a classic Eurovision nation that has preserved a little ethnic stuff in most of their entries. Israel has ensured this homegrown touch for a long time by mandating at least partially Hebrew lyrics, which often caused their songs to be overly aggressive (2014) or extremely emotional (2013/2010), because the language doesn’t really sound too suitable for other things. Ditching it last year seems to have helped their results.

Not only a classic Eurovision nation, a classic genre too apparently. A little bit of soft yet powerful emotional male ballad for you. For my taste, this drags way too much cheese strings, to keep that wonderfully Swiss image. Only after about two minutes this gets going, and it is actually quite beautiful in its overblown emotionality. Basically, it’s an English and male version of Rak Bishvilo to me. Not that the two sound so similar, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a common slow start that goes into a crazily emotional ending. It’s more positive here though.

But what is it with Israel’s Eurovision entries and Tel Aviv? I bet if they’d win they’d even hold it in Jerusalem, but reference Tel Aviv in the song again. And weirdly, we see the guy who is not Hovi finish the graffiti, then applying it, and then taking the form away when Hovi walks across the picture. Someone failed at cutting here or what? The video is incredibly generic for a song called Made Of Stars, but it looks beautiful. And I like the drones, looking like a XCOM Gremlin. There’s not really much to say about this song except that I am wondering if Hovi can pull it off on stage, but I assume he can, so I’ll rate it as the solid average it is, with 5/10.

Azerbaijan: Samra – Miracle

Azerbaijan is a rare case of a nation that had it’s best days after its debut and has recently been thrown off track (or rather didn’t bother as much anymore after their victory). So, what about Samra? Will she make Azerbaijan the Land Of Eurovision again? As keen on hosting every little event as they are, they surely should have a will to win.

Given that their glory days are over, it kinda makes sense that Azerbaijan turns to the past for this song. Unfortunately, they turned to a time where they didn’t even exist except as a Socialist Soviet Republic. Their song is surprisingly 80’s in the chorus, given that it seems to start out as a pretty average boring pop song. Well, it becomes a beefed up average boring 80’s pop song, so no big difference. It’s becoming pretty obvious now that they seem to have run out of options of Farid Mammadov or Safura level that they were always only good at selling mediocre songs (and buying Maltese televotes).

At least they keep finding good looking singers, cause that’s probably the only thing keeping part of the audience interested during their songs. Just that the target group’s gonna be smaller this year. Also, the skirt Samra is wearing in the video is pretty surely the longest she ever wore during a performance of that song? For a three minute song, this contains awfully few lyrics, and that shows. It feels incredibly long. And I wonder how horrible your date was if it takes a miracle to save you? Well, I’d probably need more than one to save my date if this was playing. Sorry, but this is uninspired, repetitive and feels as if someone got tired of their job halfway through – 2/10.

Georgia: Nika Kocherov and Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold

I think it’s interesting how different the approaches of the three Caucasian countries are recently. Armenia and Azerbaijan started out pretty conformist with a little hint of ethno, until the former sat one out and came back more alternative and the latter declined in quality but never changed its approach. Well, Georgia always was the odd one out, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. This year?

Starting out with a good bit of indie rock is a key to my heart, guys. I’m even gonna forgive you for the unnecessary long band name. Especially as they keep going that way. I am really torn about the electronic way this takes in the second half, which makes it feel kind of disconnected and not very coherent. Also it blends all together, I can hardly make out any instruments which gives it a very dirty unfinished sound. Recognizable, and I love it, but probably alienating the average Eurovision viewer on first listen?

This would probably better be called Lyrical Gold. “When I came to your smell on my skin”. From a band called Young Georgian Lolitaz. Should I be scared? It’s at least the first time I’ve seen such a open description of… acts that can lead to children in a Eurovision song. And it just gets better. Stealing your date’s cigarettes? Clever move, Nika… saves you some money.”Ten hours are missing from memory, I vaguely can recall pain and pleasure mixing in one bowl” – heavy hangover or a really weird BDSM practice? My Slowianie was a children’s show compared to this! Well, Eurovision is aired past 9pm after all. No harm done, quite the opposite. With the electro part I can’t give this what Georgia deserves for it, but it remains a strong 8/10!

Review Part XI, now larger: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Armenia

Eurovision is coming closer and closer, and that means that from now on, we have larger reviews of three songs per episode! Say Yay! And in consequence, there won’t be a review that features entirely non-English language songs. There would have been one today with Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Bosnian Ljubav Je and Austria’s French Loin d’Ici, but Armenia joins them in English for round 11. So now you know the countries, let’s go!

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Deen & Dalal feat. Ana Rucner & Jala – Ljubav Je

It kind of makes sense for the only country in the competition that has a “and” in its commonly used name to send a group of artists which contains “&” two times. I guess they just couldn’t decide on a group name or so, but the explanation with the & is as good as any other. So, how will the returner from Bosnia – in more than one sense – do?

Goodness, whats the thing with the Balkan and dramatic strings? I can’t think of a song from there that didn’t try to sound “western” and missed out on their strings. The first two minutes are nothing more than a balkan ballad with some extra energy and drama poured onto it (and slightly sped up), but it’s a good one. This is no Korake Ti Znam-esque “by numbers” song, it has way too much power for that. Not cutting edges either though. And then comes the place where it takes either a brilliant or a terrible turn. Enter Jala. Bosnian rap in such a song is definitely risky, but also memorable. It goes against the golden rule of not using rap music though, but what if it’s so well “hidden” in a pretty impressive balkanesque piece?

There is, however, a lot more wrong with it once you start the video. Let’s start by Ana’s cello – please give her a real one, cause that looks pretty ugly. And then come Deen and Dalal, who both fail to show another emotion than complete concentration during the entire three minutes. Do they ever even look at each other? The best thing about the visuals and performance here is Jala’s beard, really. I like the song, and I think their voices go together very nicely, but this presentation better be better. So far, it’s no more than 5/10.

Austria: ZOË – Loin d’Ici

Which country has sent the only completely French song of the year? Austria. Apparently we need a random French song from time to time, like we got in 07 with Cyprus. And like that one, it’s a little bit of a fan favourite with a not very predictable outcome with the general public. Let’s see if it’s back to Vienna or back to Zero.

Actually, this song could not be anything else than French. Of course I am not a specialist either, but to me, her French skills seem pretty perfect. I’d totally believe you if you said she’s from France. And the song fits this very well too. It’s about fifteen years too late with it’s Alizée-ish vibe, but that may not be a bad thing if she can sell it as rétro. Unfortunately, the Alizée comparison is not the only one to make. It also has a hint of cheapness that looks like straight out of Kate Ryan’s song drawer, and we all know how that ended.

Looking to the video (or rather NF performance) now, this is incredibly sweet. The background looks like a washing powder commercial, and so does her dress. And the treadmill thing is a nice illusion but also looks a little cheap. You know, like the magician who makes it a joke to “accidentally” show his audience occasionally how the trick is done. Actually, it fits Eurovision pretty well, cause the entire song is a show as well. A little issue may be that in the live performance, ZOË (is she Belarussian?) never really seems to reach the power she does in studio, or makes it sound a little angry rather than euphoric. But hey, maybe they can change that! A little sweetness surely won’t hurt between the rather dark Czechia, Cyprus and Estonia, and I give 7/10.

Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave

And now the most impressive one year break of all times. Armenia took a break in 2012 to make a point against Azerbaijan, but came back transformed from by-the-book wouldn’t be missed ethnic pop nation to a modern, serious competitor. They kinda lost track with their genocide commemoration moment totally unpolitical worldwide family reunion last year, but are they back on track in a year with no such historical background?

Wait, who is doing this spoken word intro? It’s not Iveta herself, is it? I adore the fact this devotes almost a third of the song to introduction and stuff that’s not really connected to the song, and I exceptionally like that part. I had a random dislike for this – given my love for Aminata and Justs, I somewhat expected to like it – but it’s slowly getting to me. I still think it’s trying a little too hard and went too far down the noisy route (especially compared to Heartbeat) to be as captivating as the Latvians. Also very important I’d say: This song never seems to breathe. It’s three minutes (or 2:10 rather) of full power, interrupted only by a small ethnic part we have heard multiple times from now by the Armenians. And the title definitely should be #LoveWave.

Then there’s the video, showing a style I love. If they base their staging on it in any way, it’s likely to look really, really good. Well, it probably will anyway cause there’s Iveta on stage, who has lost the Hotness Vote of ESCnation to Francesca of Italy by only one point. Once again Armenia has come up with something that I’d never have expected from them when they announced their one year break in 2012, and that works very well. I like seeing Eurovision opening up to new styles and stuff, but to be honest, LoveWave doesn’t do it for me personally. And that’s why I can only give them a 4/10, but please, Armenia keep trying!

After we’re done with Armenia, we visit two Caucasian neighbours next time together with the stars. Join us again for Israel, Georgia and Azerbaijan!

 

Review Part (Lighthouse) X: France & Croatia

Today, two more nations have to face the wrath of my ears. A nation that won five times which is almost as unbelievable as it is for the UK when you only watch at recent stuff, and a nation who has never won, which is almost as unbelievable. Well, they kind of did win once, in 1989, but that’s not under their name. Welcome to the review court, France and Croatia.

France: Amir – J’ai Cherché

Having watched and listened to every French song since 2006, you really wouldn’t believe that this country has won the contest five times. Even when they seem to be trying, like Kaas in 09, it does sometimes come out well but never sounds anything like a contender. I personally love this very French type of music, but when the only chanson très français to ever have any success is Italy’s “re-debut”, something must be wrong with the French.

Amir’s song is probably the first time the French go for both modern and competent at the same time in a long long time. It’s a very summery, guitar-ish affair, which is of course the way to my heart, but it does it in a clever way. I’m pretty sure that being a not-100%-normal pop song is the best way to success in many years, and this is exactly that. It’s simplistic and accessible enough to be liked by many people – the melody can appeal to pop fans, the acoustic guitar approach is good for the slightly more independent and alternative minded listeners – but it’s remarkable enough to be remembered. And last but definitely not least, J’ai Cherché is insanely catchy.

The reason for this could lay at least partially in the decision of changing from full French to the language mix. While I love the French language and am somewhat fluent in it, it kind of is less instant than English for most of us. I would never place the blame for the recently bad results of France on language, but I am sure it played a role in some cases. And with the French verses they kept a large piece of identity as well. And now my “major” critic: I am overly bugged by the inconsistency of tenses in the song! He’s singing “J’ai cherché” throughout the verses, so he’s clearly singing about the past. But why is is “I’LL BE looking for you” in the chorus??? This is more disturbing than it should be. France has definitely made a comeback here, and this shall be rewarded with 7/10.

Croatia: Nina Kraljic – Lighthouse

The Croatians have one win that was not to their name, dating from 1989 as a crumbling Yugoslavia, and “crumbling” is the description for Croatian victory hopes in the latest time. After six top 10 places in seven attempts in the late 90’s, it just kind of went away until Croatia itself went away for 2014 and 2015. It’s definitely nice to see them back again, and their entry is probably the best received ex-Yugoslav entry this year.

It is kind of nice to see a ballad from this part of the world that doesn’t sound like it for once. But then, if it was from Ireland (which it defintely sounds like), I would probably not enjoy it more than your average balkan ballad. The flute things are definitely quite nice, but they also get a bit annoying quickly. It has some cool details, like that one guitar strum that doesn’t make sense at all but fits the song quite nice, but the overall impression of the thing just isn’t the best. It’s quite repetitive and tends to just flow along without leaving an impression beyond “this is quite okay I guess”, and then explodes into a dramatic sequence where the tone of her voice is oddly annoying.

Now the presentation of this in the embedded video is absolutely gorgeous. While there are some clues this is actually shot in Croatia, it once again looks pretty… Atlantic. I would again have guessed Ireland or maybe northern France if you asked about the scenery. It’s quite weird to have an entry that seems to be showing its roots until you learn it’s actually from an entirely different part of Europe… In the  video above, Nina cannot be seen, and while that’s a little mean I think that’s not a bad thing. I think her voice totally doesn’t fit what you’d expect when you see her – which is fine, just another element in a row of things that don’t really fit together in this entry. And while I like the hair, she is not exactly the definition of looking charming or so, which I somewhat expect in this song when I heard it first. To be honest, I wouldn’t really wanna meet her in the dark. Well, that shouldn’t really be a reason to deduct points. There are enough others though, which is why I only give 5/10.

See you next time, with some far away love and the only entirely non-English review episode in this year: Bosnia & Herzegovina and Austria!

 

Preview IX: Bulgaria & Lithuania

I didn’t expect that to happen, but it did: We have two returners meeting up for today’s round of review. Ninth episode of Music for Europe vs. Eurovision features a Lithuanian whose first appearance featured a blindfold and a Bulgarian whose first appearance featured Bulgarian and one of the better haircuts of Eurovision. Please welcome the country of drums and water and the country of the world’s most complicated and long NF system: Bulgaria and Lithuania!

Bulgaria: Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime

To this day, Na Inat is by far my favourite Bulgarian entry despite my recent appreciation of Water. So of course I was excited to hear they’re back with Poli Genova, and of course my expectations for her were high. The awesomeness of her hair is still the same (or even improved) so I was optimistic.

Ugh. It’s not love that’s a crime, it’s crushing the hopes of this poor writer in such a way that is. Look, I am all for changing up your style and can very well understand why she’d want to, but whenever I heard her performing the two back to back I can’t help but find If Love Was A Crime remarkably overshadowed by her first try. Which is a pity, because it’s not a bad song in its own right. But I am the Eurovision household’s guitar boy after all. This is way too electronic, too pop, too tame, too conventional to catch my attention, and it won’t be saved by a line of Bulgarian or the (unbelievably effective) short sounds in the background. Overall, it’s incredibly effectively and well produced and pretty surely the most competent and professional Bulgarian entry ever. But that’s exactly part of why I prefer Na Inat. It lost the rebellious individualist soul that was there back then.

Even the lyrics and the visuals sorta grew up. Away with the youth rebelliousness of “Fuck the bad signs I’m gonna make it to the top”, here comes three minutes of singing about love. Again, it’s super well done, there’s nothing to criticize, but to me who loves a good share of rebellion, it leaves a big load of disappointment as well. And I know this is very unfair – it’s not as if this was bad, and I comparte it to one of my favourites – but she set the bar so high herself. I may not be the target group though, and she’s clearly aiming for success. And not bad so. I will honour that with 6/10.

Lithuania: Donny Montell – I’ve Been Waiting For This Night

Lithuania has been lagging behind the other two Baltics lately, sometimes justified and sometimes not. But generally they tend to be a bit more boring and conservative, breaking that up only occasionally (hello, Vilija!) – it’s the Denmark of the Baltics so to say. And this year they tried to live up to the expectation, one could think. Even the eternally long NF was not too exciting anymore. Did it at least produce something good?

Oh my, they were confident with this huh? Shooting the video in Stockholm and all that. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but it looks like Donny will pay a lot for that night by the looks of this girl he meets, doesn’t he? I mean, a girl who is not wearing pants smoking outside a bar in an empty street all alone and acting like that with a guy she just met. It raises suspicions. It does give a totally new meaning to Love is Blind though, I guess.

Musically, there’s not really anything to say, is there? I assume he was only filming it in Stockholm cause he needed to go there and pick up the song after all. It’s about the most Swedish thing possible apart from a bunch of köttbullar and crispbread in a IKEA shelf painted blue and yellow. This is a typical case of something that will look (and do) great in a lower budget NF just because it got an actual production and someone who can sing enough to not make it painful but will fall right on his never-smiling face in May. About the same trap Switzerland keeps walking into. I kind of wanna be harsh, but it doesn’t even let you do that. And thats why it saves itself 4/10 points.

That concludes the returner night. Be back next time when I am looking for a Lighthouse with France and Croatia!

Review Part VIII: Norway & Sweden

We move up north, to the must successful area of the last years. Today’s review combines nine victories and the three highest point totals of all times, but also a total of 13 last places – eleven of which for the same country, the rather unlucky Norway. Can they improve their already impressive stats or will the Nordics have to give up their recent superiority?

Norway: Agnete – Icebreaker

Let’s start with what is probably the most hit-and-miss nation of Scandinavia. Norway has had good and bad result strings, and despite their record of eleven last places they never managed two of them in a row. Despite their not really constant effort, the semifinals are not a common trap for Norway. They have only failed twice to qualify, but more than enough, not much was there to follow the qualification.

I found it hard to hear at first because the overall style and vibe of the song is quite different to me, but the first verse is basically Euphoria’s backing track. Which would totally be a good attempt, and promises a good song. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. There have been multiple complaints about the tempo change, but I am not disturbed by it. I am disturbed by multiple other things, such as Agnete only partially reacting to the changes in the beat. There is a nice buildup in… not speed per se, probably rather intensity, between the first and second verse, but you wouldn’t notice in her singing. Even the more powerful chorus feels as if she just speeds up and sings louder, but never breaks the ice (see what I did there?).

And then there’s the performance, which is simply unintentionally hilarious. While the weird dancer in that… thing goas crazy, steam goes off and everything is trying to be energetic in the chorus, we have Agnete walking around like she just doesn’t care. If you just saw the performance, you’d assume it’s Azerbaijan or Ukraine or so, and that we’re in 2006. Which would also explain why her dress looks like it’s made of paper. I don’t know how a staging with such a structure and effort can look so cheap, and why they did bother to put it all up if it’s so much “been there, done that”. It kinda fits the song I guess… which gets 3/10.

Sweden: Frans – If I Were Sorry

The hosts are here! Last time they hosted, they chose a very normal looking young man who sang a midtempo love song, which was a very nice effort but not anything else. For Sweden, it was a little underwhelming actually. Some may say the same about Frans, who is not really what you have in mind when you think about Sweden and Eurovision – a very normal looking young man who sings a midtempo… breakup song?

When I watch the video, I instantly have guitars in my mind, so I am regularly surprised to notice that for the majority of the song, there is actually not a guitar. The sound, especially the instruments chosen, have a nice summery feeling to me and a little deep house vibe. It sounds like something waiting to be remixed by Robin Schulz, and that’s generally not bad. It’s very modern in a different way than the Baltic futurists, something that sounds urban and a little hipsterish even, judging by Eurovision standards. The “broken” melody is a very nice change in a sea of vocal showoffs, and is needed, cause frankly Frans isn’t the person for vocal showoffs.

His singing is pleasant and fits the song, but there are a few dropped notes whenever I hear the song. In his defense, though, I am covering the song on guitar and it is a lot more difficult than it looks like on the first view. The staging they used in MF is really effective too as it’s basically a non-staging apart from the backdrop. And I love how they don’t make you look at the backdrop with the words and symbols, it’s just kind of there. Big thumbs up for yet another understated sweet home entry from the Swedes. You know you’re good when you don’t have to “use” your home entries for a big one, and I appreciate that with a good 7/10.

We’ll be picking up speed now to get things done before the first semi, and next time – likely tomorrow – is a night I’ve been waiting for, cause we’ll finally learn what would happen if love was a crime. Stay tuned for Bulgaria and Lithuania!

Review Part VII: San Marino & Czechia

Tonight we got two countries that have not always got what they deserved. One of them qualified when it really shouldn’t have, the other didn’t when it should have multiple times. Of course, that’s only my opinion that will be heavily contested – I can guarantee you that if Czech Republic Czechia is named as a multiply robbed country. But first we move to another rather unsuccessful country.

San Marino: Serhat – I Didn’t Know

San Marino’s biggest recent success has likely been liberation of the reign of Mr. Ralph Siegel’s iron fist rule over the country’s Eurovision effort, giving us the triple Valentina Monetta (who I am still convinced used to work as a camgirl based on her first song’s lyrics – “Now I’m gonna see my friends / goodbye network fans” in combination with “do you wanna play cybersex again?”) and the best description for most Sammarinese entries – “NO!”

So, everyone seems to have that down as the dire catastrophe we have come to expect from San Marino (rightfully so usually). But in this case, I’d say it is also a little bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. I am (unfortunately) aware of the older version of this, which was true Sammarinese terribleness, but they have done quite the revamp! This is basically Turkey, and given by the sound playing in my local Döner stands, the Turkish music scene lags about 10-20 years behind the Western European. Which makes this a perfectly well retro thing. And Serhat is probably old enough to have experienced disco first hand.

Unfortunately, he never really gave a convincing performance that I’d know of. Which is probably gonna be a handicap. Or rather definitely is gonna be a handicap… along with the fact that Serhat looks distinctively unlikeable. To me, this man oozes arrogance in a “I paid for this stage, this entry, this country” way which is probably part of the act, yet still not very inviting. Nor does he look good. And the lyrics still confuse me. “I didn’t know that you’re freezing the time”? Well, San Turkey kind of avoided a total failure like last year – which was still enough to beat Switzerland – here, but this is usually staying far far away from qualifying. A little reward for the disco effort included, I give 4/10.

Czechia: Gabriela Guncikova – I Stand

The next nation to come up has been so nice to conveniently shortening its name from Czech Republic to Czechia in time for this review. Thank you very much for that, you’re making my job a lot easier! As Czech Republic, this country provided two or three favourites for me. Mala Dama and Hope Never Dies (pretty well describing my love life together, incidentally) have definitely achieved this status, and then there’s the guilty pleasure Aven Romale, undeservedly getting zero back in 2009. So how does Czechia fare?

Gabriela Guncikova is providing us with another ballad, once again rather athmospheric but not as dark as the Vaclav/Marta combination of last year. This is, as expected, causing me to like it a bit less, but I am not entirely representative in terms of ballads sung by female solo singers. Actually this is very well produced I’d say. It got a nice sound that I like despite the thing being out of my genre preferences. Far out. The bassline, as Overthinking Eurovision nicely pointed out, is beyond uninteresting though. Seriously. That thing bores me to death if there wasn’t a voice over it.

For a vocal showoff, Gabriela is probably the right singer, even though I have no idea how she will hold up in a live setting. But she gives the impression she could pull off a song. Visually, I doubt the Czechs could fuck this up at all. For this kind of song, the singer tends to be the main element of the staging, and Gabriela’s definitely a looker. As are some of the graphics in the video. The main critic point here – apart from me just not being too fond of the genre – are the uninspired generic ballad lyrics. I will hold back from writing them down, cause she makes sure to sing everything often enough so that you understand it all. With a bonus point for the voice – 5/10.

Next time, we visit two Nordics. Should you need an icebreaker, you can always talk about what you’d do if you were sorry. Damn, that was a terrible word play. But I’m not sorry. Come back next time for Norway and Sweden!

 

Review Part VI: Latvia & Belarus

Welcome to the sixth part of this review series! After two combinations of East and West, we return to a purely ex-Soviet duo today. What won’t change, however, is that we match a winner to a non-winner. So we have the land of the Beaver and the land of the complicated NF’s for you tonight – make some noise for Latvia and Belarus!

Latvia: Justs – Heartbeat

Latvia used to be my pet country that nobody understood how I can even stand their stuff, let alone like it. Nevertheless, if I had to choose a series of entries of one countries, I may go for Probka, What For?, Angel In Disguise. Last year, the Latvians suddenly returned to the good side for fans and general public as well, so what would have made more sense than let Latvia’s saviour Aminata return this year as a songwriter?

Aminata’s handwriting is all over this, and the beginning of it is so deliciously showing it that it’s not even fun. There’s not really a lot of music, but what is there is used very, very effectively. Little sounds that fall into the right place in the rhythm as if they were there just by coincidence. This noise that washes through the back of the room. The way the drums are almost lacking for the first bars but you somehow don’t even notice if you don’t listen to it. It’s one of the rare cases I wish I had a karaoke version here. And then, on the top of it, Justs’s voice. It’s not classically beautiful, but it’s captivating, and if he’s missing notes, it’s in a way that doesn’t hurt. Purely from the vibe of it, the feeling it gives me, I love this song already.

Now Latvia has changed to the Supernova format which has the advantage that, compared to other countries, we get quite a finished package to judge. And the stage does kind of remind me of Aminata’s as well, the whole thing just oozes her style. Definitely a good thing. Again, lots of red and white, no props, just Justs and lights. Which is a really great concept in its simplicity, and definitely works. I can totally see this working on the bigger stage in Stockholm too, and it’s one of the songs where I am very curious on the staging. Judging by Aminata’s recent success, this should definitely do well, and I hope it does because I love it. Feeling generous today, so there you go, Latvia: 9/10.

Belarus: IVAN – Help You Fly

When I started getting into ESC, Belarus got a rather good result with a Kirkorov song and a male Lady Di. Later on, this is the nation that gave us Anastasia Vinnikova, TEO (notice how weirdly fund of caps they are?) and Eyes That Never Lie, for which I will always be thankful. However, there was also 3+2 and Hasta La Vista, which are harder to apologize. And finally, last year they had a cool video which they completely didn’t translate to their staging. How about this year?

This year, they took the route that apparently every Eastern country takes when they don’t know where to go (Moldova?) and turned to cheap dance music that sounds like straight from 2003. However, that is not always a bad thing, and there is some stuff in the song which is at least acceptable, like the little melody things in the background which I am a sucker for. And then there is the overall fun & dance factor, always important at Eurovision, which Help You Fly is very good in. So, unlike Moldova, there is actually some good stuff hidden in it. But it is truly hidden, mainly by IVAN’s performance which oscillates between not exactly perfect and downright bad.

Which is also a good way to describe Belarus’s staging. The wolf backdrop has nothing to do with the song, but does look awesome (not exactly perfect). And then there’s IVAN, who looks rather ridiculous – especially with the mysterious approach they took in the beginning – and his movements (downright bad). To top it off, the Belarussians decided that they had spent too much time without being weird and added plans about performing with living wolves and without clothes, while the other way round would definitely have been much better. Also, if he really is to perform naked, “It’s time to release yourself before you can let go/I will help you learn how to fly” sounds even worse than it already does. I fear Belarus is butchering this one at least as bad as last year’s, which is actually a pity. But I’m here to judge it all, so no more than 3/10 (that’d be 4 if IVAN could get the whole song on-key for once).

That’s it for today. As always, hopefully you enjoyed it – let me know here or on twitter/ESCnation/by postcard/yelling at my house… or join again next time when I have to tell you I didn’t know if I stand. It’ll be time for San Marino and the Czech Republic Czechia!