Monday, 6 April 2015

Party for one: Eurovision 2015 first listen

Clear the diary.  Turn off the phone.

It's time to dive into this year's Eurovision pool and see what acoustic delights will wash over me.

I've got the songs loaded on my iPod and ready to roar (strap yourselves in neighbours as there's 40 songs).

Apart from Australia's Guy Sebastian, I haven't seen any of the artists so my thoughts are purely based on how the song sounds.

Of course, the performance on the night has the power to make a good song great (and vice versa), but until then, the songs are all we have.

Are you ready?  Here we go!

This year's themes:
1.  A little bit folk / a little bit country
Put away the costume reveals and power down the wind machines during the songs by Cyprus, Hungary and Belarus

2.  About time
Switzerland, Belarus and Lithuania have their eyes on the clock

3.  A trip to the theatre
Some very musical-sounding numbers from San Marino, Norway, Armenia and the Czech Republic

4.  Twice as nice
The male/female duo is back on the Eurovision stage, care of the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Estonia, the UK and Norway

5.  Life is a battlefield
War is on the mind of Hungary, Georgia, France and Malta

My picks
I'm torn about this year's favourite as it's such a diverse crop of songs.  At one end of the spectrum there's some pure pop songs, all the way through to punk and rock.  Amid this indecision, I've selected my top five (The A Squad) and my next top five (The B Squad).

Australia is one of my favourites but as I won't be able to vote for it, I've put it to the side.

The A Squad

The B Squad

The Nitty Gritty
Here's my first thoughts on songs as they randomly played:

AUSTRALIA:  "Tonight Again" by Guy Sebastian
This will no doubt sound very biased, but Guy's soulful and upbeat song is a standout among this year's more sombre, reflective and folk offerings from Europe.   His decision not to go with a ballad could prove a winner... but what will the rest of Europe think?

BELARUS:  "Time" by Uzari and Maimuna
Not a bad entry by Belarus (certainly a step up from its "I love Belarus" entry of a few years ago!).   Violinist Maimuna adds a folk feel to this otherwise standard pop song and she could add an extra dimension to the live performance.

AUSTRIA:  "I Am Yours" by The Makemakes
Pity the person(s) that have to follow in Conchita's footsteps.  Austrian pop rock band The Makemakes has been selected for the task.  It's a solid effort, but we're unlikely to be back in Austria in 2016.

ESTONIA:  "Goodbye to Yesterday" by Elina Born and Stig Rasta
After a slow start, this song gets kicking along and tells the story of two lovers the morning after.  The male-female combo is a reminiscent of last year's The Common Linnets from The Netherlands.   This will do well on the night.

POLAND:  "In the Name of Love" by Monika Kuszynska
Departing from last year's big breasted milk maids churning butter, Poland presents us with a traditional love ballad.  Nice enough but could be easily forgettable on the night.

BELGIUM:  "Rhythm Inside" by Loic Nottet
This beat-driven Belgian offering has potential.   Hey, at least it's not a durgy love song.   Sounds fresh and could put on a good show on the night.

ROMANIA:  "De La Capat" (All Over Again) by Voltaj 
I'm always impressed when countries offer a song in their native tongue.  There was a bit of controversy around this one as the band originally planned to sing the English version of this song but local outcry prompted a compromise with the Romanian/English version.   It's a pretty song and should do well.

SLOVENIA:  "Here For You" by Maraaya
A boppy ditty that comes with a side serve of soul.  I like.

DENMARK:  "The Way You Are" by Anti Social Media
I get a One Direction / The Monkeys / Partridge Family vibe listening to this tune.  There's a '60s pop rock jauntiness that's very listenable and catchy.   Once again, in a year where "feel good" songs are few and far between, this could really stand out.

THE NETHERLANDS:  "Walk Along" by Trijntje Oosterhuis
A strong song about unrequited love from The Netherlands.  Thankfully not a dreary offering, but could really come alive on the Eurovision stage.

ITALY:  "Grande Amore" by Il Volo
Three young guys singing popera; Italy's aiming straight for Europe's voting heart with this dramatic-sounding song.   It should do well if the harmonies work on the night.

GERMANY:  "Black Smoke" by Ann Sophie
Ann sounds very Paloma Faith / Amy Winehouse in this cool track.   I really like it.  Interestingly the artist who original won the title to represent Germany this year pulled out, leaving Ann with the job.

RUSSIA:  "A Million Voices" by Polina Gagarina
For a "We are the world"-type song, this is a pretty good offering.   Polina sounds really strong and the pretty melody and lyrics wouldn't be out of place at an Olympic opening ceremony.   But how will Europe feel about a Russian entry singing about love, peace and unity?

SAN MARINO:  "Chain of Light" by Michele Perniola & Anita Simoncini
I initially thought my iPod had skipped onto a soundtrack from a musical.  This song has a very theatrical feel to it at the start, before transitioning into a '80s pop song.   It's not the best.

CZECH REPUBLIC:  "Hope Never Dies" by Marta Jandova & Vaclav Noid Barta
Ok.  So I had to double check I wasn't listening to a musical rather than Eurovision.   Vaclav has quite the gravelly voice and the song never seems to get going.  Shame as this is only the fourth ever Eurovision outing for the Czech Republic and the first time they've competed in the contest in six years.

PORTUGAL:  "Ha Um Mar Que Nos Separa" (A Sea That Separates Us) by Leonor Andrade
Non-English songs can still be catchy and capture the audience's attention.  Sadly this is not one of those songs.   You almost tune out as you listen.   Perhaps this is the song you pop to the bathroom during?

IRELAND:  "Playing With Numbers" by Molly Sterling
A sweet song from Molly and nice to see Ireland not going crazy (Jedward) or uber traditional (cue the fiddles).

MACEDONIA:  "Autumn Leaves" by Daniel Kajmakoski
A strong entry about a broken heart from Macedonia that should do well.

SERBIA:  "Beauty Never Lies"  by Bojana Stamenov
I feel a costume reveal coming on.  This self-affirmation song starts slow, but then a '90s' techno beat strikes up and I'm sure a wind machine will.   This seems one of the few dance entries this year.

ALBANIA:  "I'm Alive" by Elhaida Dani
A powerful and passionate entry from Albania.  It's a good one.

Eurovision 2014 winner Conchita

UK:  "Still In Love With You" By Electro Velvet
A kind of electric jazz,  it's an inoffensive and uptempo song but unlikely to deliver the return of Eurovision to the UK.

ICELAND:  "Unbroken" by Maria Olafsdottir
Iceland has given us great entries for a couple of years and this song doesn't disappoint.  I can imagine this being a Taylor Swift song.  With strong lyrics and a powerful melody, it could be propelled into the winner's position.

HUNGARY:  "Wars For Nothing" by Boggie
I feel there should be an apostrophe before the "s" but this seems to be how the band has lodged the song.  It's a melodic folk song - the kind you would sing during a candlelight vigil somewhere - but I'm not sure it's going to set the Eurovision stage on fire and could just be seen as a little preachy.

SWEDEN: "Heroes" by Mans Zelmerlow
I'm normally a big fan of Sweden as they always deliver great pop songs (hello Loreen!), but this year's entry leaves me a little cold.   The verse sounds country, but the chorus is more athematic.  Maybe I'll warm to it with a live performance?

NORWAY: "A Monster Like Me" by Morland and Debrah Scarlett
Another song that would fit in on the West End stage.  This is quite a pretty song about being unworthy of each other's love.  Starts of slowly, but has a powerful finish.

ISRAEL:  "Golden Boy" by Nadav Guedj
I don't like this song.  It starts off ok with soulful wailing about having a broken heart.  But then it somehow evolves into a Kanye West / Bollywood standard.  Pass.

MOLDOVA:  "I Want Your Love" by Eduard Romanyuta
A decent pop song that would have done well in the late '90s/early '00s.  However, I suspect it's the kind you forget as soon as the track ends.  Still, it should provide some light relief on the night.

AZERBAIJAN:  "Hour of the Wolf" by Elnur Hseynov
Does Azerbaijan sink most of it's national budget into Eurovision?  Probably.  Still, it works.  I love this song.  It's a soaring, contemporary ballad that has a strong melody and could really pack a punch on the night.

CYPRUS:  "One thing I Should Have Done" by John Karagiannis
A simple and sweet song about love regret.   Being accompanied only by a guitar gives the song a folk feel.  People have likened it to Extreme's "More than Words".

LATVIA:  "Love Injected" by Aminata
A little too post modern for me.   Lots of quirky electric sounds, but a lack of lyrics and melody, and an uninteresting chorus makes the three minutes seem longer.  We're unlikely to be in Latvia next year.

Eurovision 2015 stage design

GEORGIA:  "Warrior" by Nina Sublatti
This must be the Eurovision equivalent of turning up to a function in the same outfit; two entrants have songs called "Warrior".   Georgia's entry is pulsating pop, but will the name confusion cost it points?   I wonder what the other one sounds like?

GREECE:  "One Last Breath" by Maria Elena Kiriakou
Let's get the obvious joke out of the way first: this could be a love song or commentary about the Greek economy.   It's a simple ballad that builds momentum, but it's unlikely go anywhere on the night (probably just as well as I'm not sure Greece is ready to fund/host Eurovision).

SWITZERLAND:  "Time to Shine" by Melanie Rene
A solid pop rock entry from Switzerland, complete with an electric guitar solo.  This could do well for Switzerland.

LITHUANIA:  "This Time" by Nokia Linkyte and Vaidas Baumila
This song is growing on me.  It's a rollicking, guitar-centric song about falling in love that could have Europe doing the same with this duo.

MONTENEGO:  "Adio" (Goodbye) by Knez
One of the few non-English songs in this year's pile.  It's a tune that builds but I'm not sure it has a strong enough melody to transgress the language divide.

MALTA:  "Warrior" by Amber
The other song called Warrior.  I think I prefer Georgia's "Warrior", though both seem to be about finding the warrior within.  Amber gets a bit shouty in parts.

ARMENIA:  Face the Shadow" by Genealogy
Lots of voices spring up in this one (including an opera singer it seems) and (again) could be the Act One finale of a musical.  More doesn't necessarily mean better.  I don't like this one so much.

FINLAND:  "Aina Mun Pitaa" (I Aways Have To) by Pertti Kurkan Nimipaivat
Well if you've ever wondered what a Finnish punk band consisting of people with disabilities sounds like, then this song is for you.  It goes for a mere 1.24 minutes and seems to just repeat the title throughout.  I'm all for inclusion, but at the end of the night the song needs to stand up on its own.  Nope.

SPAIN:  "Amanecer" (Break of Day) by Edurne
This quickly builds from a fairly dreary start to solid and racing tune, sung in Spanish.

FRANCE:  "N'oubliez pas" (Don't Forget) by Lisa Angell
A good entry from France, sung entirely in French.   Lisa's soulful voice carries the simple tune about rebuilding our lives after war.  It takes on more significance after the events in Paris during the past year.