Thursday 23 March 2017

Italy 2017 - Francesco Gabbani - The Occidentali's Karma Dance

This is excellent. You may have been looking at the complex series of dance steps that the boy Gabbani is enacting throughout his hit tune and wondered to yourself: "How can I pull off those moves without looking like a lead-footed idiot?" I know we were! So why not get the lad himself, along with his more talented monkey mate, to show you how!

It's all here in video form as our teachers lead us through the wavy-wavy-leg-uppy dance in a simple step-by-step guide. You'll be dancing like the pros in minutes, and can show off your skills to your friends and family on the big night. You'll be the prince or princess of the party!

All larking aside, this good-humoured skit is just another reason why we reckon the Italian delegation is going to be terrific value in Kiev. Francesco's easy charm just oozes through the screen, and I was hanging on his every word - even though I speak next to no Italian at all. Win or lose on the big night, I think we've got ourselves a Eurovision star - and dance - who's going to live on in the memory for a very long time!

Monday 20 March 2017

Germany 2017 - Helene Nissen - Folsom Prison Blues

We've been thinking long and hard about what the strangest and most unsettling of all the thousands songs that we've made ourselves listen to this season, and there were so many valid contenders. It could easily have been Romania's Dorel Giurgiu and his curious Christian techno shuffle, or perhaps Tosca Beat from Slovenia with their terrifying martial dystopia. Of course our old Moldovan pal Sasha Bognibov is always in with a shout, although the inappropriate sexual pawing from Ukraine's Alex Angel gave him a good run for his money. But no, the thing that troubled us most from one of the strangest national final seasons we've ever seen was this dark little oddity.

Now on the face of it this was nothing more than a familiar happy-go-lucky singalong shuffle that fitted perfectly on an early evening light entertainment show. But look deeper into the lyric. This is a song about an unrepentant cold blooded murderer spending the rest of his days rotting in one of America's most notoriously dangerous men's prison. So to hear a perky little teenage girl in big old glasses and a bouncy ponytail happily squeak out the song's signature line: "Well I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" just didn't quite sit right.

So what's she going to cover next? NWA's Fuck Da Police? Nagasaki Nightmare by Crass? The entire GG Allin back catalogue? It might seem like a delightful little piece of innocent fluff to you, but it creeps us right out every time we hear it. It's just not right, I tell you!

Saturday 18 March 2017

Armenia 2017 - Artsvik - Fly With Me

So we're all in safely, as Armenia has finally revealed. But after keeping us waitng for so long, was it really worth the wait? Well kinda. For this a curious confection to be sure. The twenty-odd second teaser that they gave us last week hinted that it would pick up massively once we'd taken a trip through the lady's hair pipe - but no!

Instead it goes the other was and chills incredibly, all the while punding out an insistant Eastern beat, enmbroidered throughout with a lilting suggestion of a melody. And it's great. It's moody, smart, and just a little bit lustful, and I can imagine this as the beautful light relief in the middle of an album full of techno bangers. But is it really Eurovision?

Hmm, we're not too sure. Because for all it's art and allure, is anybody going to get it on showbizzy Spring Saturday night? Are even the juries going to become infected by its charms when it's surrounded by apes and yodelling and topless men? We're really not sure at all, and fear that it's one of those classy songs that just passes people by. What whatever anybody thinks of it. That's one of the most beautifully shot videos we've ever seen at this contest. Not that this will get you very far on the big night, of course.

Monday 13 March 2017

Bulgaria 2017 - Kristian Kostov - Beautiful Mess

So the rumours were true. After weeks of really hoping that it was going to be Gery-Nikol, the initial rumours that Bulgaria had picked the first Eurovision performer to be born in the 2000s panned out, and here we are. Ireland really thought they'd have the tiny lad vote sewn up, but compared to Kristian here Brendan Murray looks positively middle aged!

And the song is pretty much what we were suspecting, in that it's another slice of the pleasing Eastern Beiber plod pop that he's been having such success with back home. But is it a winner?

Well his youthful gap toothed charm will doubtless corner the nans and grandaughters corner, and ther may indeed be some specialist grown up markets who are faithful to his look. But we're not sure that it'll reach much further than top ten unless he offers up a quite devastating live show. So whoever that was who lumped a massive wad on him to win on one of the betting exchanges about an hour ago might be in for a disppointing May. Still, it's futher good progress for an ever improving Bulgaria.

It's decent, but like so many others this year, no world beater. So does anyone want to win this bleeding thing?

Norway 2017 - Amina Sewali - Mesterverk

Now here was an unexpected little gem. On audio alone this song passed us by. Well, it was a bit rambling, and never really picked up into any kind of recognisable chorus. A good chance for a toilet break on a long and complicated night of national finals, I figured. And I wasn't even particularly sold at the start of the performance, but then somehow it crept under my skin and I just couldn't take my eyes off it.

So, picture this scene. A beautiful girl child is messing about on a desk with a paintbrush, while her older self in the same frock sings in the background as if it was some kind of memory from her youth. Then the mini-me leaps into the singer's world, and the two dance and laugh and interact, before the lit'lun gets the paints out and starts to make a terrible mess on the floor.

Now this might all sound a bit playschool toytown, but as the performance went on it became sweeter and more utterly charming. The chemistry between the old and younger selves was clearly apparent, and at times they seem to both forget they were on telly and in a hall full of thousands of observers and just started having a laugh together, and I think that's what got to me the most.

If they could charm my cynical old seen-it-all bones in such a delightful way at the end of a long and punishing national finals season, well, they must have done something right!

Sunday 12 March 2017

Russia 2017 - Julia Samoylova - Flame Is Burning

Russia, you beauties - you played an absolute blinder there! You kept the continent waiting and hanging on your every move. And then, right at the death, you played the finest card of your Eurovision career. With punters and locals already cueing up their booing manouvres, you plucked practically the most unbooable singer on the planet to be your Eurovision entry. Man alive, nobody saw a move that slick coming.

Of course, the song isn't even intended to win. That's not what this move is for. It's the kind of saccharine sweet, whiskers on kittens confection that would make even Disney gag a bit. But to send such a beautiful woman in a wheelchair who'll smile at every single on of us down the telly pipe and make our cold hard hearts melt just a little is surely job done. This is cynical politics done to the very finest level. And do you know what, I'll bet Julia is an absolute delight in Kyiv too!

Of course there's a counter rumour that this song is just a place holder for when they decide to pull out a little nearer the time, so they didn't have to worry about the quality of it. If this is true it'll please Mrs Apocalypse no end, because she put decent money at good odds of Russia winning this year, and she'll get her stake back if they do. But seriously, Russia have won this game already, whether they get the most points or not, or even turn up at all. Because this will go down as one of the great moments in Eurovision game playing of all time.

And it makes you wonder what they've got planned for next year...

San Marino 2017 - Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson - Spirit Of The Night

Just for one moment imagine what it's like to be Valentina Monetta. A few short years ago you were a local jazz singer in a tiny country happy to spend your weekends performing the music you loved to people who really appreciated it. Then by a strange quirk of fate, it turns out that you're the only amenable singer in your entire nation state to taking a chance on Eurovision, and then your life spirals out of control.

There were signs of trouble in paradise last year, when she finally got the hump with everyone talking to her about the contest and kicked us all off her social networks - ironically. But someone must have seriously twisted her arm, because she's back for a fourth go, only this time she's assisted by the journeyman soul singer Jimmie Wilson. And together they're stamping out a rather old fashioned slab of cheesy-assed cruise ship disco for our delight. 

But I'm more concerned about the state of her artistic soul. She's an absolutely lovely woman, and regales us every year at the parties with some great interpretations of the jazz standards. So shouldn't someone, one year, let her sing the music that she really loves on this accursed show, rather than cajoling her into belting out whatever this year's flag-of-convenience song writer points at her?

I genuinely feel for the poor lass. Because who wants to become a pub quiz question in their own lifetime?

United Kingdom 2017 - Lucie Jones - Never Give Up On You

So we were all quite pleased when the winner of the UK show turned out to be actually quite decent, and sung by a capable pair of lungs. But then word of a remodelling started floating about in the air and we all got a little anxious again. Well we've seen in the past songs that we've previously loved being 'improved' to within and inch of their lives. But we should have worried, because last night's Super Saturday reveal delivered us a thing of some sparse beauty.

I'd always been rather fond of the song, ever since I first heard it in demo form back in November. It was sparse and understated, and gave the lyric room to breathe. It was as if it was crafted from fine woods rather than the plastic, tin and neon of many of the other songs. The national final version had stepped up again, replacing EDF's breathy vocal with the more assured larynx of Lucie Jones. But now we've gone up another notch.

Word had got around that this was something of a Massive Attack style makeover, but this is pure London Grammar. Glacial spaces distil into sharp points of cool light, and the heart really pours out of it. At one moment I feared that it was going to step up into a dance tune, but instead it geared down and soothed our fears. But how should it look?

This song just screams for close intimate cameras, simple lighting - just darkness and white, and absolutely no single other soul in camera shot. We need to see Lucie's pain and hope close up, feel her every thought, and live the song with her. This is still probably not a winner of the whole caboodle, as there's some strong stuff on the tariff overall, but if they keep it uncomplicated and sparse this could do very well indeed, and give us a result to be proud of.

Friday 10 March 2017

Montenegro 2017 - Slavko Kalezić - Space

There's a horrible concept in music called guilty pleasures, where snooty people get themselves off the hook for liking something of a low perceived cultural value, thereby saving themselves from being looked down upon by their even snootier mates. It's an idea that's always heavily troubled me.


This one is nudging pretty near the top of my list of songs that I shouldn't really like, but just can't help myself from loving. And if that makes it a guilty pleasure, then so be it!

It's not as if it hasn't got all the ingredients of being an absolute shocker. Its promising trancy intro swiftly shifts back a gear into some kind of mongrel futuro disco, while its lyric makes absolutely no sense at all, littered as it is with screamingly pointless non sequiturs. And then there's the lad himself, all preening and pompous and overtly sexual.

And yet, it's terrific fun, and possibly the most honest and natural sounding of all the up tempo dance tunes of the year. And you just know that he's going to be one heck of a handful in Kiev. I'm sure I'll soon get tired of it, but for now it's exactly the kind of injection of pure fun and nonsense that this contest needed, whatever the critics may think of it.

Ireland 2017 - Brendan Murray - Dying To Try

So Ireland finally got the big reveal on the Nicky Byrne radio show, and I have to say that it's not quite the disaster that it could have been. It starts with some pretty cool atmospherics, before starting to build with some nice clangy guitars, before... well, that's about it really.

Yep, for while it may get a bit noisier, by the time it gets to the chorus it falls back on an old familiar formula where you can guess the next chord two beats before it happens. Which is a shame, because much to my own surprise it held a bit of early promise. It could do alright on the big show though, although I have two grave concerns.

The first is that voice. He's going to have to be bang on in the big hall with a chattering crowd otherwise that could become a horror show of epic proportions. And on top of that, I'm not sure that I really want to hear that squeakiness repeated time after time in a rehearsal situation. And the second? When I initially saw the song's title written down I was sure that it said Trying To Die, and now I can't shift that image out of my head. let's hope it's not an omen, eh!

Thursday 9 March 2017

Israel 2017 - Imri Ziv - I Feel Alive

So if you were a Eurovision artist and your song had to leak the day before your big reveal, which way would you rather it happened? Someone at the label with an itchy trigger finger submitting it to Spotify just a bit too early? The video company forgetting to set the video to Private when they submitted it to YouTube?

Or how about someone filming you recording the video across a car park on a cheap phone while they're chatting all the way through?

As inglorious releases go, this is perhaps the most unsatisfactory of the lot. There you were, going to all the trouble of building up to a big explosion and fun and delight when you finally put it all out to the world in its intended form, when someone gazumps you because the TV company were too tight to hire in some decent security and did the shoot in an incredibly public place. Shorter clips had snuck out over the last few days, but this is the first one that offers us nearly all of the song.

Oh dear. Oh very dear.

But what of the song? It kind of chugs along nicely in an unexciting Club Med kinda fashion, but it's not exactly going to be setting any sort of scoreboard alight in Kiev. Although those extras seem to be having a whale of a time…

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Belgium 2017 - Blanche - City Lights

Belgium, oh Belgium, you've done it again haven't you. You've not had such a rich vein of goodness since the dawn of the eighties, and now you've gone and quite unexpectedly delivered us with another bona fide gem of a song that just cheered up a long walk home in the rain by quite some measure.

This doesn't sound like a song written for Eurovision. This sounds like the song that Mercury nominated band that you haven't got around to hearing yet plays on the awards show. This is the song that appears third on Jools Holland, the song you'd Shazam if you heard it in a bar. It's familiar, yet quite fresh and understated, and sticks in the memory for some time upon a single hearing.

But having said all that, these things don't necessarily count for much in this funny old song contest. It could very easily be jury bait, but it'll all be down to the staging. Keep it too subtle and it could get smothered by the pack when it comes to televoting time. But give it too many on stage MacGuffins and you could kill it stone dead. Vast swathes of people just aren't going to get it, but for me it's one of the coolest and classiest songs we've seen in a long old while.

But I seriously can't call how it's going to do. This is going to be the interesting one to watch.

Romania 2017 - Instinct - Petale

In all the excitement over Yodel It!'s victory and Mihai's smug bubble getting burst all over again, one could very easily have overlooked the song that came in third. But if you've not been lucky enough yet I reckon it's worthy of a few minutes of your attention. But not necessarily for the actual music you'll be hearing.

Yep, it's a concept performance. We know how much you love those. This moody duet began in swathes of mist, with two shadowy figures appearing to wind up the two lead singer. And we don't mean by prodding them with sticks and telling them that their mum hangs round with sailors. No, actually winding them up like a clock. It can't be though, right?

Oh heck, it could be. Look, they're all painted up with random cogs and walking around robotically! (Although to be fair, he's living the role a little more than she is). This could have been brilliant, so what a shame it is that the song was a dry, mechanical plod perhaps a little too apt to the performance. But at least they gave it a try, and it was nice to see at least the merest fumes of a steampunk performance. I think we'll see these kids again.

Monday 6 March 2017

Serbia 2017 - Tijana Bogićević - In Too Deep (Excerpt)

It seems quite the done thing release a little teasy instrumental half-minute this season, to give us a glimpse of the potential drama they're about to unfold on us. The the former Yugos must be clubbing together to go heavy on the larks, to such an extent that even though we've heard the sounds, we have no idea what may actually be about to be revealed.

Croatian Jacques teased us with a near-classy sounding chunk of frantic strings, but we could never have imagined what fevered Disney nonsense was about to unfold. So what of this latest little segment? Well in light of what's been happening these last weeks it's difficult to tell.

But here's what we do no. This dramatic piece of business soars and sweeps, offering much promise. But at the same time it sounds every bit like that music they use on a dodgy Qatari satellite sports channel when they're setting up the week's fixtures. I'm half expecting the words to entirely consist of  Tijana there shouting out "Chooventooze vuzzuz Barky Lunar. Arse Neale vuzzuz Eentire Meelarno. Dees Chewstay." Well as this year is rapidly proving, anything could happen.

Australia 2017 - Isaiah Firebrace - It's Gotta Be You/Don't Come Easy

Our pals Down under finally let us know who they're going to send to the contest this week, and yesterday a massive rumour got going that it was going this young fella. But what are the clues? And why is everybody so sure that it's going to be him? Well the evidence is compelling.

First up, he's on the Sony Music Australia label, and although it's never been explicitly mentioned, it's clear that they have been bankrolling the Aussie Eurovision project so far, as both their acts to date, plus that big old Jessica Mauboy softener the year before have been on their roster, and they seem keen to try to break their top pop acts across Europe.

Next, he's a recent X factor alumnus. In fact he's the current and final champion, so he's riding a head of steam back home, and is more than comfortable in the competition format, despite his tender teenaged years. And to that, as an Indigenous Australian he's well in keeping with his nation's run of non-European, look-we're-not-racist-really contestants, although it would be perhaps a little cynical even for us to suggest that this is the only reason he's in consideration for the slot, as the boy has one heck of a voice in that willowy frame, and the kind of dreamy-eyed floppiness that a lot of viewers would go weak at the knees over.

And then there's the song. There are some folks that are suggesting that it's going to be this bright little plodder - the lead single off his still fresh album, and the song they are most likely to pick to try and launch him overseas. If it is this one, while it's nice enough, I can't see it pulling the momentum to finish much higher than halfway unless he absolutely bosses it on the night. So I guess we've got to hope there's something bit more apt on the album.

Although, hang on… aren't The Veronicas also on Sony…?

****STOP PRESS****

Turns out that we were half right, and so would have got one of those little white pegs in the board game Mastermind. It's the same singer, with almost the same song, only it's a little better produced and has an infinitely more corruptible title. Here it is…

Sunday 5 March 2017

Iceland 2017 - Daði Freyr – Hvað Með það?

The jury's out in Apocalypse Towers for this one. While this gently throbbing electronic number would have been more at some at Latvia's Supernova, it definitely had its charms. But there was just something about the kids' deadpan, "We're mad, us. Look at us be mad!" stage schtick that stuck in our collective craw a little.

Bit then this morning I looked at it again and kinda got it. In a deathly dull Icelandic qualifier series this stood out like a beacon of hope. Despite harbouring the flimsiest of songs, the multiple keytars, matching unfashionable garments, and simple dance arrangements at least looked like they'd put some thought into it.

But I think it was their green room larks that won me over to them. Who would you rather have to muck about with in Kyiv - some dreary stuffed shirts who'll save their precious voices and be tucked up in bed by ten, or some knockabout party kids who look like they'd be up for a hoot. It may not be able to drag its bones out of any semi-final, but it'll be fun to have them there at least.

Saturday 4 March 2017

Iceland 2017 - Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir And Gunnar Hilmarsson - Save All Your Kisses For Me

In what's turning into a disappointingly dull and usual Icelandic selection process, there was one little glimmer of sunshine among the gloom. And if you'd have told me at the start of tonight that the best thing I'd see would be Silvia Night doing a delicate cover of an old UK winner, sat in front of a hillbilly (kinda) string quartet, I'd have laughed in your face - before wondering what that would actually look like.

But in her normal day-by-day guise of the actress Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir she whispered out a performance that could have been cloyingly twee, but somehow managed to sit just the right side of touching, and dare I say it, nice.

After a disappointing night for our faves in the other shows (we lost 0-4 in Sweden and came a heartbreaking second at the Laul), we needed cheering up, but never, ever imagined that would have come from these quarters. It was just a shame about the songs in the actual competition...

Thursday 2 March 2017

Croatia 2017 - Jacques Houdek - My Friend

Oh. My. Days.

We knew this was going to be entertaining, but never imagined that it was going to be quite THIS silly! The simple, classical instrumentation suggested we were in for a bit of a treat, one way or the other. But Wowsers, we've been spoilt!

If you heard the instrumental version that was kicking around a couple of days ago, the light and dark shades hinted that it was more akin to a duet than a single voiced event - and it is… with himself! Seriously! One second he's sugaring it out in a saccharine pop voice, the next belting it out in near operatic tenor. This kind of schtick is easy enough to pull off in the studio. But live? This could be one of the most fun packed car crash events in years. Or he might just pull it off and knock all our socks off. Somehow.

Oh yes, I forgot the spoken intro. A SPOKEN INTRO, I TELL YOU! These things are hard enough to make sound sincere when you're doing them as a one off - so how tired it's going to sound after dozens and dozens of repetitive rehearsals who can say.

Ooh, ooh, and then there's the Frozen bit. Yep, there's a couple of musical phrases within the chorus that sound, show shall we say this delicately, EXACTLY like the main hook to Let It Go. And if not exactly, then there's a run of notes so similar that they've been precision tooled to sound very much like it without being exactly like the song of which it sounds a bit like. Which is some kind of evil genius. If the people among the crowd who aren't fond to his somewhat old fashioned views of sexual preferences want to make a protest, they shouldn't boo - they should all start singing Let It Go en masse when it gets to that bit. It would make the poor lad's head explode.

But really, what were they thinking? With all of it! I still can't work out whether this is dog dirt off a tramp's shoe or one of the most incredible things ever. I think it's a bit of both. I'M BROKEN!

Greece 2017 - Demy - This Is Love

Oh by heck if one of Demy's songs in Greece hasn't leaked and all hell has broken loose. Very late last night a WeTransfer file started being swapped around the darker recesses of the ESC web, before somebody planted it rather unsubtly front of house, and now there's people in a proper tizzy about it.

"It must be banned!" some bleat. "Utter Greek chaos!" other enthuse. "Top three guaranteed!" yet more over excite. But what's it actually like? Well surprisingly, pretty decent. Starting off all ballady and meaningful, it swiftly switches up into a very serviceable Mediterraneo dance pop number, before hitting the strings in a considerably more subtle manner than the Houdek lad. But it's the end that gets you.

Chugging along nicely, you can just sense that the songwriters are looking at their watches. In the real world this would repeat to fade, but we're on a deadline here. So they just bung the most cheesy Eurovision-flavoured end-piece on, and it just stops. The random, cloying we-are-one-world faces that were scattered thoughtlessly throughout the clip would be staring out of the screen in confusion had they been allowed to live that long. But instead we get a longshot of our Demy looking all meaningful sat outside a Ukrainian theatre. You see what they did there! This is Frances Ruffelle in a Union Jack jumper obvious!

If this song is already causing a subtle hoo haa, there's no way that the Greeks are going to bin it off. After all, there are no rules - what is this... a sport?