Welcome to another week of barely-controlled Eurovision madness!
The clock is loudly ticking down to Eurovision (with an occasional unexpected key change and the odd pyrotechnic burst from the clock face… oh and is that a Ukrainian grandmother popping out of the time keeping piece on the hour every hour, a limp broken cuckoo in her hand?) and I’m as excited as an Eastern Eurpoean boy band about to step it up a gear in their onstage performance. Yes that excited!
But it’s not just me, my friends. Oh no. You see, people all across Europe have been gathering at a succession of preview parties, some big some small, all, quite naturally fabulous, scattered across Europe, where they get to meet some of the artists performing this year and listen to their songs (for which they will need, if they truly want to enjoy the experience, a decent brand of sound-reducing headphones for every two songs in three).
The parties kicked off on the 21 April when 23 of Eurovision’s class of 2012 fronted up in Amsterdam for the “Eurovision in Concert” event, where 1350 screamed and cheered (and occasionally reached for their ears). It was followed by events in London – a little smaller with just 300 loyal Eurovision disciples throwing glitter to the wind and greeting seven of this year’s music god and goddesses and even some former entrants, no doubt happy to have more moment in the spotlight – and Israel where fans mets San Marino’s Valentina Monetta and Israel’s entrant, Izabo.
Given the ever diminishing size of these events, I am guessing that the preview party that followed Israel’s would have featured a former entrant from 1973 and the janitor who cleans the Crystal Hall in Baku?
But I digress. It’s time to review this week’s crop of Eurovision wanna-be stars and sort the spandex clad wheat from the chaff…
LATVIA: “Beautiful Song” – Anmary
I thought for one fleeting moment – OK the entire song – that Anmary might topple over in her clip from the weight of all those tickets on herself. You could never accuse this blond popette of a cringing lack of confidence. From the first awkwardly-paced English lyrics, she is readying herself for a lifetime of camera flash-blinding stardom that she seems to expect will commence nanoseconds after she completes her performance. Why possibly even before it begins!
Lyrics like “When I join this grand parade of winners” and “Beautiful song that everybody hums and everybody loves” indicate that she is expecting them to simply stop the contest once she has enthralled with her musical virtuosity – what do you mean you have doubts about it? You are clearly not a believer in this Latvian singers path to world-crushing popularity! Begone with you! – and hand her the Crystal Microphone immediately. I mean when you’re as beautiful and talented and in possession of, like, every musical gift known to man, why wait for the lesser mortals from other countries to do their pitiable thing?
Unless of course that’s not how it plays out. But shhh don’t try to tell Anmary that! She won’t listen anyway. I suspect she will be too busy to hear you as she practises signing her autograph, giggling and mouthing “Who little old me? Why I’m nobody really!” in the mirror while posing for an invisible paparazzi that she no doubt expects will become tangibly real when she wanders from the Crystal Hall into the surrounding streets of Baku which will, of course, be thronging with her fans in a Beiber-like state of frenzy and longing.
Thankfully her quest for global domination of everyone’s ear worms isn’t without some merit. She has been singing for most of her life, and apparently her mother and father were really as supportive as she makes them out to be in the song. She is generally recognised as a very talented singer which at least means that she doesn’t look completely silly when she makes grand claims about becoming a superstar.
The music thankfully is bouncy, warm and oh-so-hummable which compensates for the laughably fame-grasping lyrics and rather stilted delivery. I suspect that Anmary won’t quite bestride the world stage in the way she imagines since the song lacks that elusive x factor that will carry it over the line.
And of course there’s the problem of getting her enormous bobble head through the teeny-tiny doors of just about concert hall in the world so she can perform…
ISRAEL: “Time” – Izabo
This weirdly catchy song is definitive evidence of time travel as far as I’m concerned. Somehow, and I think ripping a great big bell-bottomed hole in the time/space continuum way back to the early 1970s is the only reasonable explanation (who knows what Israel is doing at its secret nuclear research facilities after all), Izabo have managed to compress every quirky moment from the albums of this era into their just under three minutes of pop fun.
Seriously, and I don’t joke about the inherent quirkiness of any Eurovision singer since being absolutely bing-bong bananas is almost a requirement of entry for this contest, the song sounds like an outtake from ABBA’s 1974 Waterloo album, which in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It may not have been ABBA’s finest achievement as albums go but it was packed full of songs that showed Benny and Bjorn were experimenting, and seeing what worked and what didn’t. While some songs manifestly didn’t, they were still fun to listen to.
Now, this must remain totally secret (you know, just like Kim Kardashian’s sex tape) but one of my favourite ABBA songs is “King Kong Song” from the Waterloo album which Izabo’s “Time” channels so well, along with a fair dash of “Nina Pretty Ballerina”, that it’s like it’s been possessed by the Swedish foursome, all of them struggling to fit inside lead singer, Ram Shev-Tov’s agile frame.
Despite all the odds, and Ram’s insistence on wearing a red cravat in the clip (from which no good will come, mark my words), this song is ridiculously catchy and it’s still ricocheting around my brain like silly string shot out of a big plastic clown cannon. Which brings me, rather handily I might add, to the lyrics. References to men in playgrounds and an obsession with clowns which appear in the clip roughly every 2.2 nanoseconds (and possibly more) are slightly creepy and don’t do this band, which is insanely popular in their home country thanks to a heady and appealing mix of psychedelic punk, disco and Arab influences, any favours.
But hey, maybe the clowns will stay home when they perform in Baku. And the red cravat. Please let that be left on the coffee table as Ram rushes for the door to catch his plane…
SLOVENIA: “Verjamem” – Eva Boto
It has become my mission in my life – yes that suddenly thank you; think of it as a glitter-strewn road to Baku moment – to make sure that Eva Boto makes it to the grand final of Eurovision.
And it’s not because her voice is remarkable, a veritable cornucopia of perfectly-struck notes and octave ranges so infinite and vast they make the towering and vast snow-clad mountains in Lord of the Rings that our heroes had to trek through look like a quarter acre block in the suburbs by comparison. In fact, her voice, while strong and powerful, is like so many before it, beautiful but lacking that certain something that sets it apart from a host of diva-wannabes. In fact her weirdly attired backing singers pack a lot more vocal punch than she does, which frankly should be keeping Eva up at night.
And trust me, as I try to rouse myself from the ballad-induced coma I slipped into while listening to her song, it’s not because the song is the song to triumph over all songs. (One Song to Rule Them All – yes there go the LOTR references again. Sorry I should taken my fantasy-referencing inhibiting medication this morning before I left for work.). It is fact yet another by-the-numbers ballad that is earnest, heartfelt (if your yardstick for “heartfelt” is a cookie cutter Hallmark card written by an ageing housewife in Ohio) and prone to vocal pushes that would knock a pro-footballer backwards. Sweet enough, yes, but hardly impressive, and definitely not memorable.
No, the reason I want Eva Boto to romp into the grand final is that she has wacky nun-like backing singers with crazy crumpled netted hats (I swear they just went to Lincraft, grabbed some tulle remnants and super glued them to their heads) who wail at the drop of a chord. So accomplished are they at the “Kate Bush meets Enya and has an IVF baby that howls in perfect time to the melody” school of singing that they tend to overshadow dear Eva. Oh she tries to counter their blissful New Age warbling with a few vocal cuts and thrusts of her own but it is to no avail. The “aah” is strong with these women and I expect them to go on to great things in the years to come while Eva washes dishes in a nice cafe in Ljubljana where she can sing to stray bluebirds coming in through the window.
No wait. The back up singers would do that better too. Sorry Eva…
ALBANIA: “Suus” – Rona Nishliu
So much anguish dear Rona. So much pain. I kept expecting her to burst into tears on stage and confess what has upset her so to the audience so they engage in a group therapy session on national television.
Alas nothing that exciting happens. We also don’t get a wild-haired Freud impersonator rushing on stage to join her in the hour of musical need and talk her through the sadness that hangs off every note like day old jelly from a bowl. It could be the lack of a couch anywhere on stage which may well be remedied when she performs in Baku.
No, what we get instead from a woman who hands down has the most funky hairstyle of anyone in the competition – they should give out douze points for the most impressive piece of coiffure starting this year; forget the singing, let’s give kudos to those lustrous reggae locks – is an admittedly beautiful but unspectacular song that eventually limps off into the shadows where it dies a long, slow and vocally painful death.
The one thing Rona, who is a Kosovo-born Albanian national (by decree of the president no less) does have, besides awesomely impressive hair, is a powerful, perfectly modulated voice. She barely puts a foot wrong at any point in this song and for that she should be applauded given the number of singers with aspirations to Eurovision glory who couldn’t stay on key if you gave them some super glue with which to affix themselves. Rona needs no such such help, and her voice hugs each and every vocal curve with the ardour of a lover.
It’s just a pity that the song is so depressing even emotionally well-adjusted people want to kill themselves after listening to it.
PORTUGAL: “Vida Minha” – Filipa Sousa
This lady has manage to bottle the atmosphere of a sultry late night smoke-filled cabaret club, drink it in and channel through her striking voice. Yes, yes I know smoking is not good for you, and frankly if she keeps trying to capture the feel of those nightclubs, she may well end up in an oncology ward, very tired and a spinster since how many men of marriageable age are hanging out in these sorts of clubs that she can marry (if you get my drift and let’s just say you do, shall we?).
But she should keep doing for at least a little while longer because she manages to take the sort of song you wouldn’t notice if it walked past you in high heels and red fishnet stockings and little else (OK you may notice that but you get my point; again let’s just say you do) and make it rich and engaging. Her voice may not be the most technically proficient we’ve seen but it has character which infuses this song with way more memorability than it has any right to on its own.
I am also excited by the fact that this singer, who won, I’m told, the “Grande Noite de Fado in Algarve in 2008, which must have made her parents very proud (no I have no idea what it is but she won it damn it and that should be enough for you I think) has decided to resurrect the lost art of Synchronised Backing Singers. The three men and two women stand in perfect formation behind her singing their hearts out with all the fervour and passion of notaries public, barely breaking a sweat or a smile, daring you to make them step out of line. You would fail at any attempt to do so – fail I tell you! – because their resolve to provide the most exquisitely well formed back up singing formation in the history of Eurovision is unbreakable, and I dare say they are standing there still in the darkened studio while Filipa rests her weary body at home in the bath.
Throw in a stray ballerina in white twirled around by a grimly resolved man in a white tuxedo and you have the sort of stage show that should have them throwing douze points around like confetti at a 1950s wedding.
Failing that, she should just point to the Synchronised Backing Singers. They’re worth douze points all by themselves and Filipa could just stay home and take another nice long bath.
MALTA: “This is the Night” – Kurt Calleja
I need to be clear up front. I like a man in a suit. OK scratch that, I love a man in suit. (Rather like Paris Hilton likes being famous, which let’s face it, is a LOT.)
Which of course means that this handsome man, who is resplendent in ties or bow ties pretty much all the time – I imagine him in a bow tie accessorised set of pyjamas…and then of course not in them (but this is a family blog so I shall go no further with that particular line of thought) – has my douze points before he even opens his mouth.
So what a great pleasure it is then that his voice is not a crushing disappointment, the kind of letdown that would have crushed my nascent belief that on Malta all the men are divinely handsome and sing like bearded angels with effervescent snappily-dressed friends who smile a ridiculous amount and break into song and song at the drop of a loose bow tie.
Clearly this is what all men on Malta do and why not? It’s very appealing. What isn’t appealing unless you’re a dairy farmer and want your product consumed by as many people in Europe as possible, is the amount of cheese that Kurt has managed to stuff into this pocket rocket of a pop song. He’s like the musical equivalent of a Pizza Hut employee rushing to meet, no exceed, some sort of imaginary quota for the amount of dairy product shovelled into a piece of Italian-derived food. We’re talking serious amounts of 80s inspired cheesy dance music here, and while the song is catchy, it never moves out of the retro musical dairy cabinet, and frankly I am not sure my heart can take all that cholesterol.
Full marks to Kurt for triumphing and winning the right to represent his country after failed attempts in 2010 and 2011, but frankly if this is the best he can cook up (the food allusions continue apace people!) then maybe a job at Pizza Hut may be the best option.
Unless of course he wants to model suits for me in which case I say “Pizza Hut! Hands off”!
So what’s your Eurovision poison this week? Near catatonic backup singers or enough cheese to sink a Pizza Hut franchise? Love to hear your thoughts, set to an 80s beat if possible.