21 March 2015
All songs rated
It’s that time of the year when the Eurovision national final season has ended and Mr Eurovision can reveal his Fab Five for 2015. It’s been an unusual season with so many countries revealing their songs so late. Even stranger than that, few took advantage of their late schedules to offer a difference to the preponderance of ballads already entered. So much so that 2015 could be permanently known as EBC – the Eurovision Ballad Contest.
Even if there are so many ballads, if they are good songs, so what? Many are actually mid-tempo songs that start slow. When you consider last year the failure of the really good up-tempo songs like Estonia, Israel and FYRM to progress from the semi finals, and the win of Conchita Wurst, it’s little surprise the trend is away from them and favouring more artistic songs.
Unlike other years, the Fab Five picked themselves, especially the first four. Three countries contested for spot 5, which became two countries when Albania changed their song.
Starting with number 5…
5 Greece – Maria-Elena Kyriakou – One Last Breath
Call me a sucker for a nice voice singing a nice song, Greece proved a wonderful surprise by not just having Maria-Elena competing as one of 5 songs in their national final, they actually selected her over the cheap pop songs that Greece more often likes. Better than that, it was unanimous with both jury and televote ranking Maria-Elena first. Her song is also outstanding, being the traditional softer ballad at the start before exploding with big a big sound and a big voice by the end. There’s a real intoxicating slightly husky tone to Maria-Elena’s voice, and she remains controlled right throughout the song, never sounding like a squealing cat on heat. Greece rarely disappoint with their presentations, turning their often average pop songs into masterful presentations (I still giggle over last year’s trampoline). With Maria-Elena, there can be no gimmicks, no stunts, no crazy dancing. Ironically, despite this being one of their best songs ever, Maria-Elena arguably has the toughest job to send Greece to the final – something they’ve always achieved since the semi finals started.
4 Mørland & Debrah Scarlett – A Monster Like Me
Quite a beautiful song and a strong contender to win. Even though it’s a ballad, it’s theme and presentation will make it stand out. It’s issue will be to emotional connect with the audience. Watching Norway’s national final, this did not quite happen for me. Acknowledging that it’s a very difficult song to sing, the vocals really need to be spot on. Debrah was a bit flaky in the early stages, unable to deliver a powerful resonance while sounding soft. It would be wiser to tone down the crazy hair, because the last thing you want with a song of this type is the audience distracted.
3 Estonia – Elina Born & Stig Rästa – Goodbye To Yesterday
This captivates right from the start. It has the style, the sound, the appeal, and is sung beautifully. It recalls the simple and evocative stage presence that the Netherland’s Common Linnets used at last year’s ESC while adding the Birgit black and white hue from 2013. I’ve seen Elina before as she emerged through Estonia’s “Idol” show that Lenna Kuurmaa helped judge and in which they performed a duet along the way. Groovy! Elina also competed at Eesti Laul in 2013, finishing eighth. Some say Stig Rästa races cars incognito on the BBC show Top Gear and learnt guitar while doing charity work for amputees in war-torn Angola. No, he’s actually a well known Estonian singer, songwriter and musician, and has written one hell of a song. It’s been at the top of the betting charts since it was known and a certain contender to win. One minor niggle I do have is the presentation video, which graphically reveals the song is about a bad tempered break-up. There’s broken glass and a bloodied fist; it’s just such an abrupt change from the fond reminiscing that the song felt like to me that it almost feels like a minor betrayal. None of that will matter at ESC of course. The audience will hear the song as it was presented at Eesti Laul (as below).
2 Netherlands – Trijntje Oosterhuis – Walk Along
One of the first countries to release their song, this has a huge pedigree behind it being co-written by Anouk, who represented the Dutch with “Birds” in 2013, and is performed by one of the Netherlands’ most esteemed singers. It’s been at the top of my list all along, and just edges Estonia and Norway for second spot mostly because I heard it first. I really can’t separate these three songs and, as in sports, unless you can beat the champion, the champion retains the title. The first listen seemed to be too much “why why why”, then the second listen it really clicked. It’s so engaging, with so many hooks, and it reached the point I had to stop listening so to prevent it coming stale. I’d love to see the Dutch win, as they’ve sent three quality songs in a row now, and that’s mostly thanks to ESC bringing back juries, whose biggest benefit is to spread the range of both songs and artists entered. No way would we have seen the past three Dutch songs if ESC remained televote only. Fans have been quiet about Walk Along. Part of it could be that it was an early release, or they’re not interested. So the jury will need to intercede and Trijntje to mesmerise the audience, and then for momentum to build like the Common Linnets last year, for it to excel. Otherwise, mid table, unfortunately.
Being at position two in the Fab Five means that one song eventually did depose the Netherlands from the number 1 spot, and that song is…
1 Slovenia – Maraaya – Here For You
Slovenia had me bopping along right from first listen and, since then, quickly exploded into becoming my clear favourite for 2015. More than that, with about 10 songs still to be released, I wanted Slovenia to stay favourite. That shows my strong affection for this song – and for the country. A new winner would be really nice. Marjekta – one half of this husband and wife team – is the most unique and rarest of talents that I’ve witnessed since… forever. She has such a lovely and distinctive voice, and an irrefutable style. The song itself is so interesting, quirky, hypnotic – and I always find myself doing the little arm dance like I’m transported back to the 1960s and landed in one of Austin Power’s nightclubs. The song has the profile of Germany’s great winner of 2010, Lena’s “Satellite”. Both songs are similarly addictive with distinctive rhythms and flow, and both artists mesmerise with their adorable and engaging qualities. “Here For You” actually surpasses “Satellite” as the better song, and while Lena might be more sassy in presentation, that’s more about personality. Marjekta’s delivery was perfect at Slovenia’s national final (see below), and Maraaya also nailed a perfectly matching presentation video (see link at the end).
The rest of the songs will be grouped by rating, working on the 5-star system
Five Stars (Excellent)
The song that contended for spot 5, and the only other 5-star song, is Poland with Monika Kuszynska and “In The Name Of Love”. Monika’s voice is sumptuous and the song is beautiful, with the only slight niggle the repetition towards the end. Note the final scene of this video then watch the entire video again to reveal its full context.
Four Stars (Very Good)
Russia – A really nice contemporary effort, full of drama and sung so well. I love Russia’s cheekiness too, returning after the beautiful Tolmachevy Sisters last year, to again promote world peace and harmony, and taunting the West in the process.
Spain – The big improver for me. Initially all fluff, it’s become quite majestic. Can it succeed at ESC if its appeal is not instant enough, especially given Spain’s unfashionable status? Pastora Soler could only scrape into the top 10 in 2012 with the excellent “Quedate Conmigo”. Edurne will need an equally stellar performance just to compete.
Romania – A beautiful song about lonely kids left at home while parents seek work overseas. They’ve been switching between Romanian, English and (latterly) both. Regardless, language is irrelevant with this type of song. A potential winner.
France – The live presentation was lacklustre, so as much as I like this song, I worry about a weak connection with the audience. Remember the failure of the brilliant “Sognu” by Amaury Vassili in 2011?
Italy – Another excellent effort from Italy, again justifying the return of juries. We’d not see Italy otherwise. With the exception of Finland’s Lordi in 2006, boy bands just don’t do well at ESC, so that’s their concern.
Albania – “I’m Alive” still manages to showcase Elhaida’s beautiful voice, and the change to a more up-tempo song is probably the right strategy. Personally I prefer the original ballad “Diell”.
Serbia – One of the weakest entries is now so good. That’s the result of a good English translation, good video and more energetic arrangement.
Malta – Another grower. The video and re-arrangement certainly helps this song, and it’s been one of the songs stuck in my head. The performance will be key, otherwise it will be lost and appear too generic.
Denmark – Even though I much prefer Anne Gadegaard’s “Suitcase” that finished second, Anti-Social Media is so likable and would not surprise to be a winner. It would rate higher in the list if I wasn’t so repetitive towards the end, or it could morph into Anne Gadegaard and “Suitcase”. Anne would sit clearly at 2 in the Fab Five.
Three Stars (Good)
Hungary – A classy effort and holds your attention despite being so slow. The message from the song is simple without being patronising. Maybe it’s the ultra cute Boggie herself and her unpretentious delivery. Get some taller heels for ESC, that’s all.
Latvia – The most interesting and curious entry for this year. It feels like something from the future. Another slow song, albeit in its own unique style. Stick with it to the end.
Iceland – Much better after seeing the final version of this and in quality sound. It’s still a bit repetitive, which will always hold back from being really good.
Australia – It’s nice that Guy Sebastian wrote a new song and this really funky and jiving effort is the best I’ve ever heard from him. Many of his fans confused the lacklustre response to his selection as “hate” when it was always about the decision. Personally I’ve found his stuff to be meandering drivel and, as a known quantity (whether good or bad) to most Australians, his selection was underwhelming. His song would always be looked at fairly, as too will be his Eurovision performance. The song’s been received quite favourably by the ESC community. He’ll represent Australia well, which was always guaranteed, and scraping into the top 10 would not surprise with a song that will showcase the soulful qualities in his voice and engage the audience. From the organisers’ perspective, that’s is probably the ideal result so they don’t need to deal with Australia next year as a winner, and probably part of the reason for his selection over someone more exciting.
Ireland – Initially a bit drab, this has grown on me. Molly is only 16, trying to look 36, so heaps of talent. If she cut back on the make-up and projected the innocence of her age, she could do quite well.
FYR Macedonia – The translation to English as “Autumn Leaves” really helps this song, especially with the presentation video that tells the story of the song through drawings – revealed as done by the artist himself. If only this could be somehow included on stage (remember Ukraine and the sand artist in 2011?). Without this unlikely new dimension of simultaneous singing and drawing at Eurovision, the lack of charisma witnessed at the national final might hurt.
Czech Republic – A ballad? Czech! A duo? Czech! Nicely sung? Czech! It has a nice dramatic feel. Whether it can send the Czechs to their first ever final, it will be borderline. A strong performance obviously will be critical.
Georgia – The other “warrior” song (after Malta). It’s a bit repetitive. ESC itself could still decide the “warrior crown”.
Israel – Ballad dread at the start, especially with it so, so slow, then “Golden Boy” morphs into a fun song. If the video is a guide, a “selfie camera” will appear at ESC.
Montenegro – It’s good to hear a traditional song and it’s pleasant enough. A shame it doesn’t compare to Zeljko’s previous efforts (notably Serbia & Montenegro 2004).
Switzerland – Improves by the end, if you can stay interested, and ultimately proves quite pleasant. The presentation video is horrible so check the video on youtube from national final for a better preview than the link below.
Two Stars (OK)
Portugal – It’s so middle of the road that it could be used to separate traffic. It has potential, and it does grow after a few listens. It needs some tweaking to be a bit more easily remembered, and then it’s a chance for the final.
Belarus – Too cliched and quite hollow. Give this to Ukraine and they might turn the presentation into something amazing. It will need something like that.
United Kingdom – Love the swing sound, the song just doesn’t do much. Maybe that’s the nature of swing. The performance will be interesting.
Austria – The quintessential “just ok” song. It’s pleasant and won’t offend too many people. Given its nature of soft-rock and a “serious” band, a top 10 finish would not surprise.
San Marino – Even for these two kids, surely the esteemed Ralph Siegel could do better than this puff piece
Sweden – Sweden has problems. Melodifestivalen is in a sad decline. It was a really weak final and Mans’ song is quite lame once you ignore the fancy interactive graphics.
Moldova – The cheapness is ok to begin with, then the song becomes so repetitive.
Germany – Ho-hum
Lithuania – I’m not feeling this at all. It just goes round and round and round and round. Sorry!
Cyprus – Insipid initially, it’s reasonable now. The first sections of the chorus sound plagiarised, possibly from Bread’s “Everything I Own”.
One Star (Poor)
Belgium – The rhythm must be really deep inside for Belgium because I’m not feeling this at all. Whiny voice too.
Azerbaijan – Really dull, meandering and pointless.
Armenia – When all energy goes into selecting artists over a song, you get this pompous drivel
Finland – A Finnish punk band consisting of four middle-aged, mentally handicapped men. Let’s be realistic, the song is rubbish. I applaud them for trying for Eurovision; I applaud the Finnish people for the kind gesture to select them for Eurovision; I can’t applaud the song; if they win Eurovision, I don’t know how I’ll applaud.