Nano – Hold On

“Take Me To Church, reworked for Melodifestivalen.”

Tim: There’s an ASTONISHINGLY good new Sound of Arrows track out today, but we’ll get to that on Monday as we’ve one more from the Melodifestivalen final. First with the Swedes, second overall, and, well, it’s quite the track.

Tim: It took me a while to realise what it was that got me going so much about this – not in the jump around banging sense of getting me going, but in the powerful and heavy sense. It’s that it’s basically…

Tom: Take Me To Church with drum and bass?

Tim: You know, I was all set for a “cannot believe you’re comparing those two” for this, but yes: it’s Take Me To Church, reworked and remixed for Melodifestivalen. You’ve got your strong, but not overstated, male vocal under a comparatively quiet backing in the verses, turning everything up several notches for the chorus, and then – and here’s where the Melodifestivalen bit comes in – an enormous instrumental section where everything goes nuts but doesn’t lose any of the depth.

Tom: And the thing is, it works. It really works.

Tim: Flashing lights, drums and beats everywhere, but you’ve still got your minor key and flowing from one note to the next rather than jumping all over the place.

Tom: And then for the second verse, there’s still a bit more drumbeat in there. This is exactly how you handle a change like that.

Tim: There’s a couple of things I’d change about the performance – it might seem more meaningful if he didn’t look like he’d just walked in off the street after a day drinking in his nearest Wetherspoon’s, and he should really leave the dancing to the actual dancers – but I can’t fault the song. At all.

Wiktoria – As I Lay Me Down

“Occasionally I have a problem with Melodifestivalen…”

Tim: Fourth in this week’s series of “songs Tim thought were considerably better than Robin Bengtsson”, the entry from your favourite last year. This time, the Swedish voters agreed with me, with it coming second to his third (voting was very close this year – lowest ranked got six percent, highest got less than twelve – so the juries held a lot of sway).

Tim: And we keep a small amount of the country stylings, but immediately get off to a much bigger start, with it very quickly approaching banger status.

Tom: It’s not bad, is it? I think it’s my favourite of the ones you’ve sent so far, for the same reasons as last year. Also, full marks to her for being able to manage not just the big shouty bits, but also a whistle-register note — all in the middle of a high-pressure live show.

That bed should absolutely have lifted up off the ground for the final chorus, though. Staging opportunity missed.

Tim: Oh, good call. But here’s the thing: occasionally (but only very occasionally) I have a problem with Melodifestivalen, and it’s exemplified by this. Basically: all the good songs are out at once. As I write this, 16 of the Swedish Spotify top 20 are from there (four of the rest are from one artist, you can guess who), and although that’s a sign of a strong competition, it does get me a little annoyed that the rest of the year suffers slightly as a result. Towards the end of each year, if an artist has an amazing song, why release it then rather than submit it for Melodifestivalen, when they may do much better as a result with all the publicity?

Tom: When it’s being played potentially three times (heat, Andra Chansen, final) in front of an engaged TV audience who are actively interested in the music? It’s a strong argument.

Tim: On the other hand, it’s only very occasionally I think like that. Most of the time, it’s a period to look forward to. Sure, they’re all out in one six week period, but boy, what a six week period.

FO&O – Gotta Thing About You

A golden opportunity for a key change.

Tim: Here’s the thing about boybands and Eurovision: however good the songs might be, and however much of a reaction they might get from the live crowds, they tank. Last year, Joe and Jake came third from bottom, while Denmark’s Lighthouse X didn’t even qualify for the final. Fortunately, Sweden realised this when they binned off this otherwise really quite good one, from the band previously known as The Fooo and also as The Fooo Conspiracy (one of the Os left).

Tom: It’s rare that a boy band change their name more often than their lineup.

Tom: Okay, let’s get two things out of the way: “every time you bake I wanna eat cake” is an appalling first line…

Tim: True.

Tom: …and in general usage “gotta” is short for “got to”, not “got a”.

Tim: Picky, but also true.

Tom: ANYWAY.

Tim: ANYWAY. We’ve had songs before that halve their BPM for the chorus, most notably Norway’s Eurovision entry last year, which didn’t make the final, and while this doesn’t do that it does kind of give the impression of it, going from a fast moving and heavy beating verse to an almost euphoric chorus. Unlike previously I really really love that: it creates all the impression of variety, but none of the actual disjoint that it would otherwise provide. And it sounds great as well.

Tom: Ugh, really? I don’t hear it: it all melds into one forgettable boy band number. It’s not even a One Direction album track, it’s one that ends up being passed down to… oh. Yeah, it’s one that ends up being passed down to FO&O.

Tim: There are drawbacks: the blonde one really needs to lose the Chesney Hawkes hair…

Tom: I was thinking Mac from Green Wing, but sure.

Tim: …the choreography should be a lot more polished, and while key changes are a bit passé they’ve missed a golden opportunity for one there. So all in all, Sweden: good decision, but it’s a shame you had to make it.

Jon Henrik Fjällgren feat. Aninia – En värld full av strider (Eatneme gusnie jeenh dåaroeh)

Pretentious bellend?

Tom: Is this Melodifestivalen Reject Week, then? Not complaining, just figured I’d set context.

Tim: Well, we’ve done it for the past couple of years, as the final’s always a highlight. Speaking of finals, highlights and years gone by, you’ll remember Jon Henrik from his entry two years ago; you said it’s “the soundtrack to sweeping panoramas of the natural world, but it’s not going to work in Vienna.” This year, he came back with his signature joik, which got him fourth with the juries, fourth with the voters, and third overall. Isn’t split voting fun?

Tom: I had to search for what a “joik” was.

Tim: Well, it’s this sort of thing:

Tim: You know, part of me would love to see this in Kyiv, just to find out what the reaction would be. He’s said he thinks he’d do well because many Europeans have a deep love for native or folk music, and I’d like to know if that’s true. Would they think, “ooh, I see what they’re doing, and it’s a good track to boot”, or would it be “oh, bollocks to this, I’m going to the loo, though save me a drink for that key change”?

Tom: I can’t quite work it out, but I think there might actually be three key changes in here: there’s a subtle one after the first verse, and half way through the final chorus. I’m not enough of a musician to know if those are technically some other musical term though.

Tim: Ooh, they are very slight, but you could be right. Given Ukraine’s victory last year I’m leaning towards the former option, and it’d be lovely if that did (though you might have to throw in an “arsehole” or two to guarantee it).

Tom: Ah, I was thinking the latter there: you start a Eurovision song with a deep, meaningful talking part and I reckon a lot of the audience will immediately dismiss you as a pretentious bellend.

Tim: That is a possibility, I guess, though I’m very much with the first group because it is a good song. It’s not quite as good, for me, as Jag Är Fri – I don’t want to say “he’s sold out”, but it’s a bit poppier than his previous, and I think that lets it down a tad.

Tom: Whereas I’d phrase that as “made it more accessible”. It’s certainly not a Eurovision winner — but then, I’d have said that about Ukraine’s entry last year, so who knows?

Tim: Well, I still like it, and I can see why it did well. I’d just like it to have done really well, for entirely selfish reasons.

Lisa Ajax – I Don’t Give A

“This TRIUMPH of a song came LAST”

Tim: Now I know we normally do rejects on a Saturday, but we’re having this today because (a) Sweden’s special and (b) this so does not deserve to be classed as a reject and (c) WHAT A BLOODY SHAMBLES. Oh, and it’s got rude words.

Tom: Well, that’s certainly bold.

Tim: Now we’ll get to the lyrics in a minute, but I’ve just finished watching the Melodifestivalen final, and this TRIUMPH of a song came LAST in the public vote, getting SIX PER CENT. WHAT THE ACTUAL. HOW. Honestly, I lost enough respect for the British people when they voted for our entry, but I’m almost tempted to give up on Sweden as well.

Tom: Mm. A bit of an overreaction there, perhaps; there are plenty of reasons why they might have abandoned it.

Tim: Alright, then, some rational thoughts: first, maybe it wasn’t the best call to have, as the sole staging element, a massive shot of her face. And maybe it wasn’t the best call to have the least family-friendly lyrics that Melodifestivalen has ever seen – I’m sure you’re aware that Eurovision rule 1.2.2(h) states that lyrics may not bring Eurovision ‘into disrepute’, but you know what? I DON’T GIVE A.

Tom: That staging is… well, it comes across as narcissistic even if it was someone else’s idea.

Tim: Sweden’s winner, the above average I Can’t Go On, contains the line “when you look this freaking beautiful”, and when it was performed in the first heat that word was not “freaking”. Words can be rewritten.

Tom: But to what? The song lyrics wouldn’t work any other way, that’s true, but there’s no way it’d actually be allowed at Eurovision. Replacing it with a gasp is the best alternative I can think of, and that’s still not right.

Tim: Fair, though actually apparently a version was done that was played to the international juries – the main line was “I don’t give a damn”, though I’m not sure what the other could have been.

And aside from those two things: I don’t get it. The melody is great. She has a fantastic voice, demonstrated throughout. Most importantly: it’s fun. It’s a fantastic piece of pure unadulterated pop music, rather than some slightly generic three minute dance-pop track.

Tom: I don’t hear it: yes, it’s pure pop music, but other than the shock value of the lyrics it comes across as pretty generic to me.

Tim: RUDE. This is genuinely one of my favourite tracks of the year, and it got fewer votes than the old guy with the harmonica. Shameful. And incidentally, “gilipollas” in the tweet at the top? Twitter translates it as “idiots”; Google instead goes for “douchebags”, vastly more appropriate.)

Saturday Reject: Etzia – Up

“Huh. That’s strange.”

Tim: Oh, this had so much potential. Knocked out in the first round of Melodifestivalen, yet rejected, I can only imagine, for something utterly bizarre. Once again, just a link:

Etzia – Up

Tom: Not again! Just like last week, Tim; this is retro, and I don’t mean that in a Stranger Things way, I mean it in a… well, in a roller disco way, given that staging.

Tim: Oh it is, yes, and I don’t for a moment claim this is a modern track, or even at all should be a winner. The reason I mention it, though, is that there are a couple of notes in there that, when I was watching, sounded decidedly flat. I thought “oh, balls, she’s messed that up, but let’s hope she’s forgiven”. But then I checked the studio version, and she performed them flawlessly – they’re just written that way, and it sounds so weird.

Tom: Huh. That’s strange — although to be honest, the whole thing sounds weird, Tim. It’s not unpleasant, of course, and it’s not even mediocre — it’s a good track, it’s just unsuited for the audience.

Tim: Of course, there may be other reasons – the key change, however great, may have put voters off, or they may genuinely have preferred the novelty old man act (which will never grace these pages) that came above it. But still, it’s a bizarre choice to make for that melody.

Steps – Scared Of The Dark

“They’re BACK.”

Tim: Item ONE: Steps were originally conceived just to be a one-hit wonder act, because the writers of 5, 6, 7, 8 wanted to get it released. Item TWO: that plan changed somewhat. Item THREE: twenty years later, here’s THIS because they’re BACK.

Tim: GOD, that’s good.

Tom: You’re not wrong. Comeback hits aren’t meant to be this good, surely?

Tim: That’s “listen to it several times to appreciate all of it” good. Right from the start, the string line there is signifying that while you don’t know what it is, something damn good is coming along soon. And, in due course, it sure as hell does: that chorus could be a lead single from Alcazar at their very, very highest, and boy is that a compliment I can’t imagine paying to many other acts. Throw in that delightful key change, and you’ve got a perfectly-packaged piece of disco.

Tom: It is, as well, that percussion could have come straight out of a Donna Summer track. In fact, this is a combination of decades of pop music. There’s even occasional 80s white-noise-sweeps in there. It’s not quite orchestral, but those strings make it feel… well, more grown-up, perhaps?

Tim: Here is what I love most about it: this is Steps. Actual, full-on, Steps. No compromises, no modern synth beats trying to be current, but just plain, unapologetic “this is what we do, and we love it”. Six weeks until the album and I CAN’T WAIT.

Betty Who – Some Kinda Wonderful

“Equal parts Hollaback Girl and I Really Like You”

Tim: Unlike Charlie Who, there’s a whole lot of stuff to be found about Betty – Australian, 25 years old, second album coming up and has recently had a rather unusual incident in a launderette.

Tom: That’s equal parts Hollaback Girl and I Really Like You, then.

Tim: Something like that, yes. It’s a shame about the sad ending of the video, but at least now I needn’t bother finding my nearest launderette to join in the fun. Still, that music, which starts off somewhat unpleasant (looking at you, first and third lines of each verse), but soon arrives at a remarkably good chorus.

Tom: Mm. I’m surprised you’re supporting it so much, but then you were always a bigger Icona Pop fan than I was.

Tim: Yes; on the other hand I never had much time for Hollaback Girl, yet this is similar.

Tom: I mean, it’s a good track, don’t get me wrong — certainly better than a lot of the forgettable dreck we get through here.

Tim: “So what sort of music do you write about?” they ask. “Oh, mostly forgettable dreck,” I reply.

Tom: Okay, okay, so that’s harsh, but let’s be honest, there’s not much exciting new stuff coming through here is there? There’s a reason Popjustice has their profane new prize this year. We’re in an era where most of the Top 10 is Ed Sheeran. Literally.

Tim: I don’t know, I think we’ve had some decent variety over the past few weeks if you look back. And yes, Ed Sheeran seems silly, but it’s because the charts have changed: two years ago, he’d have had one massive number one album and two top 10 singles. Streaming doesn’t let that happen, though, so when a big enough album drops, this is almost an inevitability. As for this track…

Tom: It’s just got a lot of “inspired by” vibes that make me want to listen to the originals instead.

Tim: Hmm, well, much of my enthusiasm might be due to the video – if I heard it on the radio there’s a good chance I might just find it a bit of a racket. Having that video on the first time I heard it got me in exactly the right frame of mind for it, though, so right now I’m happily going ALL IN. Into the song, that is, not the washing machine. I’m not quite at that place yet.

Aili – Find Me

“It’s safe to say there’s some inspiration there.”

Tim: Today’s observation: it’s remarkable how few tracks an artist may need to irrevocably claim a sound as theirs. Take Kygo: he had Firestone, followed it up with Stole The Show and then became synonymous with tropical house. Avicii dropped Wake Me Up and immediately owned farmhouse. Alan Walker, now, has only had two tracks, and yet…

Tom: …and yet the first video that YouTube suggests after this one is the same artist’s cover of Faded. It’s safe to say there’s some inspiration there.

Tim: Oh, undoubtedly. Dance beat that’s taking the lead but isn’t too overbearing, breathy female vocal, that particular synth patch in place of what might otherwise be a piano, then a build into a chorus with all the twiddling of knobs that’s immediately evocative of Mr Walker.

Tom: Fnarr. You’re right, though, although the song itself isn’t quite up to standard. I can’t remember a damn thing about it once it’s gone. It does sound like Alan Walker, though.

Tim: And that’s no bad thing – certainly not for me, as I love the sound, and I’m a big fan now of this track – but I can’t help wondering if every track like this will be compared to him, or if someone else will be equally notable with the sound.

Lorde – Green Light

“Really just a whole lot of good Lorde.”

Tim: Lorde’s back! And sounding very good!

Tim: Funnily enough, just as I started writing this it got sent to us by our reader, who described it as “very Robyn-esque”; not sure I entirely see the resemblance, although maybe if Robyn actually PUT OUT ANY PROPER MUSIC AT SOME POINT GET ON WITH IT PLEASE then it might be.

Tom: Specifically, that introduction verse sounds a bit like the chorus of Dancing On My Own.

Tim: Absent any new Robyn stuff, though, it’s still very enjoyable – elements of a whole lot of good things, such as a toned down Icona Pop and a very on point Ellie Goulding, and really just a whole lot of good Lorde.

Tom: I see what you did there. You’re right, though: she’s got a unique voice that means she couldn’t be replaced by just another session singer, and while the production stays in comfortable territory, that’s not really a problem.

Tim: Great vocals, great chorus, great everything, really. Great track.