“I was driving through the Netherlands a couple of weeks ago…”
Tom: I was driving through the Netherlands a couple of weeks ago, and discovered a radio station that appears to play entirely homegrown Dutch pop music. It sounds exactly like you’d hope.
Tom: Wailing electric guitars. Synth-brass stabs. Lyrics that are, almost entirely, “you’re the woman for me”. Here’s a challenge for you, Tim: guess the year this was released.
Tim: See, this is tricky here, because I’m well aware you want me to say early ’80s or something, because surely no-one would record a song sounding like this right now, but to be honest, given the many years we’ve been doing this site (and particularly with this being around about Eurovision selection season), and given the thousands of songs we’ve listened to, you could say anything from 1950 to 2019 and I’d be “yep, okay”. But go on, tell me.
Tom: Part of me knew you were going to deconstruct that. To be fair, I’d have done exactly the same. Anyway, 2017, and it turns out that there’s a lot of Dutch tracks like this. Have a listen to that radio station for a while.
“It’s not exactly pineapples, coconuts and xylophones.”
Tim: Kygo’s got a new album coming out next Friday, and I’m interested to see what it’ll be like – so far, some of the tracks from it have been very very Kygo (Higher Love, Freedom), but some of them aren’t very Kygo-ish at all. Take this, for example.
Tim: You see? It’s a decent enough track, there’s no doubting that, and the high pitched bits in the background take it away from being a typical OneRepublic track – but it’s not exactly pineapples, coconuts and xylophones.
Tom: I mostly found that a bit confusing. That first chorus sounds like a pre-chorus, like it’s building to something — and given the name Kygo, I think we both know what it’d be building to. Yes, that does eventually sort-of resolve for the middle eight and on from there, but it’s in this odd in-between space.
Tim: Yeah, you’re not wrong there – sounds almost like there was once a big post-chorus that got binned off.
Tom: This feels more like someone decided to slightly remix a mediocre OneRepublic track. It’s not anthemic enough, nor is it dance enough: it’s in a weird space in between the two.
Tim: It’s also interesting comparing it to their previous collaboration (though that was technically a feat.), which had a pure Kygo chorus. Here, there’s very little at all, outside the brief middle eight. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind – it’s a good track, and a perfectly good listen if it came on the radio – but given the equal billing, I wouldn’t say no to a bit more Kygo.
Tim: Indeed! A load of good stuff came out on Friday; highlights include a decent new Katy Perry track, a new album off KEiiNO (mostly tracks we’ve already heard, but a couple of good new ones), an Alan Walker redo of a Hans Zimmer piece, and this:
Tom: Huh. I suspect that’s going to be a grower.
Tim: I’m hoping so, yeah – it’s their first new music since 2017’s album Desire, and the problem with Hurts tracks is that they’ve got a lot to live up to. Their first album was packed with so many brilliant tracks like Better Than Love, Wonderful Life, Sunday and Stay, each album since has been topped with great tracks, and they even managed to bring out a Christmas song that you liked.
Tim: As well you should. But as for this one… well, there’s nothing I’d really want to change about it, as it’s very definitely a Hurts track, but I can’t help hoping there’s better stuff on whatever album they presumably have coming out soon, as this doesn’t quite do it for me.
Tom: I do like it, for once — it’s not the sort of immediate sit-up-and-pay-attention track that I normally go for, but the whole thing sits pleasantly in the background. Why’s it not work for you?
Tim: Annoyingly I’m not quite sure, so can’t really put it in to words – maybe it’s that it’s leaning too far into heavy beats, with both drums and synthy bass notes, than strong melodies – but whatever it is, it’s definitely missing something.
Tom: Either this is something that I’m going to appreciate more over time — or that repetitive guitar melody that’s underneath most of the track is going to grate and grate more. We’ll see which it is.
“If fire and sparks are the best way to announce a key change, then a sudden explosion of lasers is surely number two.”
Tim: Last week we looked back at a pretty good Eurovision track; today, we’ll celebrate a duff Eurovision year by looking back at an astoundingly good one.
Tim: For the song itself, there’s not a lot to say. It is, obviously, outstanding, and there genuinely isn’t a moment in there I want to criticise – for me, it’s the perfect song to see on a Eurovision stage.
Tom: I, as ever, am slightly more hesitant: there are a couple of questionable notes in that first verse. And honestly, if a song could be improved by coming in on the first chorus — and this could — then they’ve stuffed up the introduction completely.
Tim: Oh, I strongly disagree – that intro is exactly what it needs to be.
Tom: That said, completely agree with you, everything after the first chorus is gold.
Tim: Let’s look at that stage, then, and the other production elements, as there’s so much to take apart. Firstly, that’s a hell of a good camera effect to pull off live, and it took me a while to work out exactly how they might be doing it. Second, the backing singers! Why have them all on stage from the start when you can introduce them two at a time, give them the respect they deserve? The two guys in suits look a little odd, but never mind them. And finally, the key change. If fire and sparks are the best way to announce a key change, then a sudden explosion of lasers is surely number two. That’s the moment, right there, when I thought, “YES, this song is a winner.”
Tom: Which might have been true in 1999, the last time she won: there was an equally brutal key change there. You might think that’s a winner, but…
Tim: But Europe didn’t agree, sadly – ended up coming just 18th, after graduating from its semi only thanks to the jury wildcard, but we’ve said before that democracy is a failed experiment. Truly, a Eurovision great.
Tom: We can both remember it, years later: that’s probably the strongest argument for it as a song.
Tim: Fun Eurovision 2008 anecdote, while we’re here: I co-hosted a student radio show on the Friday where we played through all the tracks and discussed them briefly; turned out we misjudged the timing a bit and ended up playing Turkey and Ukraine simultaneously. Won’t lie to you: still sounded better than some of the other tracks.
“This could be an actual release, even, rather than the type of track that gets stuck at the end of a album just to fill the runtime.”
Tim: Yesterday you reckoned Italy’s track wouldn’t work because “it’s not a modern audience-appeal pop song”; this here is the one and only track of that description that we both thought was any good whatsoever – your third favourite, and my actual favourite.
Tom: Let’s talk about “favourite” there: I looked up our stats, and I rated it 60/100, which roughly works out to “could be a major artist album track”. Yes, my standards are high.
Tom: And I stand by that rating.
Tim: As how you’ve defined it, fair. It’s female power pop, of the Katy O’Perry or Kelly MacLarkson brand, and more importantly it’s good female power pop!
Tom: Apart from the na-na-na-na-na bit, yes. I think I might have actually rated it closer to 70 (“could be a major artist lead single”) if it wasn’t for that single grating lyric.
Tim: Oh come now, it’s hardly alone in that respect. This could be an actual release, even, rather than the type of track that gets stuck at the end of a album just to fill the runtime. It’s got all the usual tropes – powerful backing instrumental, speedy verse that although plenty good enough is really just put there before we head to the kicker that is the chorus, with raised vocals, empowering lyrics and a good load of chanting to sing along to right from the first listen.
Tom: Even the sounds of the instruments and synths sound very, very much like Katy Perry a couple of albums ago. It does say something that the most “modern audience-appeal pop song” we got in Eurovision was still a bit dated, though. All the tropes are there.
Tim: They’re tropes for a reason, though: combined, they make a heck of a good song that would have stood out nicely against all the ballads – however building and inspirational they may be, sometimes you just need good pop.
Tom: And I think, just because it stood out, it would have punched above its weight.
“In the end it’s just another ballad. But it’s a very, very good ballad.”
Tom: This was by far my favourite track of this year’s Eurovision: in fact, I’d say it was the only one that got above “yeah, okay, I guess”. I know, my grading is harsher than most, but this is literally the only one where I perked up and went “that’s good”.
Tom: I remember you describing it as “Italian Keane”, which isn’t unfair — and also isn’t an insult. This is, basically, your standard piano-builder track.
Tim: Yeah, and I absolutely didn’t mean it as an insult. There are a hell of a lot of things it does right.
Tom: There are several things that, for me, lift it up out of the morass that was this year’s selection.
His voice. There’s a brilliant vocal quality there: clear and powerful in the chorus, quiet and calm in the verses. And crucially, he can hit those notes live, extremely well.
Then there’s the composition. Sure, it starts slow, but it clues you in very early that it’s a builder, and it delivers perfectly.
Tim: This is annoying: I agree with every single point you’ve made, and yet I still prefer yesterday’s. Thing is, while this is a builder, and it does make it clear from the off, what it also makes clear is “you’re gonna have to wait a bit, but honestly it will get there”. And I’m just not sure that works so well for Eurovision.
Tom: And sure, it helps that the final chorus would fit nicely in the voting recap. But I reckon this would have ended up like John Lundvik last year: loved by the jury, riding high all the way through the first part of the results, only to then get knackered by the televote. Because it’s not a modern audience-appeal pop song: plus, it’s in Italian, and sure, in the end it’s just another ballad. But it’s a very, very good ballad.
“A fun track, to be commended for its dedication to cybersecurity.”
Tim: A couple of months back, TIX (Norwegian, previously most notable for co-writing Sweet But Psycho) recorded Karantene; you can probably guess what it’s about. It went big in Norway, and it seems he fancied having some success in Sweden as well, so he got on the blower to Samir & Vikor, as you would.
Tom: Who are basically the slightly-more-polished teenage-appeal version of yesterday’s Two Friends.
Tim: Indeed. There’s a bit of a rude word in the first line, though it’s hardly as if there’s any work for it not to be safe for, so press play!
Tim: Obviously there isn’t actually any lockdown happening in Sweden, so it’s a little jarring to see them jumping around the recording studio singing a chorus that starts with line about sitting at home with no pay, but never mind that, it’s a catchy tune.
Tom: I was going to say: it’s an interesting choice of song to translate. A quick-and-dirty machine translation reveals that they’re singing downbeat lyrics to an upbeat tune, which is always a brave choice. Particularly when the lyrics are quite so, uh, of-the-moment.
Tim: It’s weird – brands in the lyrics left right and centre like this normally irritate the hell out of me, but all I’m mainly left wondering here is why FaceTime and Skype are getting all the action when most people are using Zoom.
Tom: Because Zoom is terrible and it’s going nowhere near my laptop. Anyway.
Tim: Hmm, good point. So all in all, it’s a fun track, to be commended for its dedication to cybersecurity; something enjoyable to come out of a bad situation, with a lovely key change as the cherry on top. What’s to complain about?
“There aren’t many songs here which manage to actually make my jaw drop, but blimey, that key change managed it.”
Tim: These guys again, singing about Real Friends. Apparently they’ve been best friends for a couple of years now, so they’re the perfect act to sing this song. Ain’t that sweet?
Tom: If you’re sending me a video with that schlager channel’s branding in the thumbnail, then I’m already interested. Not because it’s necessarily good, but because it’s almost certainly going to be fun.
Tim: Well there’s a slogan for them right there.
Tim: And I’m not sure why, but I really wanted that to end with a d-d-d-DUM on drums.
Tom: Me too: it’s because of that slightly dissonant brass stab that’s a few bars earlier: you’re expecting something to resolve it.
Tim: Aside from that, how fun! I pressed play, and just a few seconds later I was smiling, because there’s a lot of joy in this song and it’s infectious. It was when the trumpet first hit that I knew we were in for a good tune, and the next three and a bit minutes just served to confirm that. A catchy chorus, two enthusiastic singers and a key change that is straight out of Songwriting for Beginners.
Tom: There aren’t many songs here which manage to actually make my jaw drop, but blimey, that key change managed it. Could it stand to be one verse shorter? Sure. Are their voices occasionally a bit more like two lads who’ve decided to do karaoke down the local pub? Yep. But none of that matters, because this is German schlager, and I can absolutely see these two going on reunion tours in fifty years’ time, their voices gravelly and half an octave lower.
“It’s a clunky metaphor, sure, and it falls down completely in the second verse.”
Tom: Grace Davies: 2017 X Factor runner-up, great voice. Advance warning: this is a lovely, slow, builder of a ballad, utterly ruined by one single clunker of a lyric.
Tom: Which is a shame, because everything else on this is brilliant. You could argue it’s a bit by-the-numbers: all the orchestral bits hit exactly when you’d expect them to, and then it’s back down and quiet for the final chorus.
Tim: As you’ve described, a perfect builder. And I’m guessing I know the line you mean – though I’ve got no problem with it. It’s a clunky metaphor, sure, and it falls down completely in the second verse when it sounds like Amsterdam is another girl rather than a city where he’s done all so many bad things, but the line itself I think is quite nice.
Tom: But her voice is just lovely, the production is excellent, even the rest of the lyrics are good. It’s just that one line: I cannot imagine how anyone thought “damn you Amsterdam” fits anywhere outside of a children’s rhyme or… maybe some novelty apres-ski party song?
“A good approximation of a CHVRCHES song in style, and I have no problems at all with that.”
Tom: After yesterday, when we talked about the Weeknd’s style, I’ve started noticing that boots-and-cats synth-percussion drumbeat everywhere, as if someone reset the pop industry’s synthesisers back to “80s default”. Is that just me being more aware of it, or has this suddenly come back into fashion?
Tom: The trouble is, it’s also all I can remember from this track.
Tim: Hmm. Bit harsh, I’d say, as there’s a decent chorus in there, and I’d be almost certain there’s a bit of confirmation bias going on there, or at least pulling of focus. This is, to me, a good approximation of a CHVRCHES song in style, and I have no problems at all with that.
Tom: There’s nothing wrong with it! It’s a reasonable pop song. The chorus melody, now I listen back to it, is really decent. But I was distracted by trying to work out which balcony in Kings Cross she’s filming on, and honestly, that’s not a great sign, is it?
Tim: No, admittedly that isn’t. Mind you, Dagny’s the sort of artist where every time I see the name I think “surely they should be getting big over here right now”, so hopefully that won’t be too long.