Lili & Susie – Kom Och Ta Oss

Energetic, danceable, vibrant – generally everything a good piece of schlager should be.

Tim: These two sisters have been going for well over twenty years now, although they’re not producing much these days – their last was Show Me Heaven in Melodifestivalen a couple of years back; now, they bring us this.

Tim: Lyrically, I have no idea what this is all about, although the title – which translates to ‘Come and Find Me’ – suggests it’s some sort of game of Hide and Seek; having said that, the song seems a bit loud to be singing in that situation so it’s probably not that.

Tom: I’m clearly a bit immature, because I’m hearing the title as “Come And Toss” every time they sing it. I’ll set that aside.

Tim: Yeah, I think that would be best. So, we’re stuck judging the music alone, and that’s not a bad thing, really, since the music’s quite good.

Tom: It’s a bit anthemic, isn’t it? There’s a hell of a lot going on, and that’s not a bad thing.

Tim: Certainly isn’t. The voices hold up nicely, and the blokes joining in at the end add a bit of gravity, should you feel that’s what it needs.

Tom: I’m not even sure it counts as schlager – yes, it’s three minutes long and from Scandinavia, but you couldn’t call this bubblegum pop by any means.

Tim: Ah, but the non-vocal part is energetic, danceable, vibrant – generally everything a good piece of schlager should be. And that is, after all, what we are here to celebrate.

Sonohra – There’s A Place For Us

They actually seem to be enjoying themselves.

Tim: Chances are, you’ve heard that the third Chronicles of Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has just been released.

Tom: The third? I missed the second entirely. Anyway, if this has spawned anything half as good as Lazy Sunday, I’ll be happy.

Tim: Well, this song is from the soundtrack. Sort of. It’s slightly odd: the official recording artist is Carrie Underwood, who put together a not altogether bad version, but alongside that various other acts from around the world have recorded their own versions, presumably for the noble cause that is selling more copies of the soundtrack. These acts include Sweden’s E.M.D. (who actually managed to perform a very good live version, if a little shaky on the vocals), Britain’s Joe McElderry (who decided that one song wasn’t enough for him and did a somewhat better second one as well, especially if you quite liked the weird auto-tune fake backing singers effect on Ambitions) and Germany’s Victoria S (who, appropriately for the season, decided to dress up as a Christmas tree decoration).

Tom: Five versions of the same song? That’s a challenge even for me. Particularly with a song like that.

Tim: Yes – by and large, unfortunately, it’s not all that great. Somehow all of these separate groups/singers have taken what could (and indeed should) be a very emotional song, and seemingly stripped it of almost all feeling whatsoever.

Tom: Well, it’s a kids’ movie song. It’s not going to make adults that emotional. Apart from the ending of An American Tail. That can floor anyone and it is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE to cry at it, okay?

Tim: Um, yes. Yes Tom. But even if this is a kids; movie, when the lyrics are ‘We could be the kings and queens, of anything if we believe’, I want to be made to run to the kitchen, grab some tin foil, and make myself a crown.

Tom: You don’t need a song to do that, Tim.

Tim: Anyway, Sonohra, an Italian duo, did better than most.

Tim: What is it about this one that I like? I don’t know. Their voices work well on it, which helps – it seems to work better for me in a lower register – and the instrumentation’s quite a bit louder and especially noticeable in the re-entry after the bridge, which helps create a song you can properly nod your head to. Most of all, though, they actually seem to be enjoying themselves a bit, which always comes in handy.

Tom: It’s the rocky-bit during the first half of the chorus – the ‘kings and queens’ bit – that stands out for me. The rest is generic movie-soundtrack rubbish, and sadly one awesome bit of melody isn’t enough to save the whole song for me.

Tim: Hmm, fair point, I suppose, but I like it.

Tom: And I’ve just realised why I like it – it’s almost exactly the same as the good bit from Robyn’s Call Your Girlfriend. “The only way her heart will mend”, and all that. It’s a sudden descending major-key bit that stands out. At this point, I which I knew more about music theory.

Tim: Ooh, it is and all, isn’t it? Anyway, sod this – you’re right, I don’t need a song. Now where did I put the Pritt Stick? And has anyone got a throne I can borrow?

Alexandra Burke – The Silence

Vastly better than many of her previous offerings.

Tim: When Alexandra Burke won The X Factor two years back, most people who voted for JLS got all huffy and presumed she was going to be a Leona Lewis 2.0, especially what with the way her version of Hallelujah sounded. However, she came back with Bad Boys and a run of various other singles and proved them all decisively wrong. And now she’s done this and proved them right.

Tim: And that, actually, is no bad thing whatsoever, because I think this is great, and vastly better than many of her previous offerings (partially because it’s entirely devoid of references to masturbation). It is big, it is emotional, it is exactly what it wants to be – it is, overall, excellent. I’m not sure if it’s a proper change of direction or just a one-off; either way, I like it a lot.

Tom: We need to find a word for that feeling where a song’s predictable enough that you’re sure you’ve heard it before. That’s not really a complaint – the song is, frankly, a belter and it fits her voice perfectly. And what a key change!

Tim: Isn’t it just? And that’s another thing we need to find a word for – that bit in a song which exists solely to get the listener excited about the upcoming key change. Previously, I thought not much could beat Bellefire’s Perfect Bliss, but this four and a half second monster sends it flying right out of the water and into a tiny duck pond.

Tom: That’s a terrible metaphor, by the way.

Tim: It is, isn’t it? Oh well.

Tom: But that change-warning is longer than you think – from the start of the swoosh sound to when the new key actually kicks in is a full nine seconds. That’s got to be a record.

Tim: Is it an appalling musical device? Yes, definitely. But is it absolutely fantastic here? Yes, definitely.

Hilda – Just One Wish

Wouldn’t sound out of place at a Miley Cyrus gig.

Tim: A second artist in two days with an apparent allergy to surnames, Hilda got her break presenting on the Swedish Disney Channel (much like Eric Saade), and is now making a foray into music with this, which wouldn’t sound out of place at a Miley Cyrus gig.

Tom: With that introduction echoing, the first thing that went through my mind on seeing this – and I feel so guilty for this – was “blimey, Miley Cyrus has put on some weight”. It’s a terrible thought, and I’m not happy with what that reveals about my subconscious. Also, it means that Miley Cyrus must be a damn stick insect.

Tim: This isn’t bad – it’s not a jingly-jangly sleigh bells all over the place track, which is a bit of a shame when the lyrics are so festive, but it does mean it can go on an album and not sound too out of place, I suppose.

Tom: It’s a cut above most modern pop Christmas songs – but what gets me is that it’s such an American Christmas song. Okay, that’s probably due to the Disney backing, and admittedly Tomte wouldn’t work quite as well as Santa in the lyrics… but damn it Disney, stop homogenising everything.

Tim: So, now we can get away with remarkably offensive thought processes as long as we demonstrate some in-depth knowledge of the culture of the person we’ve insulted? I must remember that.

Anyway, speaking of the lyrics, they’re not the most appropriate ever for a 14-year-old, although her age does mean she can get away with the line ‘Santa, if you do exist’.

Tom: …no she can’t.

Danny Saucedo – In Your Eyes

He does a similar trick to Robyn.

Tim: E.M.D. are a Swedish boyband formed a while ago out of three Idol finalists, none of whom won it but each of whom was fairly competent and had vague solo success, but decided they could do better as a band. They are, if you like, a Scandinavian One Direction, two years earlier.

Anyway, right now that’s not particularly relevant. What is relevant is that the D. out of E.M.D.* is releasing this on Friday to remind us that he does exist as a solo artist in his own right, in preparation for entering Melodifestivalen next year.

* Creative naming at its finest there – the other two are Erik and Mattias.

Tom: Just before the chorus, I thought “ooh, this is about to kick in properly, isn’t it?” … and then it didn’t. It stayed exactly the same. Disappointment.

Tim: Perhaps. He does a similar trick to Robyn and a few others – trying to create the impression of the track kicking in by dipping slightly beforehand. Often that doesn’t work at all, but sometimes it does, and I think this is one of those times – the beat’s still heavy enough to satisfy as a chorus, even if it’s no bigger than the verse was.

I also like the post-bridge moment, which provides a whimsical touch for anybody who might find it dragging a bit.

Tom: Yes, but he’s pronounced ‘fire’ as two syllables and ‘desire’ as three – “fi-yah” and “desi-yah“. That irritates me for some reason – and now I’ve brought it to your attention, it’ll annoy you too.

Tim: It doesn’t, actually, mainly because it’s quite hard to pronounce -ire as one syllable anyway, especially if you’re singing.

The one really bad thing about it, though, is that video, which was clearly made by someone who should never ever have been introduced to Windows Movie Maker.

Hurts – All I Want for Christmas is New Year’s Day

Oh my word, that’s lovely.

Tim: Now then, Tom. Imagine: you’re a songwriter, you’re not so keen on Christmas right now, for one reason or another, and you want to tell the world.

Tom: This had better be good, Tim. I don’t like new Christmas records as a general rule.

Tim: Do you (a) make a track about how life isn’t great and that hopefully soon the trouble will pass, or (b) make a track about how life isn’t great and that hopefully soon the trouble will pass that’s so incredibly festive that there is no way it cannot fail to bring back Christmas memories? Well, guess what Hurts did.

Tom: Oh my word, that’s lovely.

Tim: Isn’t it? I love it – partly it’s because I really like Christmas music, and if I had the power I would pass a law decreeing that chiming bells must be used in all music releases.

Tom: Don’t ever do that. It’d mean that the proper use of them, like this, wouldn’t be special any more. Normally in Christmas music bells are chucked in at the end, just to add the ‘right feeling’ in there, but they just fit so well here.

Tim: Fair point. Guess I may as well put my political career on hold, then. Anyway, I also love this because it fits with the Hurts formula that I think is superb: entirely contrasting moods of music and lyrics, massive chorus, and vaguely optimistic outlook – ‘I know there’ll be tidings of joy this time next year but happiness has never felt so far away’.

Tom: ‘And all I want for Christmas is New Year’s Day.’ As I write this, I’m tired, and so I’m likely to be a bit more emotional than my normal cynical dry-husk self… but that just hit me right in the heart. See? I just used italics, for crying out loud.

Tim: However, minor annoyance: ‘It’s only seven days till Christmas, six more till New Years Day’. LEARN TO COUNT. They’re even the same day of the week; how hard can it be?

Tom: I’m even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this; there’s six days between the end of Christmas and the start of New Years’ Day, and I think that’s just fine.

Tim: I guess you’re right. It is a bloody marvellous song, though, so I will happily overlook it. Just this once, though.

Tom: This is going to be my Christmas song for this year. I’m not sure what I’ll be getting up to, but whatever it is, this song is always going to bring back memories of it. Well done, Hurts. Well done.

Tim: Absolutely. And you know what the best thing of all is? They’ve gone and been all lovely and have decided that, since it’s Christmas, for the next seven days anybody with an iTunes account can get it absolutely free.

Black Eyed Peas – The Time (Dirty Bit)

Is it music? Not really. Is it listenable? Not at all.

Tim: Now, what is this? Is it music? Not really. Is it listenable? Not at all. Why, then, are we featuring it? Because it’s too awful not to, and for some unknown (and to me utterly inconceivable) reason the normally fairly sensible British public have bought more copies of it this past week than of any other single. The thing is, I could cope with it if it was a Black Eyed Peas version of Time of My Life, and I might even enjoy it somewhat.

Tom: For the first minute, I was wondering what was so offensive about it – it sounded like they’d just covered Time of My Life, which wouldn’t be a bad thing in itself.

Tim: I could just about cope with it if it was just the other part of it, although I’d probably just dismiss it and forget about it. But as it is, it’s just appalling. The fact that part of it is a cover implies that it’s meant to be music, but I really can’t work out any form of a tune for much of the rest of it, which is surely a necessary part.

The one redeeming thing about it is that, for a five minute song, it seems to pass fairly quickly.

Tom: Not for me, Tim. Not for me.

Tim: Oh, and as for the video: full marks to the CG people, but boxes on heads? What? I’m also wondering what the criteria are for whether someone gets turned into bricks or not – are these the people that are too ashamed to be seen in this video? And also, at 3:26, is that actually a girl fellating somebody on the dancefloor? Because that’s what it looks like, even if he is made of blocks.

Tom: For a while I thought it depended on whether their voices were filtered or not, but… no. It’s just there because it’s there.

Tim: Although having watched the video I am tempted to go out and pre-order a Blackberry Playbook. Except NO. I’M NOT. BECAUSE SHIT PRODUCT PLACEMENT LIKE THAT IS HORRENDOUS. AND I HATE THE SONG EVEN MORE NOW.

Tom: I think we’re in agreement there.

Cee-Lo Green – It’s OK

It seems that pretty much everything Cee-Lo touches turns to gold.

Tom: It seems that pretty much everything Cee-Lo touches turns to gold. I hope the second single off ‘The Ladykiller’ gets some attention, even though it doesn’t have the shock value of ‘Fuck You‘ – because it deserves it.

Tom: It doesn’t have quite the same singalong quality to it, but my word it’s an excellent track.

Tim: I agree.

Tom: This is neo-soul – like Motown only with modern production values – and I have the feeling that record labels are already hunting round for the next ten singers they’re going to try and shoehorn into that slot.

Tim: Probably, although one of the most likely contenders was voted off the X Factor, after being compared to just about any black person going (seriously – there was Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross and, um, Lenny Henry).

Tom: Honestly, this song just makes me smile.

Tim: Yes. I really like the lyrics videos they’ve done – even if the song takes a bit of dip at one point, you can just follow the words like a dog watching TV, not really knowing what’s going on but enchanted by the pretty patterns.

Tom: It’s called “kinetic typography“, and it’s one of those things that’s easy to do – but very difficult to do well. Folks who try to rip it off will just… well, they’ll look like they’re ripping it off.

Daniel Adams-Ray – Gubben i Lådan

I started pumping my fist in the air during the intro.

Tim: Daniel Adams-Ray (Swedish/Scottish/Indonesian/Kenyan, but mostly Swedish) used to be half of hip-hop duo Snook, who drifted apart about six years ago; he took a break to go to design school and start a fashion label, but now he’s back on the scene as a solo artist and with an entirely different form of music. Such as this, which nine weeks on has only recently stopped being number one in Sweden, and whose title translates to ‘The Old Man in the Box’.

Tom: I started pumping my fist in the air during the intro. That’s the simplest and yet the heaviest percussion I’ve heard on a track like this, and it works perfectly.

Tim: Yes – I think it’s rather pleasant, really. It’s sung from the perspective of a man utterly devoted to his woman – ‘I took a bullet for you, and got little back / For you I will do it, a thousand times over’ – and musically I think fits well with that, being appropriately loud and energetic without being overly so.

Tom: It’s quite a spartan track, and that works – I can see why it was number one. There’ll be a remix that speeds it up a bit, no doubt, which will remove some of the plodding feeling that comes with it being basically a march in 2/4 time.

Tim: There are moments of ‘is it really still going?’ when it gets quiet two minutes in, but they quickly dissipate to be replaced by the same raw enthusiasm that the song returns with.

Tom: I got exactly that same feeling – but it’s worth it when it kicks back in. I want it to be faster and more danceable, but I respect the fact that it’s not.

Kaija Koo – Vapaa

It could be the theme to a sixties European spy film.

Tim: From a Finnish woman who here looks like she’s stepped straight out of forty years ago comes this, a fairly normal – and thus fairly good – piece of schlager.

Tom: That opening sounds like it’s from forty years ago. It could be the theme to a sixties European spy film until the chorus kicks in.

Tim: Medium level verses, quiet and sedated bridge and loud and energetic choruses.

Tom: The Finnish equivalent of Roger Moore sneaks around, raising an eyebrow as a naked woman, artfully filmed from behind, steps out of a sauna and into the ocean.

Tim: Um, okay. The Finns seem to love it, as it’s been scarpering around their top 10 for the past four or five months now, and I can see why.

Tom: She turns round to notice him – again, artfully filmed from behind, and he quips a one-liner about her appearance. She replies, he approaches, and then – seemingly for no reason – he shoves her into the ocean.

Tim: Um, Tom? You know we’re meant to be discussing this song, right? Anyway, outside of Eurovision entry competitions, this sort of stuff isn’t all that fashionable right now, but there’s clearly still a market for it, and a very good thing that is.

Tom: He spins round and, without stopping to aim, shoots the assassin with the blow dart that was about to kill them both.

Tim: Nope, he’s gone. He’ll come round eventually – he usually does, although it would be nice if this time doesn’t involve a gerbil and some pink hair dye.

Tom: She surfaces, sputtering, and realises what’s happened. Cut to sex scene, then cut to bad guy’s HQ. You can write the rest from there.