Tim: I’ll be honest with you, Tom – not long after I pressed play on this I got bored and picked up my phone, and didn’t realise until the end of it that I’d missed a pretty good track. Don’t do that.
Tom: I tried. I genuinely tried. And then halfway through the final chorus, I absent-mindedly opened a new tab and looked up something that had crossed my mind.
Tim: Agh, this is so frustrating. See, I’m sure this is a good track, with individual parts that all work fine: the chorus has a lovely melody to it, verses flow along well enough, it doesn’t really do anything wrong, and every moment I’m listening I’m thinking “yeah, I like this”.
Tom: There’s some really good vocal work, too, like that falsetto in the last line of the chorus. (How much of that is live performance, and how much is digital trickery? These days, I guess it doesn’t matter.)
Tim: Sure, maybe it could do with something bigger when it comes back after the middle eight, because the lyrics really deserve it, but overall it’s fine. Except, I seem fundamentally unable to pay attention to it. I press play, I listen for a bit, and then I go back to Twitter. I stop myself, go back to the music, think “yes, this is definitely good”, and thirty seconds later I’ve opened up a new tab and am browsing some other website.
Tom: It’s not just you. For once, we’re in complete agreement: it’s a good song. It just doesn’t hold the attention, which to me is inexplicable.
Tim: And that really, really annoys me – because I like this! I really do! But I just can’t get myself to actually pay attention to it.
“I’m fairly sure that’s one of the best ballads I’ve heard in a long time.”
Tim: We first met Ruben a few weeks back as the vocalist on Alan Walker’s last one; now he’s out on his own with this. The video is fairly graphic with bits of self-harm, so you may want to just listen to the song without it, here:
Tim: And I’m fairly sure that’s one of the best ballads I’ve heard in a long time.
Tom: As I listened to the first part of this, I couldn’t figure out why you’d written that. It’s not a patch on Fai Rumore, of course, but yes: it does some good things by the end.
Tim: Starts out fairly quiet with just a bit of piano, but then builds up quickly with drums and strings and all sorts of orchestral majesty, blowing us away by the time the final chorus arrives.
Tom: I reckon it’s one of those tracks where the middle eight might be the strongest point, but yes, that final chorus does hold up.
Tim: On top of all that, he’s got a very strong voice, more than doing justice to the drama in the lyrics, all going together to sound fantastic. Does it need to come with that sort of video? Hmm, probably not, we could maybe do with something lighter right now, but never mind that – it’s the song that’s important, and it’s great.
Tom: Three minutes long, could probably stand to either be a bit shorter or go up a key for that final verse, it’s basically exactly what you expect from something like that.
Tim: It is – though actually, I’d disagree about the key change. It’d work in a pop track, sure, but for big dance bangers like this I’m not sure you need it. Something new in there, perhaps, or tone down the first choruses just slightly, but I’d say a key change is the wrong answer. And I’ll probably never say that again.
Tom: But here’s what I’m trying to work out: is the first attempt we’ve seen at a socially-distanced “normal” music video, or did they just film the two of them in an empty club and accidentally come up with a bleak vision of what Ibiza’s going to be like this summer?
Tim: Hmm, good point – the lyrics make no mention of anything like that, but yeah – certainly is an upsetting look ahead.
Tim: Yes, I know it’s not a proper release or anything, but in a normal year we’d have a chat today about what happened on Saturday, and this got played out at the end of the replacement show, Shine A Light. In any case, does anyone ever need a reason to listen to this song?
Tom: Here’s a ha-ha-no-but-seriously idea for you: if Britain ever becomes a republic, Love Shine A Light should be the national anthem. Not the original recording, obviously, it’d have to be reorchestrated a bit. Okay, sure, it’d never happen, but it couldn’t be any worse than Land Of Hope And Glory.
Tim: That is true, and now you’ve mentioned it I can’t really think of a reason it shouldn’t be. And actually, Saturday already gave us a start with some orchestration – the Zagreb moment is just lovely.
The show itself, for anyone who didn’t watch it, was an odd affair – playing 30 second clips of each of this year’s songs followed by a quick message from the relevant performer, with the occasional dip into Eurovision history. The idea of it was to show how great Eurovision can be, and how it can be used as an escape from, well, everything, but however hard it tried it never quite managed to overcome the fact that nobody actually wanted this to happen.
Tom: Quick note: you know that “sponsored by Moroccanoil” tag that’s been in every damn Eurovision YouTube video this year? These day-of videos are the first time I’ve seen it gain a slogan, and it’s also the first time I’ve realised that Moroccanoil is not, in fact, some multinational oil company.
Tim: Same for me, actually, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the reason it got given a slogan.
Tim: Well, no, it hasn’t got me in there dancing my nuts off (1:28, light blue t-shirt, a little below the fire exit sign).
Tom: But given everything, they did a decent job.
Tim: They did. There are bits you can criticise, sure – some of the men were given bits way out of their comfort zone, and whoever gave Croatia’s Damir the idea that he was free to play with the melody however he wanted should be given a severe talking to.
Tom: There are some very, uh, interesting choices by the production team: I recognise they’ll have had to deal with a lot of amateur filming and sound equipment, so the heavy processing is often excusable. But if you’re going to stretch it a whole minute, why rush into the choruses? Why cut-and-chop the verses around so much? (I assume it’s because of short deadlines, but still.)
Tim: But there are brilliant bits as well. The fabulous lockdown hair of Blas from Spain and Uku from Estonia, for example, and Ukraine’s Go_A in a onesie with her cat. There was Daði from Iceland doing his thing (whose video message was quite something as well).
Tom: And giving the first line of each chorus to a duet or trio, which means you get some brilliant harmonies in there.
Tim: Huh, do you know I’d not noticed that, but you’re right, that is good – The Mamas in particular sound wonderful. There’s also then the genuine joy coming out of Vasil from North Macedonia, and of course Katrina coming along at the end to close it off perfectly.
“This from Croatia ended up also being one of my favourites.”
Tim: We should probably mention the fact that it’s Eurovision week – obviously the contest itself has been cancelled, but there’s still the odd thing happening here and there. As ever, we had a listen through the tracks, and although we concluded that overall it not taking place is probably no major loss, there were a few good ones.
Tom: Yep. It’s harsh, but this was going to be the Eurovision of Dull Mediocre Ballads. Still, there were a few highlights.
Tim: We’ve already featured Britain’s, and this from Croatia ended up also being one of my favourites.
Tim: It’s a ballad, and it’s a big ballad. He’s singing about Wild Winds, and how the weather has turned to shit now the target of the song has left him, rain as cold as ice, leaves blowing off the trees and autumn colours all over the place; to be honest I quite like autumn colours, but I guess it takes all sorts.
Tom: I think it says a lot that this was one of our highlights of this year’s entries: this would have been middle-of-the-pack most years, I reckon. It’s certainly a more retro Eurovision song: big key change, big drumbeat at the end.
Tim: Beyond my first sentence, I have two main observations: first, I find myself staggered that, given the lyrics, they didn’t stick a wind machine in front of the backing singers, and secondly, that’s a great key change. Not just because of how it’s performed, or for everything that goes with it, but because right up until he lifts the vocal note, there’s every sign that it’s coming to the end of the song.
Tom: The ol’ fake ending. It can work: and it’ll certainly give a big back-from-the-brink moment to use in the voting recap.
Tim: If you’re not paying much attention to it – you don’t like ballads, you’ve just come back from the toilet – you may well be expecting the song to end, but suddenly HOLY MOLY no it very much does not end. And I think that’s marvellous.
Tim: In normal years we’d still have a Reject here today; since we’ve got through all the decent ones, though, let’s have this, a Eurovision track from 2014 that I’m properly surprised we’ve never featured it. It was Latvia’s entry, and despite that being the year you and I went, we never got to see it as it failed to qualify. Nevertheless, I love it.
Tom: And I remember it! Which by my standards is practically the same thing.
Tim: It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, it knows it, and it’s having a lot of fun. Take a look at the violinist: she knows there’s nothing being heard from it, so halfway through she just gives up on it; she’s not alone, and the fact that the only one still going at the end is the one with the silly shaker thing (there’s probably a proper word for that, it’s not important) says basically everything we need to know.
Tom: Is it a novelty song, or is it a genuine attempt at making a pop song? Who knows. It’s catchy, at least, and… hmm. I’m not sure “wholesome” is the right word, but also “banal” sounds too harsh.
Tim: Way too harsh. The lyrics are fun, even if they don’t quite cross the bar into funny, and the music is, well, probably exactly the genre you need if you’re going to ask your mum for help baking.
Tom: I’m not convinced that recipe’s thorough enough, though.
Tim: Good point – and now you mention it, and much as I normally hate a rapping breakdown, I’d be interested to have someone jump in with an actual recipe, which could well push it up to the next level of excellent. Or ruin it, who knows.
Upsettingly, the best part isn’t in here, or in the proper video, but only in the studio version: the second guy jumping in occasionally with the ‘piece of cake’ only happens once, he’s far more gruff and it comes out of absolutely nowhere. It’s still good here, but it doesn’t have quite the same East End gangster vibe to it. Ah, well. Either way, fabulous song. Should have won.
“Doesn’t sound anything like you’ll expect it to.”
Tom: Forever Young, again?
Tim: Weird coincidence: yesterday I was trying to think of my favourite cover song to submit for a work playlist, and naturally my mind briefly went to One Direction, and then I ended up listening to the Interactive version, and (for a few seconds at least) the German rap version; later on, I found out that Boy In Space has just released his own version – which doesn’t sound anything like you’ll expect it to.
Tim: Forever Young’s a difficult one, really – it’s been covered so often that you’d imagine it’d be hard for anyone to do anything new with it, and yet pleasingly Mr Space here seems to have managed it.
Tom: It’s not a song that I’d have expected to become a standard, certainly. “Perish like a fading horse” continues to be an incredibly clunky lyric. It’s the power of a good chorus, I guess.
And you’re right that he’s done something new, although that something new appears to be “having almost zero percussion whatsoever”.
Tim: We’ve a lovely dreamy sound to it that I don’t know of having been done before, even though it suits the song really really well – it’s got a relaxed tone that gives the song a more reflective note, a sort of ‘sitting in a field contemplating what it might actually be like’ vibe, and that really works for me.
There are bits I’m not keen on, mind – the vocal shift in the chorus comes as a bit of a shock, and while the constant build through the second verse and chorus is lovely, it’s frustrating that it leads to absolutely nothing.
Tom: Yep, that’s my big complaint. It’s the lack of percussion: it implies strongly that at some point the drums are going to kick in, possibly even with a Phil Collins-style, In-The-Air-Tonight triumphant drop, but… no. This is just the style.
Tim: But for the feeling it brings, and for the interpretation, I do like it.
“So, I know I said last week that I wasn’t in the mood for a banger right now.”
Tim: Swedish dance producer whose tracks I really enjoy every time we feature them, but who I completely forget to add to my ‘watch for new music by this artist’ app; that’s now been rectified, so let’s hear the song.
Tim: So, I know I said last week that I wasn’t in the mood for a banger right now.
Tom: Well, I mean, everyone’s being affected by lockdown in different ways.
Tim: But as it turns out, when it sounds this great I absolutely am. The lyrics don’t really mean anything – caught in the middle of what, exactly, and is ‘just a little’ better or worse than it was when you were caught there? – and I’m really not convinced by the ‘oah’ spelling in the lyric video.
Tom: You can’t open with all that! You’ve covered basically everything I was going to say! (Although “oah” feels right to me; short of putting a hyphen in the middle I can’t think of a better way to transcribe it.)
Tim: But those things don’t matter, because the dance breakdown bits are really really good.
Tom: It’s a good album track, I reckon; not going to be a sudden summer smash floorfiller, but it’ll do well enough.
Tim: That speedy xylophone run sounds brilliant (tropical house, ridiculous as ever), the rest of the chorus melody fits in nicely around it, and all in all this is a top notch track.
Tim: Covering a six month old hit by one of the world’s biggest acts? Risky, but sure, it’s lockdown, why not.
Tom: Well, that started out disappointing, didn’t it? The thing that draws you into Blinding Lights is that driving boots-and-cats percussion matched with a really dark vocal. This is… not an improvement.
Tim: Probably worth mentioning that as far as The Weeknd goes, I am basically entirely neutral – his music’s fine, he has a ridiculous name, that’s kind of it, so I’m open to this, with no advance feelings at all.
Tom: Whereas for me, I really like Blinding Lights, and I’ve been really impressed with the live performances he’s been doing: he’s someone who knows the medium well enough to play around with it.
Tim: And so, it’s…perfectly fine. To start with, anyway, as for the first 49 seconds I was wondering ‘why have they done this?’, because it doesn’t do anything new, doesn’t bring anything of them to it. But then it changed! The second and fourth lines of the chorus, we’ve their echo-y chanting sound, and then the guitar post-chorus is definitely new and notable, and now it’s worthwhile.
Tom: You’re right, that electric-guitar is a really interesting way to play with the synth line. And this does redeem itself by the final chorus. The additional two-beat hesitation in there is clever. It’s just that there seems to be so much missing up until then.
The Postal Service’s cover of Against All Odds did this right: it’s so different in genre, at least to start, that it doesn’t invite immediate comparisons. By the time it actually gets going, you’re not expecting to hear the original.
Tim: Better or worse is obviously up to your genre preference – but it terms of a cover, it’s good.
Tim: So, normally the first thing I’d go in for here would be the lyrics, and how silly the chorus is where he’s telling the world exactly what the secret mission is, thereby rendering it entirely pointless, but this time I won’t! There’s a simple reason for that, mind: this song’s bloody brilliant.
Tom: Strong words. There’s certainly a lot to like here, although I’m not sure it stands out all that much. Why do you like it so much?
Tim: It’s very much like Wednesday’s track, really, and I guess 80s synthpop in general: when it’s done right, it can be really, really good. It got me going from the very start with that nice twiddly opening, and then those guitary synth as well.
Tom: And, to be fair, I can absolutely remember the chorus after one listen.
Tim: Part of what I love is that as well as giving us all the usual bits, we’ve the odd surprise here and there as well. Someone coming along all French? Sure! Key change in the middle eight? Absolutely! Howling vocals in the background of the final chorus? OH GOD YES. Lyrical pedantry aside, I’ve not got a single problem with this song. It’s wonderful.