Jan&Jascha – Europa

“I haven’t clicked on it yet, and the title and thumbnail already irritate me.”

Tim: A “cross-border friendship anthem” now from a new German duo here, and I genuinely don’t know if you’ll find this annoying, or enjoyable – I’m in the latter camp, though I’m fairly sure having the video up gives it a very firm shove that way.

Tom: I’ll tell you this much, I haven’t clicked on it yet, and the title and thumbnail already irritate me.

Tim: Ah, fabulous.

Tom: I think you have to be in the right mood for this song, Tim. I… am not. Fairly sure that there’s a brand-name drop of WhatsApp in there; if I heard that right, then the quiet “ugh” I muttered under my breath was worth it.

Tim: I’m sorry to tell you that in that case yes, it was worth it.

Tom: Have you tried this without the video?

Tim: I have, yes, and sadly it’s nowhere near as enjoyable. I just found it a tad dull, really (chorus aside which perks it up a bit), and while I appreciate a London Eye shoutout as much as the next guy, it really is just standard folk pop. With the video, though – aww. Just a bit of fun, isn’t it?

Tom: It’s a novelty song, simple as that. And those have to be really good for me to like them.

Tim: Yeah, but there’s nice enthusiasm about being part of somewhere that “means much more than just different nationalities and languages”, as they say, and how “despite all cultural differences and idiosyncrasies, we share a strong community spirit, especially in times of greatest challenges.” Isn’t that just a wonderful sentiment? Naïve, perhaps, but still wonderful.

Miriam Bryant – Passa Dig

“that’s been put together by someone who knows how to produce a chorus.”

Tim: Starts out as a quiet and potentially dreary piano ballad; come the chorus, well…

Tom: Well, that’s been put together by someone who knows how to produce a chorus.

Tim: So that’s a decent song: I was plenty impressed when the chorus happened, the instrumental underneath all sounds great, and although that ending doesn’t really scream 2020, the sound of it is great. There’s one big flaw in it for me, though, which is that it feels way, way too long.

It isn’t, really, but I looked at the clock when the instrumental began and was very surprised I wasn’t yet three minutes in.

Tom: Yep. I was all geared up for that to be headed to the final chorus, only to find that the track’s only half way through.

Tim: Two reasons, as far as I can tell: one is that it’s got almost a full minute of instrumental fade-out; wouldn’t normally be a problem, particularly when it sounds as good as it genuinely does.

Tom: Yep: even if that pair of yelping synth notes start to grate after a while. Repeat to fade is a brave choice in 2020, but honestly, I think it does work here.

Tim: But then there’s the second problem. The main notes are all two beats long, and it just feels dragged out, almost literally at the end, as if someone had fed it into Logic and just stretched it out to half speed. It’s annoying, particularly because I could probably easily live with either one of those two: finish it after that last chorus, fine. Stick in an extra drum beat on the second and fourth notes, fine. But together? Agh, just can’t quite get it.

Christopher – Leap of Faith

“Agh, this is so frustrating.”

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.

Saturday Flashback: Timo Martin – Met Stip Op Nummer 1

“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.

Tim: Sure, I’ll give it a go.

Ruben – Burn Down This Room

“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.

DJ Herzbeat – Maybe ft. Sonia Liebing

“Schlager time.”

Tom: Schlager time.

Tim: Hooray!

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.

The Artists of Eurovision 2020 – Love Shine A Light

“Given everything, they did a decent job.”

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.

Until, that is, the end, when a lovely message came from Björn from ABBA, followed by this.

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.

Tom: Well, look, it’s never going to beat the tent-revival version from 2016, is it?

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.

All in all, it might not have been the best night, but they had a decent go at it anyway. Oh, and there was a nice announcement at the end.

Tom: Here’s hoping. And what a lovely motto to choose.

Saturday Flashback: Charlotte Perrelli – Hero

“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.

Lesley Roy – Story Of My Life

“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.

Tim: Ah, well.

Diodato – Fai Rumore

“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.