“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.