Tim: We didn’t feature the original of this, Sweden’s would-have-been Eurovision entry, largely because neither of us thought a great deal of it. A couple of weeks I heard it again, though, and it turns out I liked it a bit more on second listen. It also turns out I like it a LOT more when Hogland’s had a go at it.
Tim: Bit of a banger, really.
Tom: My brain stuttered a bit at “life, oh life“, but yes, that is a marked improvement on the original. Although I wonder how much of that is because it’s a better song, and how much of it is that it’s just… faster.
Tim: If I have any criticism, it’s that it’s almost too fast, as a large amount of the vocals seem immediately a bit off, with it being blindingly obvious that it’s a pre-recorded track sped up.
Tom: Yep. There’s not a lot of vibrato in there — and that vocal quality is of course, incredible — but the melisma in the middle eight doesn’t survive well.
Tim: It’s not so bad in the opening part of the verse, and the backing vocals and post-chorus oh-ohs are fine, but it’s the main chorus when they’re together that it falls down a bit. On the other hand, that is largely made up for by all the extra speed and extra vaguely tropical bits that are chucked on top, what with it now being a significantly more enjoyable track. Hooray for remixes!
“I didn’t think a pop song could pull that off, and yet it just has done.”
Tim: Third track off their upcoming album Faith; we didn’t feature their second, and I’m not quite sure why, because it’s fairly good (though the intro’s a bit unpleasant, maybe that put me off). This one, in contrast, is…well. Headphones, please, and sit back, as it entirely deserves 100% of your attention. There’s an official video, but we’ll just have the artwork for now, I’ll explain later.
Tom: “I’ve never felt this far from God.” That’s a bold and devastating first line, isn’t it? And for an album called “Faith”… it’s rare for the first verse of a track to grab me like that.
Tim: Isn’t it brilliant? I first listened to this when I was walking home from work the other night, and for the first minute I was ‘yep, this is a good Hurts track, they are doing what they do very well’; the light backing vocal then confirmed that. Second verse and chorus, still as before, fine, still good – might have expected something bigger, but again I have, well, faith in them, and even just at that base level it still sounds stunning.
Tom: It’s a perfect example of how to construct a song that builds like this: just subtly introducing instruments throughout, occasional pizzicato strings here, a bit more percussion there…
Tim: And then the middle eight, and OH BOY. Gentle electric guitar, sure. Fine. But then, just, blimey. Strings come down, and suddenly Hans Zimmer walks into the room, and it sounds incredible.
Tom: It works! Most bands don’t even attempt something like this; those that do, tend not to hit the bar. There are bits I wasn’t sure about at first (the odd dubstep-esque breakdown, the final note) but those qualms vanished on a second listen. Frankly, this is a statement of a song, and I’m not going to argue with it.
Tim: The vocals come back up later, and at the end of it I’m astounded by what I’ve heard. I didn’t think a pop song could pull that off, and yet it just has done. It is, quite simply, utterly marvellous.
Tom: When Hurts are good — and they’re not always good, but when they are — they’re one of the greatest pop acts we have.
Tim: Now, all of that is the case if you’re just listening to the song, but there’s also the video. You can watch it here if you don’t want this discussion to spoil it, but it starts out exactly as it should and as you might expect from this: the two of them standing under spotlights, Theo singing and Adam playing piano, and it stays like that until what we shall call the Zimmer Moment, and suddenly it turns from song to soundtrack. Now, although I’m sure it’s partly there for shock value, I don’t think it’s too gratuitous, that’s not my issue – after all, the idea of redemption by fire isn’t a new one, particularly if you’re bringing religion into it.
Tom: And a note to every video director: this is how you light and grade a dark video for modern broadcast workflow. Faces are clear, there’s a minimum of colour banding. It’s not perfect, compression still ruins some close-ups of the eye with fire, but it’s about the best you could hope for. I agree, I don’t think that’s too gratuitous, there’s no close-up of injury there, it’s clear that it’s a metaphor — and a stunt.
Tim: But it does mean that you go immediately from watching a song being played to watching a film with a great score, and that’s not what I think a music video should be. It’s different from, say, Alan Walker, or Basshunter back in the day, because with them the music is entirely unrelated to the video – you’ve a story and a song happening at the same time, but that’s about it. Here, the music is directly related to what’s happening on screen, and what’s happening on screen is the main focus of the whole piece. And as a music video, I don’t think that should be the case.
Tim: Couple of weeks back, Britain’s best club night did a virtual party over Zoom as it obviously couldn’t happen in person – about a hundred people connected, seven hours of a DJ playing music with frequent cuts to people dancing in their rooms with ridiculous outfits, flags, lights, all sorts. Whole lot of fun, with this being one song that was played that I was surprised to have no memory of whatsoever.
Tom: What an odd choice of brass samples! Flagged up in the performance video, just about audible from time to time, but never actually brought to the forefront. Even in the middle eight, they’re relying on a vocal sample and dance moves. It’s like they wanted to aim for Sunstroke Project but couldn’t bring themselves to commit.
Tim: Ah, a beautiful reference there. I’m not sure why we didn’t feature it in our Rejects that year either – perhaps 2015 was a very strong year, but in any case it’s here now, so finally we have justice. Because what a good song it is!
Tom: It is, but I can most likely destroy your enjoyment of it with one word.
Tim: Ooh, that’s a claim and a half.
Tom: Do name the good things first, though.
Tim: From the moment he starts singing there’s plenty of energy there, a lovely melody into and throughout the chorus (and who doesn’t love a good “screw you” in the lyrics?) with a nice brassy breakdown every now and again. Although, speaking of the lyrics, it’s never actually specified what the ‘it’ is that’s going to sting, nor who it’s going to sting. I’ve been looking at the lyrics for a while now and I really can’t work it out, which is slightly annoying, but, oh well. Music’s good enough for me. Wasn’t for him, mind, as of course Måns won instead, but at least he got straight to the final, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Anyway, what’s that word?
Tim: Hmm…nice try, but no. Still fine with it. Sorry.
Tim: Dario G brought out Hola, his first new album in almost 20 years, a couple of weeks ago and yesterday I finally got round to listening to it. Pleasingly, it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard in recent years – not necessarily because all the tracks are brilliant (though there are a lot of great tracks), but because of the way it’s put together, with a definite beginning, middle and end, rather than a standard “yep, here’s twelve tracks, chuck ’em on there”.
Tom: Right! As streaming increasingly moves towards singles and playlists, there’s not much room left for albums with a theme, let alone the old idea of concept albums. Which makes sense — recorded music has always adjusted to fit the medium it’s on — but I do feel it’s a bit of a shame. I like listening to An Album: and as you say, this is An Album.
Tim: We’ve an intro track, for example, with themes of the title track that we both enjoyed, which then gives way into this.
Tim: Lovely track, isn’t it? A lot of Dario G trademarks – those long backing vocal notes stand out particularly well, and the repetition of a fairly short melody with few lyrics that on some tracks would sound wrong, but here almost come across as almost earnest, just six words to get the message across.
Tom: It is, and I like the track overall. That one vocal line is just a bit too repetitive for me: it’s not like there’s a whole verse in there to run through. Which means I think there isn’t quite enough to sustain this length of track; it needs one, maybe two more layers.
(Side note: wouldn’t that sampled Dream Academy chant from Sunchyme go very nicely over the top of this? I know, almost every musical artist hates their old work being dragged up with the line “ooh, I liked that better”, but there’s the sun connection, and I do feel it needs… something.)
Tim: I don’t know – maybe it might be enhanced (few things in this world can’t be), but I definitely wouldn’t say it needs anything. But ACTUALLY I’m going to go off on a stupid Tim tangent here–
Tom: All right, brace yourselves, everyone.
Tim: –because I’ve just noticed that the ‘Sunrise’ in the title is written as one word, not the two that I’d assumed, which gives it an ever so slightly different meaning. My assumption was ‘You Make The Sun Rise’, a metaphor indicating that Leslie’s target inspires him, really improves his life and makes his day. Whereas ‘Sunrise’, one word, implies that the target is most likely Helios, Greek god of the sun who would pull the sun across the sky every day in a chariot. And it’s a long time since I’ve heard a great dance track that is also dedicated to an ancient god, and to be honest, I’m all for that.
“A really good way of putting a countermelody in without it being distracting.”
Tim: Fancy a sort of rock type ballad track? That’s a terrible introduction to it, but then ‘rock ballad’ doesn’t really describe it properly. I dunno, have a listen.
Tom: Huh. You’re right, that doesn’t easily fold into a genre.
Tim: Number of things in there I like, but I think my main one is the way the melody of the verse sort of floats around, gently moving from one note to another without too much of a leap between any two.
Tom: It’s a fine line between “relaxed” and “lazy”, but yes, it fits the style of that verse well.
Tim: That progresses into the chorus as well, mind, but doesn’t have quite the same gentleness to it, because obviously it needs to be a bit more energetic and forceful – which it really does, and that chorus is where a few other bits happen that I like. That includes my second favourite bit: the trumpety-sounding synth fanfare.
Tom: Yep. That arpeggiated synth line under the chorus is… well, the word that comes to mind is “clever”. That’s a really good way of putting a countermelody in without it being distracting. It’s an 80s-revival style we’re now familiar with, but used in a new and interesting way.
Tim: That’s then echoed by the dah-dah-dah-dahhhh vocal shortly, which sound entirely lovely working together. I love this track, I think it’s great.
“Let’s focus on the good bits, as there are a multitude of those.”
Tim: There are two things about this that will really annoy you, so I’ll warn you about them first: one, the effect in the video, which is even worse than a VHS filter, and two, the fact that the songwriters seem to think ‘medicine’ rhymes with ‘fine’ – which is doubly odd because one of them is the singer.
Tim: Do we blame the English language for being stupidly inconsistent? Hmm, maybe, though there’s definitely no excuse for the poor compression effect – and what I really don’t get about that is that this is just a lyric video, and there’s no reason whatsoever to have it there, as it’s not a reference to anything. So who decided it? And, more importantly, why? Is there a reason I’m missing?
Those two things aside, I really like this.
Tom: I have no issue with either of those things. At least the chromatic aberration and digital glitching is modern — heck, in thirty years’ time, that’ll be retro. And as for the rhyme, I’m not at all convinced that it’s intended to rhyme: I think it’s just a coincidence that the words happened to be spelled the same. I think it’s deliberately meant to break the rhyme scheme.
Does that help?
Tim: Hmmm…maybe – the annoying thing is that other lines in the chorus do end with a firm ‘I’ sound, so it’s not clear what there rhyme scheme is meant to be, but OH WELL let’s focus on the good bits, as there are a multitude of those. The gentle introduction of various instruments throughout the first verse works well, her voice is as lovely as ever, particularly when it’s heard in the almost a cappella bits of the chorus, and all in all it just…works, for me. I like it a lot.
Tom: Yep, agreed. It’s a lovely track, particularly that final chorus.
Tom: Yep, Oakenfold’s back after years! Trance DJ. Prolific remixer. The last big song he produced was Cher’s Woman’s World. And he’s working with the vocalist that most of the world knows from Despacito. Surely, this will be a BANGER.
Tim: I don’t trust that intro.
Tim: Hmm. Well, the first nine seconds were promising, but then, really, Paul?
Tom: …so anyway, it turns out that for the last decade or so, Oakenfold’s also been writing film scores. And once you know that, this does sort-of makes sense.
Tim: Does it? After all, a couple of decades ago he was writing TV themes (twenty years ago today, in fact), and that one was a right old tune. But even if that’s the case – this isn’t a film theme, it’s a mild pop song.
Tom: The fans who made pilgrimages to Tomorrowland to see him are, most likely, going to be disappointed. But if this rolled over the credits of a movie? Well, I’d probably think “that sounds okay” as I got up and left the cinema. Or, these days, stopped the stream and checked my phone.
“It’s been a while since I’ve heard string-stab samples in an intro.”
Tim: Lisa debuted with a fairly decent entry in Norway’s Melodifestivalen Grand Prix this year; clearly of the belief that three minutes is too long for a pop song, here’s her even shorter follow-up.
Tom: Huh. It’s been a while since I’ve heard string-stab samples in an intro.
Tim: Not a bad song, that, is it? Good and fast, as I suppose it has to be to get itself finished in that short time without feeling like it’s missing something. And it really doesn’t.
Tom: Yeah, fair play there, there’s even time for the song to build.
Tim: Typically low key first verse, but then that speed means we get to the meat of the song that much faster, hitting the high energy of the chorus in barely thirty seconds – which is, of course, the all important point as far as the streaming payout goes. As for that meat, it’s really quite meaty indeed – lyrics are fine, volume doesn’t let up, melody and production underneath is great, and those violins in the middle eight are lovely to hear.
Tom: It’s not going to set the world on fire, but it’ll do as a solid middle-of-the-playlist track.
“Full marks to the staging team, they absolutely nailed that.”
Tim: I said on Thursday we hadn’t featured Tone for ages; that’s largely because she’s been fairly quiet recently. Having said that, though, she did have this one for Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix this year, which somehow I didn’t see. Take a listen, I’ll think you’ll like it.
Tim: And isn’t that just a wonderful reveal? For the first few seconds I’m thinking “that staging’s weird, but okay I guess” but then I forgot about it and paid attention to the song, and then the chorus starts and oh, that’s a cheap way of doing it but right there you’ve got two for the price of one on shivers moments.
Tom: I was half-expecting them to have built the circular window to split in two, so the steadicam shot could continue ‘through’ it — but that shouldn’t take away from it, full marks to the staging team, they absolutely nailed that.
Tim: Didn’t they just? And then there’s something similar later on, so STOP NOW if you’re reading ahead, you’ll see it when it comes.
And there it is! A key change which I entirely didn’t see coming (and if you’ve read this far before it’s happened and have thus had it spoiled you’ve only yourself to blame), and some sparks flying out as well. Again, hardly a novel concept, but still lovely to watch and hear. As for why it didn’t win…hard to say.
Tom: I think it’s that the verses are, frankly, a bit dull. Now, you might argue that they have to be in order for that build and chorus to work — but I think you’d have lost everyone on that second verse.
Tim: I don’t know, you say that, but the eventual winner was in a similar style, though with even more of a contrast in volume between verses and chorus. Arguably this isn’t a Eurovision winner in any case – but it’s a lovely track all the same.
“That was a delightful surprise, getting something novel after the second chorus.”
Tim: It’s a dance track that’s only 2:18 in length, it’s gonna be one of those frustrating ones that just has two verses, two choruses and nothing else, right?
Tom: Never mind that! What about the menacing cartoon face in the video? Julie Bergan, you have been absolutely insulted by whoever drew that cartoon, it looks like a villain from a 90s cartoon, just a disembodied head bouncing around and yelling threatening questions. It was bad enough that I actually tabbed away, just so I could give the song a fair treatment.
You’re right, though, it does at least go somewhere interesting.
Tim: That was a delightful surprise, getting something novel after the second chorus. Admittedly it was only a couple of extra vocal lines, but it’s better than nothing at all, right? I’m fairly certain that liking this track will hinge squarely on that post-chorus, because there’s a lot of squeaking and squealing there and it pretty much drowns out the rest of the song when you’re thinking back after it’s finished. I’m going in and saying I quite like it – it certainly doesn’t put me off at all, and it’s a nice standout feature.
Tom: Right! I think if you changed the timbre of that synth just a little, it’d be like nails on a chalkboard, but it just about gets away with it.
Tim: In any case, even if you don’t like it the song’s barely two minutes long, there’s hardly time to head off the dancefloor to get another drink even if you wanted to. Huh, ‘dancefloor’. I remember those. Vaguely.