Saara Aalto – Every Christmas Day

“We’re a good twenty seconds in and it’s kind of OH NO WAIT HERE WE GO”

Tim: Alright then: the lights are up, my festive Lego sets are out, so let’s get Christmas going! First up, we’ve an EP from the one and only Saara Aalto, with a song written by the one and only Kylie Minogue. Yes, you read that right.

Tom: I’ve decided that I’ve got a different challenge this year, Tim, because admittedly my usual bleak and bah-humbug outlook doesn’t go well. Instead, I’m looking for just one song that could join The Pantheon of Christmas Songs: one that will still be on a Christmas compilation album in 10 years’ time. If, indeed, Christmas album compliations are still a thing by 2030.

I think there’s only been one song we’ve talked about here, in all the years, that might be there: Kelly Clarkson’s Underneath the Tree.

Tim: “This sounds a bit quiet,” you’re thinking. “We’ve a track written by Kylie, performed by Saara, and there’s nothing much happening,” you’re muttering. “We’re a good twenty seconds in and it’s kind of OH NO WAIT HERE WE GO,” you exclaim in delight, involuntarily moving your body left and right in time with the beat that’s suddenly appeared, sounding exactly as it should do.

Tom: I’m going to assume you’re talking to our reader, there, because all I got, sadly, was a “yes, that sounds like Kylie”. To be fair, that is a strong compliment: there is a lot to like about this song! Almost all Christmas tracks are cheap churned-out cash-ins and this really doesn’t feel like that. Change the lyrics a bit, remove a bit of the jingle, this could be a decent pop track any time of the year.

Tim: Now, I’ll accept there’s every chance I was predisposed to like this purely based on the names involved, but I’ve a feeling this is roughly exactly what a good Christmas dance pop tune should sound like – nothing too BANGING or THUMPING but still with a heavy amount of life to it, and lots of twinkly notes and a few sleight bells to get across the festivity. Lyrics that really keep wanging on about Christmas, sung in Saara’s lovely voice, and what else can you ask for in a Christmas song?

Tom: It’s a strong start to the month, Tim, I’ll give you that. I worry that it’s all downhill from here, but — for once, this year — I’m actually going to allow myself a little bit of hope.

Saara Aalto – Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

“Two options for you here: the regular version, which is a fairly nice piano ballad, or the UK Radio Edit, which is much more BANGING.”

Tim: Two options for you here: the regular version, which is a fairly nice piano ballad, or the UK Radio Edit, which is much more BANGING. Which would you prefer?

Tom: I feel like I’m being given a choice so obvious that it’s going to backfire, but: BANGING. OF COURSE.

Tim: That is the CORRECT answer.

Tim: So, presumably hoping to cash in on her continued success on Dancing On Ice, this has been released to UK stations, where it’s had, erm, well, not much success, but never mind, because this really is a track and a half.

Tom: Are you sure? I mean, it is certainly a track, I’m just wondering where you’re getting the other half from.

Tim: It’s very much in the ‘be true to yourself’ vein (so much so that the video for the original version was made in conjunction with the trans support charity Mermaids) and it’s nice that it works on two levels – the ‘shout the chorus line’ level which gives it a standard ‘let’s have a hell of a good night’ vibe, and the deeper lyrics in the verses where the more personal stuff comes out.

Tom: I think you may have raised my expectations too high by describing this as BANGING, Tim.

Tim: Well, technically I described it as ‘more banging’, but yes, fair enough.

Tom: There’s nothing actually wrong with it, and the message is laudable, but it’s very much a standard ballad without much else to say for it.

Tim: Incorrect, it is a BEEFED UP version of a standard ballad, and so musically, I also love it: the standard banging ballad formula of a quiet first verse, crash in with the chorus, slightly less quiet second verse, and so on, and she’s got a voice that suits that formula brilliantly. All in: this is great. Properly great.

Saara Aalto – Let It Go

“Only five years too late. Wait, five years? Huh. Five years.”

Tim: She was one of the lead voices in the Finnish version of Frozen, she’s on YouTube singing the song in fifteen languages, she did it when she was on The X Factor and last night she sung it whilst skating.

Tom: Normally at this point, I gripe that someone’s reused a name from a massively popular track, but no, apparently not.

Tim: Finally, the time has come for her to properly release a cover of it.

Tom: Only five years too late. Wait, five years? Huh. Five years.

Tim: I had a listen to Saara’s album the other day, and pleasingly it’s really, really good. It goes in strong on the ‘mostly pop but with good dance backing’ that we hear for the majority of this, and it sounds entirely great, there and here. Sure, you’ve got your first opening verse being standard to lure the punters in, but then BOOM the second verse hits, you turn it sideways and put your stamp on it, and from then on it’s a great cover of an already fantastic song.

Tom: That second verse took me by surprise, but like you say: that’s probably the point. The voice is strong, and she’s definitely qualified to sing it: I think one of the things missing here, though, is the sheer force of emotion that Idina Menzel somehow managed to also cram into the original.

Tim: There are presumably hundreds of covers of the song lying around the music industry; right now, this is my favourite.

Saara Aalto – Monsters

“Let’s talk, briefly, about what happened on Saturday night.”

Tim: Okay, so let’s talk, briefly, about what happened on Saturday night. I’m not talking about our result, because that’d lead to a wild and inaccurate chorus of ‘everybody hates us’, or about the stage invasion, because enough has been said about that elsewhere. Nor do I want to talk about the winner, which really just sounded like someone had raided the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Tom: Harsh. Not entirely unfair, but harsh.

Tim: Part of me wants to talk about the massive jury/televote disparity that occurred with a surprisingly high number of songs this year – to name just two, Sweden was fourth after all the juries, but immediately (and joyously) second from bottom with the televotes, while Ukraine was bottom with the jurors. but top 10 with the viewers, despite performing first.

Tom: The jury voting calculation was changed this year, too, so one juror couldn’t drag down the vote from a country.

Tim: What I really want to talk about is this one.

Tim: Because OH MAN, talk about an injustice with it finishing second from bottom. It actually got very similar points to us – 25 from the jury, and 23 vs our 25 for the televotes – which isn’t particularly surprising, given that they are very similar styles (which I suppose does mean somewhat that I’m moaning about our placing, but never mind).

Tom: So when we ran through all the tracks before Eurovision, you rated this as your third best — whereas I rated it as “I have no opinions about this song whatsoever”. Which makes sense, because even listening back to it now, I can’t actually remember having ever heard it before. Why on earth did you like it?

Tim: Well maybe it’s just a preferred genre, then, but I see this as a damn good track, particularly once you add in the staging, which has everything there but the knife thrower, and that death-defying (ish) leap at the end. It really, really surprised me when I realised it was getting so few points. Mystifying, it is. Downright MYSTIFYING.

Tom: I think it’s more than it’s just… it’s just a middle-of-the-road song. Competent, sure, but there’s nothing to make it stand out.

Tim: Actually, there is one other thing worth noting: smug irritant Alexander Rybak came top in his semi-final but finished left hand side of the table. Funny old thing, Eurovision, isn’t it?

Saturday Reject: Saara Aalto – Domino

“That is a BRILLIANT chorus.”

Tim: Finland took the unusual (but not unheard of) step this year of having one artist presenting three songs for the public to choose from. The singer is Saara, who UK readers may remember as runner up in the 2016 series of The X Factor; others may recognise her from previous Eurovision selection competitions, Finland’s The Voice 2012, and considerable success in China, apparently. The winner was a pretty good dancepop number; this here is a really rather excellent ballad.

Tim: Annoyingly I’ve no idea what it looked like live, as for some reason the winning performance is the only one online, but if the sound of it is anything to go by it was likely fairly impressive – if nothing else, that’s a hell of a chorus.

Tom: That is a BRILLIANT chorus. I think this is the first reject where I’ve actually been startled by how good the chorus is.

Tim: I particularly like that the chorus goes on for twice as long as it needs to, and as a result makes up the considerable majority of the song. When you add in the middle eight (with that outstanding vocal note coming out of it), there’s only really a few seconds that the verses might ruin as an inferior part.

Tom: In a contest where most of the audience will have only heard the song once, having a good, catchy, and repeated chorus is a bonus. The verses — well, yep, they were over quickly, just in case they made it worse.

Tim: And they don’t, at all, because they’re very good as well.

Tom: Plus, what an end-and-return from the middle eight!

Tim: All in all, an excellent track, and it’d have been a very worthy Eurovision contender.