Music Features

The Singles Bar: Eurovision 2014 Special (Part Three)

The first semi-final is now out of the way, and we now know the majority of the line-up for Saturday’s event. All that remains is for the last fifteen countries to do battle, the first eight of which are assessed here. If you want to catch up, check out Parts One and Two.

Malta: Firelight – Coming Home

The second semi-final kicks off with Coming Home by Maltese folk-pop outfit Firelight, led by Richard Edwards (not that one), who was a contestant in the 2005 series of the UK X Factor. Coming Home has a pretty ambitious video – it begins with an explosion in the wartime trenches – but then there’s the strum of an acoustic guitar, a double bass, a tambourine and… hang on, this is Mumford & Sons, isn’t it? Oh no, oh please no. Apart from the fact there’s a lung-busting female vocal part-way through and Firelight don’t appear to be dressed like they spend their spare time shooting defenceless animals, this really, genuinely could be Mumford & Sons. There’s foot-tapping, there’s a harmonica, there’s no semblance of swing or syncopation whatsoever. The anti-war theme, while intending to be noble – the video actually explicitly mentions the centenary of World War I – it comes across as more of a shameless cash-in. Plus, just to reiterate, you know, Mumford & Sons. 0/12

Israel: Mei Finegold – Same Heart

Another artist, another talent show; Mei Finegold got her break by finishing third in the Israeli version of Pop Idol in 2009. Finegold has history fronting rock groups, and it shows as her vocals are deep, rumbling and dramatic. It’s a mid-tempo track with an overly-reaching vocal to begin with, but there are layers of distorted guitar in the chorus, and Finegold’s voice breaks into a vicious rasp. It took me about ninety seconds for me to work out what Same Heart reminds me of, and it’s largely forgotten Scandinavian pop-rockers The Rasmus. That is, if The Rasmus were fronted by a woman and liked to inject a fair amount of Hebrew into their songs. It’s an odd one though, as the video is firmly in the pop tradition, in that Finegold wears not that much and has her own dance routine, which is a definite mismatch with the song. Overall though, it doesn’t really stick in the memory. 5/12

Key change count: 4

Norway: Carl Espen – Silent Storm

Most entrants to the competition have a long history of trying to make it in this business that we call show. Carl Espen’s bio, however, says that he’s a carpenter and doorman who spent six months serving in Kosovo. Not exactly Miley Cyrus then (though, looking at him with his beard and broad frame, you could probably have worked that out for yourself). There’s delicate piano to begin (for a change) and then an unintentionally hilarious sequence in the video, where Espen’s drawing what looks like a rudimentary turret, his pencil breaks, and it looks like he’s about to burst into tears. Also, it might just be my Wi-Fi connection, but our friend Carl’s not exactly the best at lip-synching, as far as I can see. Given how wet and uninspiring this maudlin ballad is, I think I’d fancy my chances sneaking into the bars of Norway if they’re content to put people like Carl Espen on the door. 2/12

Georgia: The Shin & Mariko – Three Minutes To Earth

I’d like to believe that James Mercer has gone fully solo and is just performing under the name of The Shin, but I’ve a feeling that isn’t the case. In fact, according to Wikipedia, The Shin are actually a fusion jazz band, which should at least make this a bit more interesting than that last Norwegian entry. Listening to Three Minutes To Earth, I don’t know what I’d describe it as, but I don’t think “fusion jazz” would be near the top of my list. That said, it’s certainly intriguing; it’s got an Eastern European folk feel, but there are complex rhythms, bass runs and unexpected chord changes all over the place. It sounds as if everyone in the band is playing a different song, yet somehow it all hangs together. It’s like they’ve tried to inject a bit of modernity into the work of Pentangle, which isn’t exactly necessary, but it’s certainly different from most of what the rest of the entrants provide. 9/12

Poland: Donatan & Cleo - My Słowianie – We Are Slavic (English: Us Slavs – We Are Slavic)

Poland’s first excursion into Eurovision for three years is with the tautologically-titled My Słowianie – We Are Slavic. Considering singer Donatan has come under fire in the past for his pan-Slavic, pro-communism views, you can’t help but wonder just how nationalist this song will be. The song’s video begins with Donatan waking up in bed next to two girls and blowing on his giant horn – the cad. Then Cleo begins rapping: “We are Slavic girls, we know how to use our charm and beauty / Now shake what your Momma gave you, clap your hands to this music.” Cleo provides more reasons why Slavic girls are apparently the best but it seems the video director has other ideas, spending most of the time focusing on the cleavages of the girls in the video. After a couple of verses of that, we stop for a folky accordion break, because of course we do. Overly jingoistic and potentially problematic, it’s difficult to see this hitting the right notes in non-Slavic nations. The video’s about as subtle as a Nuts magazine article too; one of the closing scenes features a naked woman washing herself in a barrel. 0/12

Austria: Conchita Wurst – Rise Like A Phoenix

It’s likely the Austrians will be raising a few eyebrows with this one. Conchita Wurst (which, brilliantly, translates from Spanish and German into English as “Seashell Sausage) is actually a drag act, the creation of singer Tom Neuwirth. You’ll guess that Wurst is actually a man, thanks to the full beard. A grand, string-swept opening gives way to, yes, piano chords and emotional vocals, with a tune that’s strangely reminiscent of the verse from Bon Jovi’s Always. The chorus soars exactly as you’d expect it to and, some over-zealous string work aside, there’s little to distinguish it from the multitude of ballads that are clogging up this year’s contest. Old Seashell Sausage has a decent enough voice though – strong and powerful without succumbing to the dreaded melisma. A song about rebirth that’s full of drama and strings – is there a key change? You bet your life there is. 4/12

Key change count: 5

Lithuania: Vilija Matačiūnaitė – Attention

First up, ten points to anyone who can pronounce that surname; it’s a doozy. While some of this year’s entrants are reality show graduates, Matačiūnaitė seems to do nothing but talent shows, having appeared in multiple incarnations of the format over the last decade or so. Attention is an electro-pop track that, from a few seconds in, is clearly going to go the full dubstep drop in the chorus. When that does happen, it’s actually not as extreme as you might have expected, and what we’re left with is an above-average dance song. In fact, with a little more refinement, it’s the kind of thing you can imagine Ellie Goulding putting her name to. Probably the most worthy of the name “banger” in this year’s competition. 8/12

Finland: Softengine – Something Better

According to the back-story, Something Better came out of quintet Softengine’s jam sessions, and originally started out life as a funk song. However, anybody hoping for some Red Hot Chili Peppers (if such people exist) will be disappointed as what we’ve got is an amalgamation of Bastille, One Republic, The Script and other bands too boring to remember what they’re actually called. To give Softengine their dues, the chorus of Something Better is heavier and more exciting than the bands just mentioned but it doesn’t shake the feeling that this is the sound of every hotly-tipped guitar band of the past twenty years. There’s a touch of the Coldplays in their “woah-oh-oh”s of the bridge too and while there are fewer original ideas here than in a Michael Bay script, it’s got more life to it than all the maudlin, solipsistic Eurovision ballads put together. 7/12

Bearded ladies, nationalistic raps and Georgian jazz fusion; looks like Eurovision still has the capability to deliver. Step this way for Part Four.