The Best Of The Rest – Semi-final 2
Posted by Caroline on May 21, 2008
Goodness, can there ever have been a better start to any Eurovision final, or indeed, semi-final, than the first four songs which will kick off the second qualifier? If there has been a better opening, we certainly can’t think of it! Things get off to a cracking start with Iceland who, after failing to make much of an impact on the Eurovision stage recently (Selma disappointed in 2005 while their attempt to ‘do a Dustin’ with Silvia Night in 2006 failed miserably, thus proving that ironic songs about Eurovision are generally a Very Bad Idea) have returned with their best effort in years. This Is My Life by the duo Eurobandid is a fast, frantic and Eurodisco-tastic stomper of a tune – we weren’t quite so enthusiastic at first but like Romania’s Tornero in 2006, it has crept up on us and now we just can’t get enough of it. In an ideal world, this would be certain to qualify; whether it will remains to be seen, but we’re keeping everything crossed for them. In the mean time, crank up the volume on your telly and DANCE.
And then it’s the turn of Sweden – ironically this year represented by Charlotte Perelli, the lady who, as Charlotte Nielsen, deprived the Icelandics of their first ever victory in 1999. Perelli is hoping to ‘do a Johnny Logan’ and win the contest for a second time – and we don’t half fancy her chances, for Hero (a vastly superior effort to her previous winner Take Me To Your Heaven) ticks all the right boxes; upbeat, lively Schlager pop by a former Eurovision champion, complete with the obligatory key change and a chorus that’ll be bouncing around in your head for days. We always find ourselves rating Sweden but this year we mean it. Could this be the song that will stop the naysayers bleating about East European dominance as it brings the contest back to the home for Abba for a fifth time? We reckon it just might be.
And the great songs just keep on coming with Turkey. A dramatic departure from the ethno-R&B-Justin Timberlake-alike sounds of recent years (take a bow Kenan Dogulu et al), Deli by Mor Ve Otesi is quite possibly the best song in the entire contest. A moody indie rock song with grinding guitars, growling vocals and an epic, flag-waving chorus, this will qualify for certain – whether it has the capacity to go all the way is another matter but it’s great to see something so diverse from the Turks. As for us, we can’t get enough of it!
But just when you thought things couldn’t carry on this way, we have Ukraine who, in six years of participation have barely put a foot wrong (except, ironically, the year they were hosting the contest). This year they have a fabulous Kylie-esque disco stomper of a number in the form of Ani Lorak’s Shady Lady – and despite some very daft lyrics (so you are the brandy snap that we’ve never known then Ani?) it is quite fabulous. Expect over the top choreography and a very high placing on the scoreboard. In fact we wouldn’t entirely rule out a return to Kiev next year.
But of course all good things have to come to an end – and the fifth song of the night by Lithuania brings us down to earth with a bump. The polar opposite of the Ukrainians, Lithuania have a seriously patchy Eurovision record which only perked up in 2006 with LT United’s inspiredly daft We Are The Winners (yup, another case of having to resort to a novelty song to get noticed, which as we saw from Estonia’s crash and burn the other night, doesn’t always work). This year they’re playing it serious – a bit too serious in fact – with Jeronimas Milius’ Nomads In The Night. Since we don’t wish to be nitpicky we will refrain from making comments about his haircut (but CRIKEY Jeronimas, we haven’t seen a mullet like that since about 1987! Sorry…..) and focus on the song, which is a thoroughly overblown piece of pomp rock that wouldn’t look out of place on a Jim Steinman compilation album (but only as an afterthought bonus track). It is sung with the utmost sincerity. And is utterly useless. Although is way funnier than anything Dustin could come up with – what a pity it wasn’t meant to be.
Far better is the Albanian entry, whose charms we have only recently warmed to. Olta Boka’s tongue-twisting Zemren E Lame Peng (damn it, we will never get the hang of this Albanian) is a fine, stirring ethnic ballad – possibly the best in the contest, and certainly the best Albanian effort since their 2004 debut Image Of You. We’re really hoping this one qualifies, as it could be a potential dark horse. Yes, really.
And then it’s the turn of Switzerland, who failed to make it out of the final last year despite being the favourites with their song Vampires Are Alive (for the record, DJ Bobo the editor’s two-year-old daughter, aka Junior Eurovision, knows a much better song about vampires, so there). However, we are liking this a lot more – Era Stupendo (aka It Was Wonderful) by Paolo Meneguzzi is a full-on old school Eurovision entry – part ballad, part uptempo, big chorus, and all sung in Italian. It wouldn’t have been out of place in an early 90s line-up but it works pretty well here too. Expect the Swiss to do far better this year.
Czech Republic, meanwhile, are back for a second try despite a less than auspicious debut last year (finishing bottom in the whole world with just one point – and if anyone can remember who gave it to them you are more observant than us). This year their hopes rest on Tereza Kerndlova with her song Have Some Fun, which is bright, poppy, upbeat – and completely and utterly unmemorable. Looks like the Czechs will have to sit the final out for another year.
And so to Belarus, who were one of our favourites last year (and not just because we got a little flushed and hot under the collar at the sight of a tight-shirted Koldun in Helsinki). This year they’ve gone for another pretty boy, Ruslan Alenho, with a dancey number Hasta La Vista – and it’s not bad, were it not for that fact that Ruslan just ain’t that pretty (in fact he bears a strange resemblance to a Soviet Steve Buscemi if we’re being honest) and if the evidence from the national final is anything to go by he has all the dancing abilities of someone’s older brother at a youth club disco. Looks like we may be saying, er, hasta la vista to the Belarussians for another year then.
Now here’s one which has divided audiences – it’s the Latvian entry. If there’s one thing which can be said for the Latvians, they’re consistently interesting even if they’re not always that successful, and never cease to entertain us with different musical styles – the good including Brainstorm’s indie-pop My Star and Marie N’s Latin-tinged winner I Wanna, the less good including Cosmos’ weird acapella number I Hear Your Heart (and we could also put the operatic Questa Notte by Bonaparti in there even though we loved it, because it didn’t really do very well did it?)
This year, however, they have come up with what can only be described as our “guilty pleasure” of the contest. Few entries have divided Eurovision-philes as much as their pirate-themed disco number Wolves Of The Sea, complete with pirate costumes and wacky dance routine – some think it’s genius, others think it’s a travesty – but curiously enough this seems to be the one which has captured the imagination of the non-Eurovision fan, the Scooch-loving casual viewer who actually found the UK’s entry entertaining last year.
Actually we have to say we prefer this – and given the fact that the non-fans seem to have taken it to their hearts and they’ll be the ones who’ll be voting on the night having heard the songs for the first time, we can’t help feeling it might do rather well. And as for us – well we want to hate it, in the same way that we want to hate celebrity reality shows, or Adam Sandler movies, or tabloid exposes on what Britney had for breakfast – but we can’t. There’s something eminently fun and silly about it which we just can’t resist, however hard we try.
And as for the novelty factor? Well it’s there to be sure but let’s be honest – if this weren’t a song about pirates and it was just another song about something mundane would anybody call it a novelty? Of course not. How it will fare, we really can’t tell but we’ll be watching it with interest…
Hot on the heels of the Latvians are Croatia, with a song which our new friend John Kennedy O’Connor described as a novelty entry but which our Gogol Bordello loving gypsy music listening editor assures us most definitely isn’t. Although it does have the added novelty of what appears to be a dotty nonegenerian singer shouting insane nonsense in Croatian (sounding rather like the kind of filthy incomprehensible babble that drunken tramps shout in the West End at 2am). No matter, Kraljevi Ulice and 75 Cents (presumably 50 Cent’s pricier East European cousin) have come up with a jolly little gypsy tune called Romanca which, for our money, is far less gimmicky than the similarly-themed Romanian entry of 2007. And it’s pleasant enough but not overwhelming – really not sure this one will make it however unless it gets a sudden surge of support from its neighbours, especially given that it comes between the colourful Latvian song and…..
…..Bulgaria. And we are sat here still asking ourselves the question: “when did the Bulgarians get so good at this?” Last year their song Voda was one of our favourites and soared into the top five, and this year we wouldn’t put it past them to do it again. DJ Take Me Away by Deep Zone and Balthazar is like nothing else you will have heard (or indeed will hear) in the contest, complete with its deck-scratching DJs, reggae rhythms, gunshot noises, pounding beats and sultry female vocals. Oh, and its breakdancing. It’s as if 1987 never ended, but actually there’s nothing really wrong with that! A cool, fun and funky number which should definitely make a splash, provided the stage show is as flashy as the song deserves.
And so to Denmark, who have a task on their hands in keeping the Scandinavian end up,so to speak, since Norway and Finland have both qualified for the final and Sweden are almost certain to follow suit. Whether they’ll make the cut remains to be seen – it’s not that we don’t like Simon Mathew’s jaunty, Robbie Williams-alike song All Night Long – far from it, it was one of our early favourites and we did originally tip it to do well – it’s just that, well, as much as we like it, we can’t help thinking it might be forgotten about amidst all the seafarers, breakdancers and other assorted characters of the second semi-final. There’s definitely potential for it to do as well as Jakob Sveistrup did the other year with Talking To You but Simon’s going to have to put on a memorable performance if he wants that to become a reality.
The sophomore effort from Georgia, meanwhile, has attracted some attention due to the fact it’s sung by a blind performer, Diana Gurtskaya (the first visually impaired singer since 2002’s Corinna May, we believe). We have taken a pop at the lovely Ms Gurtskaya in the past after she launched her own perfume in time for the contest but somehow don’t feel quite so inclined to do the same thing when discussing her song Peace Will Come (unless we happen to be referring to that amusingly childish ‘retitle’ of the song about someone who is having trouble going to the toilet – oh, you get our drift. Shall we just pack up and leave now?) Anyway, this actually isn’t half bad, putting us in mind of the epic, anthemic flag-wavers which used to win Eurovision in the past, but we’re still not entirely sure it has the necessary sparkle needed to make it out of such a crowded semi-final, and can’t help feeling that once again it will all rest on the performance. Still, we were thrilled when Georgia qualified last year and would be lovely to see them do the same this year.
Now here’s a bit of a dark horse, from Hungary. Czesy’s song Candlelight currently has odds of 150-1 with Paddy Power, and as such we just couldn’t resist a little flutter – largely because this kind of big ballad has the capacity to do very well indeed, regardless of odds, and the word from Belgrade is that she delivers a powerhouse performance. Let’s just cast aside for a moment the fact that this is the lady who has a shaking mole in her back garden and she is therefore as mad as a tree, and focus on the song, which once again harks back to old-school Eurovision with its big, epic choruses and the like. And let us not forget just how well Israel’s Shiri Maimon did with a similar song in 2005, and how well Malta’s Chiara did in the very same year. This might be as cliched as hell but it’s also simple, polished and effective, and if Czesy can deliver the goods on the semi-final stage then we reckon Hungary could be looking at a very high placing on the scoreboard indeed. As for us, we will be watching our investment with great interest.
Next up it’s Malta. And we won’t waste our breath this year saying how much we want the Maltese to win Eurovision, since they’ve had a bit of a bad run the last couple of years and at this rate are in danger of becoming the Portugal of the 21st Century (especially now that Portugal have fielded a rather good tune which is tipped to do great things on the night). Actually, we rather like Morena’s song Vodka in a silly jump-around-the-room-with-your-tights-on-your-head kind of way. And the title is certainly appropriate since many viewers will probably have drunk a fair quantity of this by the time the Maltese take to the stage and would be within their rights to wig out accordingly. Yet we just can’t help thinking it’s all a bit too fast and frantic for its own good – and even more so we’re baffled as to why a lady from a sunny Mediterranean country would want to sing a song about being a Russian spy in Gorky Park. Isn’t that the equivalent of the Russians singing a song about going to a spa resort in Gozo? No matter, we fear this will be overlooked on the night, thus putting Malta at the top of our list of candidates guaranteed to send a joke song in 2009.
Another one of our early favourites was Cyprus. Evdokia Kadi’s Femme Fatale attempts to bring a regional flavour to the contest and for the most part it succeeds, but the song itself just sounds a little cheap – it sounds to us like the kind of thing you might hear accompanying choreographed plate smashing at a tourist restaurant in Larnaca. And without the Greeks in the same semi-final, we’re hard-pressed to work out where the Cypriots are going to get their votes from. Better luck next year, chaps?
And so we’re down to the last two in the semi-final – and a more contrasting pair you would be hard-pressed to find. FYR Macedonia appear to have gotten themselves trapped in this weird Eurovision cycle in which they qualify every single year thanks to neighbourly voting only to then perform below par in the final itself and end up right back in the semi final the following year whereby the whole process begins again. Had there not been two semis this year including almost everybody they would have been in the same situation since the exact same thing happened last year (although unlike previous years we actually thought they deserved to be in the final in 2007). This year’s song, Let Me Love You by Tamara, Vrcak and Adrijan, is an ultra-modern R&B/rap flavoured number with a spot of ethnopop thrown in for good measure – and while it originally left us cold we’re now beginning to quite like it. The only problem we have with it, however, is that it didn’t appear to come over too well when performed live in the national final – if we’re being honest, it was a bit of a mess. And with the rug of neighbourly voting pulled from under them to a certain extent, the Macedonians are going to have to work hard to secure their usual spot in the final this year. That said, this kind of music is popular and if they can keep it together, then they’re in – on merit this time rather than anything else.
And last but not least it’s Portugal – and here’s a bit of a surprise, for after several years of gamely entering and performing rather badly (and not so much getting a whiff of action beyond the semi-final), the Portuguese have pulled a decent song out of the bag. Vania Fernandes’ big ballad Senhora Do Mar starts small, builds up and ultimately provides a stirring, dramatic end to the competition. The Eurovision fans absolutely love this one, and we are starting to see the appeal also – admittedly there are a lot of ballads in the contest this year but we reckon that Vania has the capacity to deliver the goods. Against our previous better judgment, we could see this doing very well indeed – and frankly it’s about time the Portuguese had some success on the Eurovision stage. Lisbon 2009, anyone?