Saturday, 7 June 2008

# 39 Zemrën E Lamë Peng

I'm wondering whether I'm a little biassed when it comes to this song. Zemrën E Lamë Peng is a potent reminder of a time when in the run up to the 2008 contest when I found myself working on a special Eurovision-related project myself. I had this track playing in my ears morning, noon and night.

The song is a convincing one, with a heart-wrenching set of chord progressions which communicate pain and suffering even if I haven't looked at the English translation of the lyrics or even bothered to go and look at them now. (I know .. that's shameful isn't it, but I'm going on how it sounds). The bottom line is that when I listen to this I don't immediately think it's a Eurovision song. That means it has a spot of integrity in my book.

Sixteen years old when she participated in the Eurovision semi-final in 2008, Olta Boka was the youngest representative for Albania. Perhaps it's this combined with the inevitable lack of experience relative to her predecessors which means her live performance lacks a bit of punch. There are certainly some intonation problems from time to time.

Those problems to one side, this is still a great song with a satisfactory performance as well but its ultimately disappointing to see it did relatively badly in the final scoreboard coming a surprising 17th place on the big night.

# 38 Hear my plea

If there was an eastern Europe bias in the results from the 28 country strong semi-final this year, Albania didn't benefit from it.

This was to be the second year running Albania had failed to get through the semi-final stage ending up with a disappointing 17th place. A shame really as "Hear My Plea" sung by Aida & Frederik Ndoci is, based on a very simple comparison with their previous efforts, by far the strongest contribution Albania has made.

The song's anthemic chorus has a simple melody and is the just desserts for what starts off sounding like a slightly alienating opening melody. The overall sound and the stage presence makes for a solid statement to boot.

There's no doubt either that singing couple Aida & Frederik Ndoci show their obvious ability at delivering a punchy performance. They, like previous Albanian representatives, obviously have the necessary competence for singing in these kind of situations, something I might even go so far as to say is something of a trait of Albania's. Naturally such a wild and unsubstantiated claim may well be disproved when I cast a critical eye over Albania's 2008 entry.

Final place: 17/28
Final score: 49

# 37 Zjarr E Ftohtë

Oh deary me. Every time I watch this video I feel terribly sorry for Luiz Ejlli singing Zjarr E Ftohtë for Albania in 2006 whose performance to get the country through the semi-final that year.

Don't get me wrong, the boy can sing and doesn't suffer from any obvious on-stage nerves in terms of his voice production (quite possibly the result of having participated in the "Albanian" Idol equivalent. But, sweet jesus, he really can't dance to save his life.

True, it's not the most scintillating of songs. It was never going to be a winner given that it doesn't actually do very much or go anywhere. That said, it is representative of a culture (or at least it sounds that way) and, on a lightly geeky level, I do rather like the shuffle-style rythmn in the track.

Ultimately though, this song proves one scary truth about today's Eurovision. Participation isn't risky for an artist because of the quality of the song as much as it is the extent to which that artist has to place his trust in TV producers, choreographers and directors. When the song is chosen to represent a country it's those TV people who are charged with the task of putting that act on the Eurovision stage in such a way that people across Europe will sit up and take notice.

I can't bear watching the instrumental breaks. I can't quite wipe the idea from my mind that Luiz could quite easily be at the back of some wedding reception bobbing up and down uncomfortably to the beat, his mother and grandmother joining in the dance. He just looks like a teenager in his white suit and matching shoes. It's not particularly big and it's certainly not cool. But seeing as Luiz is reasonably easy on the eye, it is forgivable.

Final placing: 15/24 (semi-final)
Final score: 58

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

# 36 Tomorrow I Go

As the Thoroughly Good Eurovision bus makes its long and windy journey through the myriad of offerings, there are one or two things are slowly becoming clear to me. I am beginning to enjoy this massive process rather more than I thought I would. And I'm beginning to remember useless facts, useless scores and random song titles. I am, at last, embracing the inner geek.

Take Albania's efforts, for example. I know little about Albania and can recall even less about the last few years output from the Eurovision machine. That's why listening to some of the songs from the Thoroughly Good thirties I've found myself pleasantly reacquainted with some forgotten joys. Sure, they probably won't meet the exacting standards of some who read and consume this (there's only a handful - don't be misled) but some of these numbers do strike up some interesting memories.

Not so with this one. I don't really recall Albania's entry from 2005, quite possibly because it was lost in what I imagine I regarded back then as a sea of quite similar sounding tracks.

Whilst "Tomorrow I Go" starts off pretty well (in my book at least), it's not long before my attention is waning. The melody doesn't hold up against the whistling criteria I tested it against this afternoon (it just sounds crap when I whistle it - even the builders on the second floor of the office gave me funny looks when I passed them) and it's clear that gorgeous singer Ledina Celo struggles to deliver a strong enough performance.

But there's one thing which sticks in my mind the most about this little parade and that is the inexplicably dull and ultimately pointless choreography. I can forgive the balloon pants passing as ethnic dress but why on earth have six dancers on stage leaping around with fake violins ? It just don't work love. Sorry.

Ultimately however, every time I listen to the song (don't get me wrong, I have watched this video a few times as well) it's also painfully close to My Number One from Helena Paparizou which as we all know now won for Greece the same year.

Poor old Ledina never stood a chance. No surprises she came 16th with a grand total of 53 points. Still, she could have done worse. She could have come lower than the UK that year. But let's not go there. At least, not yet.

Final place: 16/24
Final score: 53

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

# 35 Image of You

The Albanians certainly went to a great deal of effort selecting their artist to represent the country at their first ever Eurovision in 2004. Seventeen year-old Anjeza Shahini beat twenty-nine other hopeful representatives in the RTSH (Albanian TV) song festival (Festivali i Kenges) with her song "Imazhi yt".

What makes the Albanian song quite interesting is that it began life as something a little different from the usual Eurovision entry. The version of the song Anjeza won the Albanian national final with was a non-EBU compliant four and a half minutes long, inevitably demanding a certain amount of rehashing on the part of the composers.

The result was the song translated into English with the title "The Image of You", one verse jettisoned and the whole sung at a faster tempo. (Liking the detail? Don't think I've absorbed this into an especially reserved area of my brain marked "Eurovision" - I just went trawling around on the internet.)

Having listened to the different versions on the internet today, I'm still certain that the original comes out on top in comparison.

Come the Eurovision semi (above video) in 2004, the performance had already gone through quite a drastic change too. Gone was the dubious choreography seen in the preview video, replaced by a group of singers who remained relatively static behind their microphones.

In a slightly gay-way I can't help thinking that the backing singers general attire on the night of the final looks like they'd just been pulled from an office somewhere to take part. They were, in fact, a collection of singers who had also competed national final Anjeza had won. There's a strange spirit in their performance which combined with Anjeza makes it seem like I'm watching a Eurovision from sometime in the 1980s. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, I hasten to add.

I wasn't absolutely convinced about the rehashed version in the final when I heard it again today for the first time in nearly four years. It doesn't really feel like it goes anywhere before eventually just grinding to a halt.

Anjeza gave an undeniably perky performance and could clearly belt out her song. The semi-final performance clearly showed what a hit she was in the hall and won through the semi.

Come the final, her obvious popularity and what by then seemed like a reasonably good song saw her and Albania finish in seventh place with a very respectable 106 points. In the final analysis it's just very difficult not to like it although it doesn't make me want to love it.

The ultimate indicator of a popular act must surely be a spot of imitation, courtesy of one obvious fan in Germany who shows himself as a potential performer himself. Don't deny it, each and every one of us has done a spot of this. Although, really and truly, I usually stick to doing it in front of the bathroom mirror.

Monday, 2 June 2008

# 34 Fight

At last, a vague sense of self-satisfaction as I complete a smallish chapter in this riduclously unwieldly Eurovision-related blog. Yes, this is the final contribution from Moldova (until some time in 2009) and on that basis I am feeling a little bit smug.

Natalia Barbu performed for Moldova in 2007 with "her" song Fight, a vast improvement on Loca from the previous year, but something which leaves me a little cold. There's more than a strong reminder of Ruslana with that skimpy leatherette number she's wearing.

The tub-thumping rock track reminds me just a little of Lordi's Hard Rock Hallelujah which won the previous year, although obviously Natalia looks considerably easier on the eye than Lordi did.

Having said that she does carry off a pretty good performance especially considering she has to hit quite a high note at the end something reflected in an equally good performance in the voting.

OIKO Times however carries a story post-Eurovision 2007 that Natalie would not put herself forward to represent Moldova in Eurovision again. It seems it's quite a costly exercise. "Prediction for the final: Unlikely to qualify"

Je T'Adore Eurovision: "Moldova for me were one of the shockers this year, and I can’t decide as to whether or not they were a prime example of political voting at it’s best or if it simply did strike a chord around Europe..."

Not sure I'd necessarily go with what concluded, "Natalie Barbu came 10th in the final with “Fight”. Maybe this proofs that new and innovative styles are very much appreciated at Eurovision."

MishaEurovision07 provides an account of Natalia in rehearsal in 2007.

Was it really innovative?

Final place: 10/24
Final score: 109

Sunday, 1 June 2008

# 33 Loca

One of the problems with setting myself the challenge of listening to every Eurovision song and then blogging about them, is that I do have to write about the ones I don't like. That's quite a challenge when the damn blog is prefaced "Thoroughly Good". After all, in a way, what's the point if I don't like them? (It's about being "thorough", that's what it's about. Geddit?)

Still, in pursuit of a vague feeling of accomplishment, I might as well get Moldova's Eurovision contributions out of the way as quickly as possible. Where the previous act from 2005 set me alight, this one from 2006 performed by Natalia Gordienko and the dubious-sounding Arsenium leaves me cold.

I can't even bear to look at the video to be honest, the sound of the song is enough to make me think of 80s Lilt adverts with partying twenty-somethings bobbing up and down beside a casually parked Volkswagen Beetle on a sun-kissed beach.

Moldova came 20th in the final in 2006, hence why they had to participate in the semi-final the year after. Strangely, it's not unlike the UK's Teenage Life from Daz Sampson which came in at 19th place in the final ranking the same year.

Final place: 20/24
Final score: 22