It is time for another songcheck on ESC Song Reviews. In this series we examine all the songs that are ready for Eurovision 2016 in Stockholm as they pop up. Today we have reached the songs from Belarus, Malta and Spain.
Belarus: Ivan – “Help You Fly”
The song is in a cold synthpop universe containing some echoes of the 80’s. While on a personal level the style is not so much my taste, there are still some OK elements in it. The most striking of them is perhaps a relatively effective hookline that is easy to remember and makes the song recognizable: “I will help you learn how to fly, how to fly”. The hookline, though recognizable, is however very ordinary, and I don’t think it is enough to make people vote for it.
The song contains a fine dynamics between verse, bridge and chorus where the bridge (“It’s time you release yourself…”) leads from a relatively silent verse to a more loud chorus. Most of the song is kept in a dark Aeolic D-minor key, but the contrast piece (“If I can fly then you can…”) flirts with D-major, crating some fine “longing”. Unfortunately this is the only counterweight to an otherwise rather clinical and soulless song.
Ivan’s singing is not entirely convincing, especially as he gets a bit out of tune in some passages, f.e. in “Before you can let go” in the first bridge. He has a fine raw voice, but somehow he is not so good at communicating the song. There’s a lack of presence. As for the lyrics, they are a bit diffuse: something about someone who is trapped in a bad situation created by him/herself (“You feel you are the poison”) and the song’s narrator trying to help him/her out. Linguistically it is also a bit messy sometimes, f.e. in lines like “Now all the questions and no direction / They make our reasons insane”. How can a reason be made insane?
So formally the song hangs together well, at least musically, but it is not always enough. Apart from the flirting with major in the contrast piece, there isn’t really anything outstanding to capture the listener’s interest, and lyrically it is very anonymous. It could improve if Ivan made his vocal performance more living. Right now the spark is missing. 5/12
Malta: Ira Losco – “Chameleon”
Having previously represented Malta in Eurovision 2002 with the song “7th Wonder”, Ira Losco is back with “Chameleon”. In 2002 she came second; will it happen again in 2016?
If Belarus’ song was clinical, this one is even more clinical. Both melody and harmony is going nowhere, and they don’t really contain anything to make the song live. F.e. in the verse the melody is more or less emphasizing the same notes over and over again, and in the last line it sort of sets off to move somewhere, but instead it lands on the previously mentioned notes (“And it felt so innocent”). Another example is the way the melody ends in the line “And I’m never gonna let it fade away” in the second verse. The melody moves up to a higher pitch in the chorus, but once again the lines are focusing too much on the same notes (in this case the notes A and B in particular – the key is Aeolic F-sharp minor). Just listen to the way it ends at “with you”. The chorus, by the way, sounds more like a bridge leading up to a chorus.
Also the chords aren’t really leading anywhere. The verse is repeating the progression I-VI-III-III (F#m-D-A-A) whereas the first part of the chorus contains this movement: VI-VI-I-I-III-III-VII-V (D-D-F#m-F#m-A-A-E-C#m) – it is slightly changed in the second part.
The production is very unimaginative, if not downright boring. As a bonus info it contains what is apparently a cliché in present day pop music, namely a rhythmical figure that also appeared in the theme music from Eurovision 2014:
There is a small twist to it, however: After the second chorus, the final 4th note is taken out, leaving us with a 7/4 time signature. But that’s just about the only outstanding element of the song.
Ira Losco is singing the song very well technically; she is clearly vocally stable in her performance, but like the production and the composition, she sounds very sterile. She is almost too stable. As for the lyrics, it is a bit difficult for me to say anything about them, probably because there isn’t anything outstanding about them either. If anything, lines such as “We are invincible” sound like something we have heard before in this context.
So Ira Losco is very unlikely to repeat her second place from 2002. Wheres “7th Wonder” had some naivistic charm, there’s not much charm to get here. The production and performance is very professional, but professionalism is not always enough. And it is not a good composition. 3/12
Spain: Barei – “Say Yay!”
In 2015 Spain went for an internal selection, but this time the broadcaster TVE chose to use a national final to find their entry. The winner, “Say Yay!”, performed by the singer Barei, is the first Spanish Eurovision entry to be performed entirely in English.
The song is not flawless, and especially the bridge between verse and chorus (“I feel alive…”) is a bit weak, but the other parts are making it up for that. The harmonics actually contain some of the same chord progressions as in the Maltese song, f.e. the VI-I-III progression which can be heard in the chorus, but they make more sense here, and especially the VI chord contains a lot of tension f.e. in the beginning of the chorus the way it is used. And the melody is stronger and more dynamic, containing a fine bluesy feel with a lot of so-called blue notes. Once again it is limited to relatively few notes, but the bluesy feel makes it live.
There is a certain soul feeling in the song which is contained both by the previously mentioned blue notes, by the call-and-response elements f.e. in the bridge (where the choir responds to the lead singer’s “I feel alive”, “My whole life” etc., or their “Yay yay yay yay” in the chorus), as well as by Barei’s energetic vocal performance. There’s a bit of Aretha Franklin in it perhaps. I also get associations to the German “Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein” from 1975.
The song and the performance contains a lot of energy which is actually very infective. And where Ivan from Belarus didn’t really succeed in communicating his song, Barei does. From silent and low-pitched in the first verse to loud and high-pitched in the rest of the song. Barei has written the song herself, and you can easily hear that. She sounds like she really means it.
As with the Maltese song I find it a bit difficult to decide what to think of the lyrics – apparently about someone’s fight for his/her own dreams against something unspecific. In any case, lines such as “Hurray, sing it la la la la” are very Eurovision. There is much more to get from the music.
“Say Yay!” is clearly the best song chosen so far. It is by no means perfect, but it is very infectious. 8/12
(Another fine song from the Spanish final was Electric Nana’s punky “Now” which is probably a bit closer to my personal taste in music. It would have been a good entry too – though it was a bit too deep for her voice.)