Songcheck 2016: Austria, Denmark, Switzerland

Last time we went through the entries from Belarus, Malta and Spain. Now three more songs are ready for Stockholm, from Austria, Denmark and Switzerland respectively.

Austria: Zoë – “Loin d’ici”


Like in 2015, the Austrians have decided their Eurovision entry through the selection process Wer singt für Österreich?. In 2015 the chosen song, “I’m Yours” by the Makemakes, came last with nul points, so the question now is, how far will they reach this time?

The first thing I noticed after hearing Zoë’s “Loin d’ici” for the first time (in the studio version) was that I could remember the chorus several days later – and that after having heard the song only once. That is often a good sign when it comes to the voting, but is it enough to make it a good song?

Clearly the melody in the chorus is quite effective, and the notes flow very easily. But another reason why I remembered it days after may also be the fact that the hookline is repeated again and again and again – to a point where it almost becomes brainwash. In other words: it is a very recognizable chorus, but you may also get tired of it very quickly. The melody in the verses is much thinner. It is mostly held inside an interval of only three notes; it isn’t really going anywhere, and it makes you wonder if the songwriting team just had to “fill something in” between the effective hookline that they have created.

The live vocals are not so impressive. Zoë is producing a very soft, Disney’ish vocal sound, but the result is so soft and sweet that it almost becomes unintentionally funny. Also, she has some difficulties hitting the notes in the second “Loin d’ici-i” in the chorus.

Then there are the lyrics which interestingly are written in French. Reading about Zoë as an artist, one will learn that there is a certain French orientation in her family, but to the neutral TV viewer it must seem like a bit of a gimmick – like Bonaparti.lv’s attempt at singing in Italian back in 2007. The chorus translates into “In a land far away from here, in search of Paradise, in a land far away from here, we sing, we sing” – quite corny in fact.

All in all a quite silly and somewhat comical song. It contains an effective chorus, but it is also very repetitive, and the musical and lyrical effects are exaggerated to an extent that it is hard to really take the song seriously. It may or may not reach the final, but I don’t think it will end at the left hand side of the scoreboard. 5/12

The backdrop used in the Austrian final is so striking that I will have to mentioned it here even though the purpose of the site is to focus mostly on the music. It consists of images of flowers, mushrooms and mountains, containing some very striking, unnatural colours. It is very, very kitsch and in-your-face, and it adds further to the (unintended?) comedy that may actually put a lot of people off.

Denmark: Lighthouse X – “Soldiers of Love”


Producing the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014 was an economic mess as the project company behind the event spent three times as much money as planned in making the old shipyard suitable for the contest, and the aftermath is not over yet. So one might think that DR is very interested in NOT winning at the moment. Nevertheless the Danish final this year was full of jokes about Denmark always winning in Sweden, but question is if that is a realistic scenario.

The song chosen by the Danish TV viewers is called “Soldiers of Love” which was also the title of the Belgian Eurovision entry in 1987 though the two songs bear very little reminiscence to each other. The song surprisingly won over the bookmaker favourites Simone and Anja Nissen, even though the gap between Lighthouse X and Anja was quite small.

Formally the song actually hangs together quite well. There is a good dynamic structure where f.e. the chorus is kept in an AABA form (where the “Take my hand” part is A and the “Soldiers of love” part is B); there’s a fine small piano intro before the first verse begins; the verse leads to a bridge building up to the chorus, and finally there’s a short break after the chorus. The melody gradually rises in pitch from verse to chorus which is usually a good thing, and it flows quite naturally. The melody has got some pentatone elements elements now and then, f.e. in the line “Soldiers of love, soldiers of love…”.

Unfortunately there isn’t really anything outstanding behind these formal aspects, since there are no elements that go beyond the standard template at any time. We never meet anything to grab our attention and surprise us, neither in the form, in the melody, in the chords or in the production. As a result the music becomes quite boring and impersonal, like an assembly line product. There is absolutely no edge to be found, it is all very flat, and it is sounding far too pleasant – not a good thing from an artistic point of view. Had there at least been f.e. an unexpected key change at one point (and with unexpected I do not mean a half or a whole note up – that is definitely NOT unexpected in a Eurovision context), a small instrumental part with strange sounds, or whatever, then things might have looked different.

The band members are performing the song relatively well technically, but their sound is too clean, so not even the vocal performances add anything personal to it.

And now we come to the biggest problem of the song, namely the lyrics. They consist almost entirely of clichés and standard phrases that have been used before a thousand times, f.e. “We can make it if we try” (Israel 2006), “Make it right”, “Take my hand”, “Never let go” (Albania 2009), “Side by side”, “Unbreakable” (Switzerland 2012 + Mohammed in DMGP 2013), “Shine a light” (UK 1997), plus of course the title phrase from Belgium 1987. It could – with some good will – be seen as a tribute to the Eurovision history, but it is not very likely. Instead it sounds more like a parody of some of the many anti-conflict and get-together songs from the ESC universe. With so many clichés it is completely empty of any poetic qualities, plus the message – if it is a message at all – has been used far too often. Nothing new under the sun.

So formally there is nothing wrong, at least on a musical basis, but artistically there is almost nothing to get here. “The Way You Are” from last year had some retro charm with it’s 60’s sound, and it sounded a bit more personal, being produced with real instruments. But there is not much charm to get here. It is the weakest Danish entry since “Drama Queen”, sadly.

So we have to add up the song’s good musical structure with its complete lack of distinctness and artistic values, and we end at 4/12

Switzerland: Rykka – “The Last of Our Kind”


The Swiss final took place on the same night as the Danish final and the San Remo Festival in Italy. Since it is still a bit uncertain which song will represent Italy, I will wait with that, but the Swiss song is ready. It is called “The Last of Our Kind” and is performed by the singer Rykka (Christina Maria Rieder), born in Canada, but with Swiss ancestors.

Whereas “Soldiers of Love” didn’t contain any unexpected elements, “The Last of Our Kind” actually does. F.e. there is a very unexpected key change at the beginning of the bridge (“Here we are at the end of the movie”). Thus there is a feeling that the songwriters actually want to communicate something to us and grab our attention – a big plus compared to the Danish song (The harmony changes back to the main key in the somewhat Roxette-like chorus). A less unexpected key change appears at the last chorus, namely a modulation one note up – as mentioned this is a Eurovision cliché. The melody is not particularly strong, but it has got a fine bluesy touch now and then (blue notes on “Not afraid to be brave” in the chorus f.e.). Also, the song has got a fine pop-dramaturgy with the title phrase as its peak.

Unfortunately the production seems very unfinished and demo-like, containing some of the sounds that also appeared in “Time to Shine” last year. I think the overall impression of the song could improve a lot with a better and more thorough and detailed production, so hopefully it will get a revamp before Stockholm.

The vocal performance has its pros and cons. Rykka is singing with a fine feeling, and she also has quite a good stage charisma. But she is not so good at articulating the words, and as a result it is often difficult to hear what she is singing. There are also a couple of insecure notes now and then. Another aspect is the issue of moving from one vocal register to another, something that can be heard in lines like “And we’re all that we know” where the word “all” is sung in another register than the other words – or “It’s a whole new world”. It makes the vocal presentation a bit unhomogenous, but perhaps it is peanuts in the big picture.

As for the lyrics they seem to contain some of the same themes as the Danish song, especially that of love above war and hate. However, it is a little more interesting this time (with emphasis on ‘a little’). There are less standard phrases, and there is a twist to it with lines like “And we’re out of our minds” and the mention of “our own ghosts” (suggesting a bit of self-criticism perhaps?). Still, the idea of leaving the world of war and conflicts behind and stepping into a paradise world is at best naive. Plus it also gets confusing sometimes: We are getting into a “whole new world” at the end of the story, but apparently we are “facing the fire” there. Wasn’t the whole new world supposed to be one without war?

It is a difficult song to rank because there are clearly possibilities of improvement. The song seems a bit more personal than the previous one; the production is demo’ish, the lyrical theme is clichéd and over-used, but there are a few unexpected elements now and then. We’ll end at 5/12, but with a revamp it might rise (or fall if it gets too standardized). 5/12

11 thoughts on “Songcheck 2016: Austria, Denmark, Switzerland”

  1. “Then there are the lyrics which interestingly are written in French….to the neutral TV viewer it must seem like a bit of a gimmick – like Bonaparti.lv’s attempt at singing in Italian back in 2007”

    Funny, I did not notice the same observation about the spanish, swiss, belarussian and danish song being sung entirely in english. Apparently a belarussian or a bunch of danes singing in english or a spanish woman trying to sound like a new yorker is an absolutely natural state of affairs and no “gimmick”.

    Your whole austrian review seems like a trashing of a song you simply don’t like – down to the ridiculous criticism of Zoe’s voice and including a prediction of how badly the song will do in May which is also lacking in the rest of the reviews you have done.

    Like

    1. First of all I will say I am really not trying to trash the Austrian song. It does have qualities, f.e. a catchy chorus, and I write that too. I just think that there are many elements taking it the wrong direction, and thus I am not overly excited about it. It is not trashing, it still gets a score of 5/12 which is much, much better than 0/12 or 1/12!

      Second, the difference between English and French is that English is an international communication language which most of the viewers will understand whereas French is not. For the same reason this article – and most other international fansites – are written in English, and not in French, German, Norwegian etc. And when most of the contestants are singing in English, I would also say that it is because most people will understand the lyrics, something that the song may benefit from in the voting.

      Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against people singing in French – actually I think that it is refreshing with songs in languages other than English – I just write how I think many viewers may receive it in May.

      Third, please keep a proper tone instead of talking about “ridiculous criticism”. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the Austrian song, and other people may hear something in it that I don’t. I think it will always be so. I am just trying to explain why I don’t think it is a particularly good song.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “English is an international communication language…most of the contestants are singing in English”

        We are not talking about simply using one language to communicate. We are taking about appropriating the dominant codes of the angloamerican music industry. So an austrian girl singing in french is not categorised as “Old Europe charm” but “funny gimmick” – even though this kind of light, frivolous, summery pop is arguably much better served by french than any other language. On the other hand, a girl from Spain pretending to be a diva of the New York club circuit or a bunch of georgians pretending to be an indie band from Yorkshire earn extra points for coolness.

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  2. Oh my, we even get personal attacks here now. The world is falling to pieces for sure and good manners are worth naught these days. 😦
    In my humble opinion, “Loin d’ice” is like a too sweet candy the sickening taste of which (aka chorus) you can’t get rid off for hours …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, as you can see I have survived after all 🙂 And it is the first time it has happened here, everyone else have been communicating in an good way, fortunately, so I don’t expect to see much of it again.

      But I will react whenever anyone writes something inappropriate, including personal attacks, and – if needed – take the necessary precautions, so don’t worry 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Austria: Indeed, the Austrian song is rather catchy. The chorus actually. There is sth in it that is off putting, the whole girly essence maybe. But at the end of the day I don’t dislike it. I think she lost her opportunity last year.

    Denmark: We are at the “Ireland” category regarding this one. As superficial as it can get.

    Switzerland: “Belarus” category here. The song itself is not bad at all. But I really cannot stand her. Zero charisma (we seem to disagree on this) and I agree re: the articulation of the words.
    Yet another country that need to change their selection format a.s.a.p.

    Liked by 1 person

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