Songcheck 2016: Ukraine, Cyprus

The selection of Eurovision entries continues at a high speed, and two more songs are now ready for a songckeck, namely those from Ukraine and Cyprus.

Ukraine: Jamala – “1944”

Ukraine is back in the contest after having been absent in 2015 for various reasons. Despite only containing six songs, the Ukrainian final took more than four hours. It was eventually won by the singer Jamala and her song “1944”. The lyrics refer to the deportations of the Crimean Tartars in 1944. It is a rather controversial topic as downright political statements are not allowed in Eurovision, so it is not impossible that the song will have to be modified before May. Until then we will have to concentrate on the song as it appears right now.

Like with the other song reviews, I will start with the music. It is generally held in a very gloomy and low-key universe, f.e. with some long bass notes. The song has a fine dynamic structure with a silent first verse and first chorus and then the rest of the song performed in a more powerful way. Also the melody starts in a low pitch in the first verse and continues an octave higher for the rest of the song. It culminates in the end of the song with some very powerful and intense vocal improvisations. The song is generally not very melodic, and its musical content lies mostly in other aspects of the music: dynamics, instrumentation and vocals.

Unfortunately the song is dominated by a very demonstrative element of seriousness that makes it appear very in-your-face, and it is not counterpointed at any point. The emotions, especially those carried by Jamala’s vocals, are dramatized to a point where I actually feel a bit uncomfortable listening to it. There is not much subtlety to get here, and I believe it would work better if the emotions were more understated. As it is, it is simply too in-your-face. The latter goes for the lyrics as well: “They kill you all and say we’re not guilty”, “Humanity cries”. A poet may say that if you have to write about something really unpleasant, if often works better if you are less direct, using metaphors and letting the listener think for him/herself instead.

And then we get to it, the political aspect of the song. In the “outside world” I would normally argue that art must be capable of reflecting the world we live in, and that of course includes expressing societal or political problems. For instance that is what the protest singers did in the 50’s and 60’s. It may convey messages that you don’t necessarily have to agree with. But Eurovision is supposed to be a peaceful contest embracing countries that may disagree politically, not a means of putting fuel on a fire, and so I think it is the wrong place to sing about such a topic.

My final ranking of the song will however be based on its “internal” aspects, and to sum them up we have a good formal dynamics on one side and some too exaggerated musical, vocal and lyrical measures on the other. I will end at 6/12

Cyprus: Minus One – “Alter Ego”

After this quite controversial choice from Ukraine, we now turn to something more peaceful, namely a Cypriot rock band. Their song is called “Alter Ego”, and it is co-written by the band and the Swede Thomas G:son, and compared to the Georgian song, this one is more melodic and radio friendly.

It can be heard as one of a relatively few pop and rock songs with two choruses, each with its own hookline, the first being “Caught in the middle”, and the second is “Take it on, take it on…”. The melody is generally well proportioned and recognizable. In the verse it is held in the so-called AAB form with the first two lines being similar to each other (“Waking up alone…” and “Attrackting to the mist…” respectively, the two A’s), and then a third line doing something different (“You know, you know…”, the B). In the chorus the melody line is sequenced in that it starts at the VI step (“Caught in the middle…”) and then is sequenced one note down (“Life is a miracle…”). A good old trick to make us keep our attention. A similar sequencing appears in the “Take it on” chorus. So melodically the song works very well. There is a small melodic gimmick in the first chorus by the way, as the “you” in “Howling for you” sounds a bit like a dog’s or a wolf’s howl.

There is yet another recognition trick after the second chorus, namely a small bridge based on the chorus 1 melody. It is followed by a very 80’s and Van Halen sounding guitar solo containing some tapping (playing by only hitting the strings on the fingerboard). Then comes chorus 2, and the song ends with the beginning of chorus 1. The presence of two choruses allow some variation into the song without affecting its recognizability. Another positive formal aspect.

The production is very grandiose with chorus-fuelled guitars and a small touch of electro. In chorus 2 it even gets a bit dansant with a “disco hi-hat” (exchanging between closed and open) and some funky slapping on the bass guitar. Production-wise it can however be a bit too grandiose and slick, as there is nothing grim to give it some edge. However, the singer is delivering a powerhouse performance with a lot of energy and a pleasantly raw sound. Lyrically there doesn’t seem to be anything really outstanding, and it often sounds as if the words are chosen for their sound more than their meaning. But on the other hand we are clearly not speaking of “lyric rock” here. The Georgian song comes closer to that category.

“Alter Ego” is clearly not the most original rock song I have heard. It is well composed and well proportioned from a technical point of view, but it does not contain elements that surprise us or make us wonder what is going on. It is very regular, and we might add schematic. It is not artistically great. Nevertheless it sounds very fresh, containing some good energy, and if you feel like doing a bit of headbanging in May, this song should be good for that. But there is nothing really outstanding and impressive about it, so I will give it a 7/12

3 thoughts on “Songcheck 2016: Ukraine, Cyprus”

  1. So we have our first big disagreement of the season. Ukraine is a 12/12 on my list because to me it sounds like a rough expression of sth very essential, namely the pain inflicted by humans on humans again and again. We witness it all around Europe atm. This song one does not intend to please but to disturb, and that is what it does imo.

    “I feel a bit uncomfortable listening to it” That defines the reasons for my 12/12 very well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand your point, and I think I agree with you on principle here. The purpose of art is not to please, but to express something true, whatever the truth it expresses may be. Indeed a lot of the music that I am listening to contains something quite grim and disharmonic.

      But I think it can also be too much, and I would say f.e. that the Romanian entry in FdlC 11 succeeds better here. Because it certainly does express the pain, but in a more subtle way I think.


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