Songcheck 2016: Germany, United Kingdom, Hungary

No less than nine songs have been selected in the last week. Naturally, an article with reviews of all of them would be quite a big mouthful both to write and to read, so I will continue selecting two or three songs at the time. Hopefully I will have finished my review of all the nine songs before the next weekend, but I can not promise it. As for now, let us concentrate on the songs from Germany, United Kingdom and Hungary.

Germany: Jamie-Lee Kriewitz – “Ghost”

Last year Germany came last with nul points, and probably as a result of that, the broadcaster NDR first went for an internal selection of the singer Xavier Naidoo. The choise was however very controversial in Germany, and the selection was abandoned a few days later. Instead NDR chose to use a national final again, and it was eventually won by the singer Jamie-Lee Kriewitz and the song “Ghost”.

There is a fine balance between on one side some quite minimalistic melody lines held inside a small interval of notes in the verse (“The story of us…”) and in the chorus (“This is the ghost…”) and on the other side some more contrasted lines in the bride (“Our lives will wait…”). Plus there is a nice contrast in the backing vocals’ “Can we get an alternate ending” in the break after the chorus.

Like with some of the other songs chosen so far, you will notice a quite pentatone touch in some of the lines, f.e. in the chorus. It will often give the listener the impression that it is not really leading to something – which is not necessarily a minus, but it adds a somewhat chilly feeling to the song. The same goes for the chords which are held in Aeolic B flat minor with functionless chords as a minor V step chord (F minor) or the VII step (A flat major).

The song is much more about describing a particular mood which is present here and now, than about moving on to something. The mood itself is somewhat chilly or melancholic due to the minor chords, but it is also the song’s Achilles heel: In many “state describing” songs there may be more than one mood present at the same time, f.e. in different sound elements, but here there is only one mood, and if the music is not moving towards something else either, then the song tends to be one-dimensional. A change to major at one point, for instance, may have given a welcome hint of the “alternate ending” that the lyrics ask for.

Perhaps the chilly melody and chords are the reason why I am not so fond of the synthetic production. There are clearly interesting aspects of it, f.e. in the fascinating intro, but the rather heavy beat that arrives in the first chorus almost seems a bit aggressive. Jamie-Lee Kriewitz’ live singing doesn’t make things much better. In the studio version she is performing the song in a very down-to-earth and melancholic manner which suits the feeling well (perhaps it also sounds a bit too clean, making it a little bit impersonal), but the melancholy disappears live. As for the lyrics, the theme is not particularly interesting: another song about a relationship that could be lived in a better way by starting it again from scratch. There are, however, some quite interesting lines now and then, f.e. “Like a dragon to his gold, we’re still holding on” – a dragon is usually considered an evil being which you will have to rescue the gold from.

So the song suffers from staying in a cold mood without really moving anywhere. As such it becomes a bit boring, and it lacks fascination. Had there just been an alternate ending… 5/12

United Kingdom: Joe and Jake – “You’re Not Alone”

After this cold and somewhat sterile experience, it is nice to hear something in a major key, even if the song itself may not be the strongest one in that category. “You’re Not Alone” is the first UK entry to be chosen in a national final since 2010. Whether or not it will change the British fortunes in Eurovision is a good question, but let us have a look at the song.

On a solely personal level I have always had a weak spot for the Mixolydian mode on which this song is based. I will have to explain this, I think: Mixolydian is one of the old church modes (scale-based keys) which were common in European art music before 1600; it is based on the Mixolydian scale which can be explained as a major scale with a lower 7th (if you go from G to G on the white keys of a piano, you will get a G-Mixolydian). This means that the chord on the V (5th) step will be a minor chord where it would have been a major in a normal major key (the so-called dominant chord). For some reason I often associate the minor V chord in Mixolydian with sunrise or sunset. Of course I can not speak for other peoples perception of it, but there is something dreamy about it which I like. For more info on the Mixolydian mode, here is Wikipedia’s article on it:

In the case of “You’re Not Alone”, the main key is B-Mixolydian (again B is used here in the English meaning – namely H) which means that the V step chord is a F-sharp minor (F#m). The entire song is based on the chord progression B major – F# minor- E major -B major (step-wise: I-V(m)-IV-I). Basing a whole song on just one chord progression of course means that it will have to evolve on other parameters, and the formal aspects lie mostly in the melody and in the instrumentation, such as the drums taken in or out. The melody sometimes sounds a bit improvised, and the o-oh’s are somewhat unnatural. But there are some fine elements in the melody still: f.e. there is a lot of sequencing, that is: a phrase is transposed to another chord in the next line, f.e. in the chorus where the second line (“All that you want…”) is sequenced from the first line (“You’re not alone…”), creating a bit of tension.

Unfortunately the song somehow lacks something interesting to really grab our attention and make us care for the song. Maybe a more daring and creative production would help. Still, it is nice to hear some real instruments in what appears to be a contest dominated by synthetic sounds. There is a bit of U2 in the production by the way, f.e. in the drum beat and in the ringing guitars.

Another weak spot, however, is the vocals. The two singers often manage to produce a fine vocal sound, but they are sometimes a bit uncertain in their intonation, and I wish they would put just a little more energy into their performance. Another minus is the lyrics which are very clichéd: “I come alive when I’m with you”, “You’re not alone, we’re in this together”, “I feel like I’m dancing in the sky” etc. Not much originality and poetic depth to get here.

And that brings me to the conclusion of this review. Despite some fine stylistic elements, there isn’t really anything interesting and outstanding about it. Taste-wise I personally enjoy it musically, but I think the song is too forgettable. 6/12

Hungary: Freddie – “Pioneer”

As usually, the Hungarian entry is chosen through the national selection A Dal, and this time it was won by Gábor Alfréd Fehérvári, better known as Freddie. His song, “Pioneer”, is a cold electro-pop track. Apparently that genre is quite popular in Hungary, because they participated with musically similar songs in both 2012 and 2014.

“Pioneer” is not bringing anything new in this respect, and it is not bringing anything new to the contest in general. Like the German song it is held in the Aeolic mode, here with C minor as the main chord. The chord progression in the chorus is similar to the one used in the Cypriot 2012 entry “La La Love”: VI-VII-I-III (in the case of “Pioneer” that is Ab-Bb-Cm-Eb), and it is present in the Spanish song this year as well. Apparently it’s a new chord cliché. Also the bombastic sound production is used very often nowadays, and the beat itself has been heard some times in recent years too, I think, f.e. in the DMGP 14 song “Vi finder hjem”.

The melody is very anonymous, and the only things that stand out a bit are the o-oh’s in the chorus, as well as a melodically similar whistling theme in the bridge. The rest of the melody is impossible to remember. Freddie’s slightly off-key singing doesn’t make it better, but at least he has a nice raw vocal sound.

In other words, there is nothing remarkable about “Pioneer” whatsoever from a musical point of view, so it is quite ironic that the lyrics are praising uniqueness. Apparently it is meant as a call to fight for the unique and real against fakeness and uniformity, but if there is nothing unique in the music, then the call seems hollow. A very boring song that suffers from the things it is criticizing, sadly. 4/12

2 thoughts on “Songcheck 2016: Germany, United Kingdom, Hungary”

  1. Well, most fans won’t like your opinion on HUN16… and while I personally rate “Pioneer” a bit higher, I see your point. Been there, done that … and better.
    My problem with the German song is that the first 30 seconds promise so much but the song faiils to deliver. When I watched “Ghost” in the German NF for the first time, I initially thought WOW … but then the song just went on for another 2:30 minutes without a single interesting thing happening. When it was finally plodding towards the 3 minutes finishing line, I had forgotten that it was still going on, probably thinking of other things. I don’t remember …
    Well, a point more here and a point less there. At the end of the day, we agree that these 3 are 3 very underwhelming entries. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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