Songcheck 2016: Norway, Finland, Slovenia

We continue our journey through this year’s Eurovision entries, here with three more songs chosen last week: those from Norway, Finland and Slovenia.

Norway: Agnete – “Icebreaker”

We start in Norway with the song “Icebreaker”, performed by Agnete Kristin Johnsen, or just Agnete. Like with many other songs this year, we are moving into a cold synthesizer universe in minor. The song starts out as a club track á la “Euphoria” or “Glorious”, containing the same rhythmical synth figure (3 against 4). But in the chorus the song unexpectedly changes towards electro-pop with a different tempo. Hats off for doing something surprising, but the question is if this sudden change actually works. I’m a bit doubtful here: the mood of the song doesn’t really change, perhaps resulting in the tempo change seeming a bit unnatural. Had there for instance been a key change at the same point, then it may have made a bit more sense. But again, I am doubtful about the impact.

The melody is a bit thin, especially in the verse (“Every night…”). However it changes to a higher pitch in the bridge (“Every single promise…”) and goes further up in the chorus, making it very contrasted. The very long and high notes on the word “Icebreaker” are a bit enervating, and it is not the best catchphrase I have heard.

Like with the German and Hungarian entries, the harmonics are entirely in the Aeolian mode (or “clean minor” if you like,, and in the chorus we even have the exact same chord progression as in the Hungarian song and in “La La Love”: VI-VII-I-III – in this case D major – E major – F# minor and A major, as the main key is F# Aeloic. It is a bit worrying that so many songs are doing exactly the same on the harmonic front. Maybe it is just a fashion thing, but for an anti-fashion guy like me it is quite provoking. I have never felt comfortable with trends, but maybe that is just me. As a Mello song said some years ago: only the dead fish follows the stream.

On a more positive note, Agnete is performing the song relatively well without doing anything particularly interesting with it though. She is very sure in the bridge and in the chorus, but she sounds less comfortable in the verse where the melody is very deep for her voice. It should of course be noted that the backing vocals in the Norwegian final were pre-recorded, but hopefully she will deliver in Eurovision too with live backing.

I will also have to say a word or two about the lyrics in the song. They contain lines such as “Like a northern light you’re dancing over every borderline”: could the song be referring the current situation in Europe with borders being closed? The person who is apparently dancing over every borderline is also “stuck in frozen water” which makes it a bit confusing. If the person is supposed to represent closedness (stuck in frozen water), and the narrator is to represent openness (the icebreaker), then it would have been more logic if the narrator is the one dancing over the borderlines, and not the “you”-person.

The music is not breaking any ice. It is cold as ice and thus counterpointing the message in the lyrics. It could be on purpose (a Verfremdung effect), but from a solely musical point of view the song is rather one-dimensional, just like the German and the Hungarian ones, despite the change of tempo and genre between verse and chorus. It comes across as very clinical and impersonal, and since there is so little happening in the chords, it is also pretty boring, not really moving anywhere. The lyrics are a bit interesting, even if the theme is a bit tiring, especially in this context, but the music is stuck in frozen water. 4/12

Finland: Sandhja – “Sing It Away”

From club we turn to disco. Sandhja’s “Sing It Away” leads my thoughts to the Finnish 2002 entry “Addicted To You” which was in a similar mood. Also the Belgian song this year, “What’s the Pressure”, comes to my mind. However, as the song takes off, it doesn’t really shape up to become a disco tune. Instead it begins more as a contemporary pop song, especially due to the beat coming in in the second half of the verse (“When you feel like…”). But when the chorus explodes, we are clearly going into a disco universe as it sounded in the late 1970’s. It contains a quite infectious energy, especially with some energetic and effective brass riffs, and it would probably get me out on the dance floor.

Apparently there is a trend this year of using the old church modes, and in “Sing It Away” we meet yet another one, namely the Dorian mode. It is based on the Dorian scale which can be explained as a minor scale with a major 6th step. If you go from D to D on the white keys of a piano, you will get a D-Dorian (Wikipedia:

In the case of “Sing It Away”, the verse is in C-Dorian (that is: with C minor as the main chord), and it is based on the progression C minor – G minor – Bb major – F major (in “clean minor”, or Aeolian, the fourth chord would have been F minor). In the chorus the key is better explained as G-Aeolian. It actually consists of the exact same notes as C-Dorian, but the emphasis in the chorus in on G minor whereas it is on C minor in the verse. So looked upon in one way we are having a key change between verse and chorus, and looked upon in another way we are not! A quite special case actually. The contrast piece after the second chorus is in G-Aeolian too.

The melody in the verse is OK, though there is noting really remarkable about it. It sort of goes where you’d expect it to go given the chords and the form, but that can actually be enough if the musical emphasis is on other parameters. Here it is mostly on the chorus, especially the groove and the effective and easily recognizable title phrase. There is a second hookline in the choir’s rising “Ooh, ooh, ohh, ohh, oh”. The sudden “yeeaah” after the second ooh’s sounds a bit awkward.

Sandhja is very strong vocally, pulling a lot of energy into the song, and she sometimes sounds a bit like the Spanish singer. As for the lyrics, they are rather naive, suggesting that all problems can be solved by simply singing. It could perhaps have been the lyrics of an old Motown song, and they somehow remind me of the Four Tops’ classic “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” from 1966.

“Sing It Away” is not a major artistic achievement, but it is nevertheless very refreshing with its funky disco beat; especially when compared to all the cold electro-pop that seems to be dominating this year. It is a pleasant shot of energy, and I will give it a 7/12.

Slovenia: ManuElla – “Blue and Red”

“Blue and Red” sounds to me a bit like a mainstream pop song that could have been written, well, 15 years ago (and there is nothing wrong with that). Once again it is nice to hear a song in a major key – especially since minor is dominating very much nowadays – but the question is, how strong is the song when it comes to the crunch?

The verse and chorus are based on yet another very used chord progression, namely I-V-VI-IV, so already here there is another example of standardization. In this case it is G major – D major/f# – E minor – C major. After the very overused Eurovision dress trick before the last chorus, there is another Eurovision cliché, namely a key change a half note up, from G major to Ab major. So on the harmonic front there is absolutely nothing new under the sun here. The form is very traditional too: verse-bridge-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus-short break-chorus with key change. A fine element is however the fact that the chorus begins with an instrumental break before the eventual culmination (“Cause blue is blue…”).

The melody is a bit anonymous, but there is nothing in it that sounds bad or awkward; it is just not particularly interesting. The most outstanding part of it is perhaps the “joik” part in the instrumental break in the beginning of the chorus (she is in fact singing “Alive, alive”). In the chorus it contains quite a lot of thirds, f.e. in “alive” and in “red is red“.

Fortunately, the song contains a good dynamic structure with a silent verse and a bridge leading up to a more powerful chorus. As such it contains a fine progress that is missing in some of the other songs. Then there is the production which is another positive element of the song: Between all the synth pop it is nice to hear real instruments: banjo, electric guitar, bass and drums. Especially the drums add some nice energy into the music with its often “dancing” beat, emphasizing the off-beats on the hi-hat – it reminds me a bit of R.E.M.’s drummer Bill Berry, especially on their early albums. The most striking instrument, however, is the banjo; it is clearly the most outstanding element in the music. Since banjos are usually not an integrated element in that kind of music, it seems a bit like a gimmick to make the listener remember the song. Nothing wrong with that by the way.

ManuElla is performing the song OK vocally though the bridge (“How can I mix…”) is a bit deep for her voice. In the “alive”s she is using the shift from one vocal register to another as a vocal effect; it reminds me a bit of the lead singer from the Irish 90’s band the Cranberries, though it is more understated here. Like many other pop songs the lyrics are centred around a broken relationship whose two elements (blue and red respectively) don’t really seem to fit. A funny notion is the mention in verse 1 of “strange chords” – of which there are absolutely none in the song.

Overall “Blue and Red” is very unoriginal and also a bit boring, even with the banjo. It does contain some warmth thanks to the instrumentation, and it is quite enjoyable for what it is, also because unlike some of the electro-pop entries it is actually moving somewhere. Still it doesn’t lead up to more than 6/12.

3 thoughts on “Songcheck 2016: Norway, Finland, Slovenia”

  1. Since the majority of songs are being selected in these days, I probably won’t be able to catch up on the selections in the same tempo as the songs are chosen. But fortunately I also have the entire months of March and April to go through the last songs.

    As soon as all songs have been rated, I am planning to write a comment on the general level of this year’s Eurovision, discussing some tendencies, both the positive ones and those that I find more problematic. I also consider making a jury vote from the readers of this blog.


  2. Thanks for another very enlightening review.

    And “only the dead fish follows the stream” would be the perfect slogan for this year imo. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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