Songcheck 2016: Netherlands, Romania, Poland

Three more songs are now ready for a quality check on ESC Song Reviews. Today we are ready to look at the songs from the Netherlands, Romania and Poland.

Netherlands: Douwe Bob – “Slow Down”

This year’s Eurovision seems to be dominated by uptempo songs. Perhaps this is the reason why Douwe Bob from the Netherlands asks us to slow down a bit. We will do that and listen to his song very carefully in a not too fast tempo, hopefully.

The actual song is not particularly slow. It contains a tempo around 120 beats per minute, except in the end where it actually slows down. There is a pleasant laid back country feeling in the song, and it could perhaps have been an AOR hit by the Eagles from around 1976. Even the sound production sounds quite a lot like something from the 70’s. Just listen to the rhythm section: a strumming acoustic guitar and a drum beat that goes “boom chack bo-boom chack” (that’s the best way I could translate it) and a bass line following the bass drum – a very solid and safe base. Retro sound is normally risky business in Eurovision, and it is hard to tell how far it will reach.

Compared to many of the more contemporary songs, there is a lot more happening in the harmony here: verse, bridge and chorus are in different keys respectively. Especially interesting is the transformation between verse and bridge where a so-called septime chord in the last bar signals that we are going to the key on the 4th step, but instead we are going elsewhere. A nice example of playfulness. The chord itself creates a lot of tension towards the bridge, as does the septime chord at the end of the bridge (“Won’t you help me”).

The melody is OK without containing anything outstanding. It is very much based on pentatone phrases, containing a bit of blues with some blue notes now and then, f.e. in the end of the bridge (“Won’t you help me”). The title phrase (“Slow down brother”) in the chorus is probably effective enough to make the song recognizable, if anything because it is repeated quite a lot of times. I am not so fond of Douwe Bob as a vocalist; his singing is quite nasal, and it is also a bit too monotonous. A little more dynamic variation would do well.

The lyrics are about moving on fast without looking back and without thinking about where you are going, and so it urges you to slow down “if you can’t go on”. It is not particularly poetic, but at least it is nice with some lyrics that are not just about love.

Overall I think the song suffers from being a bit too stylistically pure, and perhaps this is why it also appears a bit too distanced. The best music is often something that you cannot just put in a box. Still, it is a very pleasant listening experience, and the production is just spot on, if not a bit too pleasant sounding. The chords are delicious, and you get in a good mood listening to the song. It doesn’t do so much more than that, but sometimes that’s enough. The production and the laid back feeling in the music is enough for a 8/12.

Romania: Ovidiu Anton – “Moment of Silence”

After the laid back country rock from the Netherlands we now turn to something slightly more bombastic. Or to be precise: much more bombastic. “Moment of Silence” mostly sounds like a melodramatic song from a musical. It is also very reminiscent to the Swedish 2000 entry, “When Spirits Are Calling My Name” by Roger Pontare, which contained some of the same musical and lyrical elements. This one is a lot slower, but that doesn’t make it less pompous.

The musical and lyrical effects are really turned up to 11 here. They are dramatized to a point where it quickly becomes tiring, whilst at the same time it is also hard to really take it seriously. Let us start with the vocals which is arguably the most outstanding element in the music. Ovidiu Anton is overdramatizing the song a lot with his vocal phrasings; he is using a lot of vibrato, for example in the way he ends “days go by” in the chorus, and he often uses some quite voluminous glissando (gliding) notes, especially at the end of the lines, as in “the cross on the wall” or in “the darkest nights“. Moreover he puts a lot of emphasis on certain words, especially at the end of the lines, f.e. “silence” or “lives. All is done in a rather overstated manner that makes it way too demonstrative, and thus quite dishonest.

The second pomposity factor is the lyrics which contain a lot of very dramatic and pathos-fuelled lines such as “We stand on the edge”, “With blood on their hands, enjoying the feast”, “feel the power in you”, “fight for the truth”, “in the darkest nights” etcetera. Just like with Ovidiu’s vocals, it is way too much, and these bellicose platitudes almost seem grotesque.

These vocal and lyrical features almost drown out the actual composition. It is very uninteresting, though it is competently written from a technical point of view: the chords, for instance, are put together in a very “correct” way, making the harmony rather predictable. The form is a bit unusual though, in that there is not a standardized verse. The first “verse” of the song is melodically different from the second one coming after the first chorus, and we don’t get to hear any of them again. Melodically there is not much interesting to get either; the melody is however well proportioned when read note for note, and in the chorus there are some quite big intervals, f.e. in “darkest nights” and in “moment of silence“, contributing further to the pomposity.

To sum it up: There is nothing wrong with the composition technically, it is just very unimaginative. Add to this the demonstrative pomposity of the lyrics and Ovidiu’s vocals, and you get three very tiring minutes. 4/12

PS: And as the icing on the cake, there was even a dancer with a sword on stage in the Romanian final. It is way too over-the-top, and I don’t think the audience will receive that well in Eurovision. Hopefully the delegation will skip it in May.

Poland: Michał Szpak – “Color of Your Life”

The Polish national final was expected to be won by the singer Margaret and the song “Cool Me Down”, because of which Poland was first in the bettings in the days leading up to the final. To many people’s surprise, however, Margaret only came second, and instead the winner was Michał Szpak with his song “Color of Your Life”.

After the final, the Polish odds have drifted a lot, and it is easy to hear why. Let us start with the harmony which is mostly built on standard templates. Thus, the verse is based on the following chords: | C | Em/B | C7/Bb | A | Dm | Dm(maj7)/C# | Dm7/C | G | – it is a very used progression with descending bass lines – the Georgian 2012 entry “I’m a Joker”, for instance, contains exactly the same progression. The first verse, by the way, is half the length of the second, functioning more as an intro without the beat. The chorus is partly based on an a so-called sequence of fifths, containing the progression | Am | Dm | G | C – G/B |. The only twist being that both verse and chorus ends with an E major instead of a G major. As the dominant chord in A, E major usually leads back to A, but here the E major chord leads to a break, and the second verse begins in C major. After the second chorus, there is a contrast piece containing a very fine “minor dominant” chord (G minor, adding a bit of Mixolydian). After that we are facing a good old Eurovision cliché: a key change a half note up, from A minor to Bb minor.

The melody is quite boring. There is nothing remarkable happening in the verse whatsoever. In the chorus it alternately contains ascending and descending lines (“Oh-oh-oh-oh” and “Tell me black and white” respectively”).

Then there is the production which doesn’t contain anything interesting either. The piano emphasizes all 4th notes through most of the song, making it sound quite unimaginative. And finally Michał Szpak is performing the song in a quite monotonous and very loud way. It is not a bad voice, but his singing doesn’t really fit the music which is much more relaxed. Like with the Romanian song it becomes tiring, and it makes the music seem monotonous. Clearly a more dynamically differentiated and understated voice would suit the song better and make it a more balanced listening experience. Another problem is his bad pronouncing which makes it difficult to understand the words, so again you will have to read them. Like with many other entries the lyrics are very clichéd, not really containing any depth. It doesn’t take much talent to make lines such as “When loneliness is knocking on your door, everything you loved just disappears”, and the notion that “there is no life without tears/fears” is really a banal observation. As is the overall topic of the song – apparently it is something about living your life, but there is not much substance in the message, and so it sounds hollow.

So: It’s a very clichéd and unimaginative composition with hollow lyrics, containing a boring production and performed with a monotonous, annoying and loud voice, and with bad pronouncing. The song’s structure is basically good enough, but it is ruined by the singing. 3/12

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