The number of songs for the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 is rapidly increasing, and it can be a bit hard to catch up on them. But here on our cozy little editorial (consisting of one person) we are not just going to give up. So once again we are ready to give three songs a word or two on their way to Stockholm, namely those from Armenia, Russia and Montenegro.
Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave”
Last year Armenia participated with an entry that was a bit out of the ordinary from a musical point of view. It contained a couple of less expected chord changes as well as some rhythmical ambiguity. As such it was a quite interesting effort. Their entry this year is also a bit out of the ordinary, but not on the same parameters.
The harmony, for instance, is based on one progression in F-Dorian (Fm – Ab – Eb – Bb), so it is another example of a song with very little happening on the harmonic front. The melody is also quite anonymous, and it doesn’t really contain any phrases that you can remember (there is however an aspect of it that I will discuss later on). What is then interesting about the song? It is the build up.
The song begins in a relaxed mood with Iveta reciting the first text lines and then singing the next ones. The music here is very silent, but there is somehow something worrying about it, like a calm before the storm. The instruments take a break while Iveta is repeating “beat, beat, beat…”. And then… An upwards gliding synthetic sound arrives, sounding like a rising alarm siren. It goes up and up, and it becomes louder and louder – like it is building up to something really dangerous happening.
People who are familiar with the Beatles’ classic album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band from 1967 will know the last song on the album, “A Day In the Life”: After the line “I’d love to turn you on” there is a somewhat similar rising crescendo played by a big orchestra. It appears twice; first time it is leading up to a short break after which a short contrast piece appears. The crescendo then reappears at the end where it is followed by a very long and deep E major chord ending the song – it has been interpreted as the sound of a nuclear bomb exploding.
I get some of the same associations here, but somehow it is like the climax afterwards doesn’t really happen. The music may be louder than before the crescendo, but it now sounds very much like a relatively ordinary r&b song with a few ethnic elements popping up now and then. The storm turned out to be one in a teacup.
Iveta Mukuchyan is a great singer, producing a pleasantly rough sounds that somehow reminds me of Michael Jackson or Tina Turner. She is pulling a lot of good energy into the song, for instance in the way she is singing “You’re like a love wave”. The gliding on the word “wave” fits the musical style very well.
The lyrics are actually pretty strong, containing a lot of metaphors and emotion. Basically it’s about the narrator being shaken and transformed by her lover (who is like a love wave), and there is a lot of connection between music and lyrics present in the song. The big transformation that she is singing about is of course represented by the transformation in the music from silent to loud through the big crescendo. The impact of love is almost made a dangerous thing because of the way that the transformation sounds.
There is however a less fortunate side of the lyrics which has to do with the melody. Some of the lines are phrased in a rather unnatural way with respect to stress and syllables, making it a bit difficult to actually understand the words. A good example is the line “Shook my life like an earthquake, now I’m waking up, oh”. It means that the words may be a bit unnoticed by the listener, which is a shame considering the fact that there is so much happening in them.
Overall this is a quite daring effort, especially because of the big crescendo which makes the song dangerous, even if the climax after it doesn’t really happen. The song also gets a lot of edge from Iveta’s vocals, and it is clearly not just trying to please the listener. Melodically there is not so much to get from it, but the other aspects of the song make it an entry that deserves respect. Combining the more interesting aspects with the underwhelming melody, I end at 8/12.
Russia: Sergey Lazarev – “You Are the Only One”
Russia topped the bettings immediately after it was announced that Sergey Lazarev, a popular singer in his home country, would be representing the country in Eurovision. From time to time they have been overtaken by other countries (including Poland… until the day they actually found their entry! – see the previous songchecks), but generally Russia is still one of the serious contenders according to the bookmakers. Does “You Are the Only One” have what it takes to win the contest? Let us have a look at the song.
The time signature of the song is 12/8. As the song begins, it seems that the 8th notes are grouped in 2 and 2 (XxXxXxXxXxXx), but when the beat comes in, the feeling leans more towards 8th notes grouped in 3 and 3 (XxxXxxXxxXxx). There is still a 2-against-3 feeling throughout the song, especially as the melody keeps emphasizing the triols against the 1-2-3-4 beat.
The song has got a good formal structure where both the verse and the chorus is divided in two parts. The first part has a relatively deep melody line, and it goes up to a higher pitch in the second part. That goes for for both verse and chorus. Also the overall dynamics of the song gives it a lot of direction as well as a good overall balance: We start in a gentle mood with the first part of the verse (“We can never let…”; in verse 1 it works more like an intro without the underlying beat), the music gets more powerful in the second part (“Won’t ever give up”), it explodes in the first part of the chorus (“Thunder and lightning”) becomes even more forceful in the second part (“You’re the only one”).
There is also a good balance between verse and chorus when it comes to the harmony. In the verse it is relatively monotonous containing the same bass note throughout the whole verse (B (H)), thus building a tension towards towards the chorus. In the chorus there are more chord changes: The progression Bm-G-D-F# is repeated three times after which the chorus ends with Em-Em-F#-F#. After the second chorus there is a short break, and in the last chorus then we get yet another one of these key changes that are so popular in Eurovision songs: the harmony moves one note up, from B minor to C# minor. It does however make good sense here when it comes to form and overall dynamics.
The melody is very regular, not really doing anything outstanding, but it works well technically, except perhaps in the first part of the chorus (the “Thunder and lightning” part) where the composition of notes seems a bit flat and directionless. It is doing approximately what you would expect it to do, concluding both verse and chorus with a descending phrase, “Won’t stop, hold on” and “Unforgettable so unbelievable” respectively. The first one of these phrases is also the only one to go against the otherwise triolized melody, as such it is probably the most noteworthy line in the song, functioning almost as a hook.
Despite the song’s good formal structure, it lacks originality. Most of the melodic and harmonic elements don’t contain anything outstanding to grab your attention. The song is also very impersonal, and there are several reasons for that. First there is the melody which, as we saw, is pretty uncharacteristic despite counterpointing the beat with its triols. More importantly, the sound production sounds very clinical. Its elements are very, very clean and sterile. Also the beat is almost aggressive with its very loud emphases on 1, 2, 3 and 4. It makes the sound very bombastic, and thus rather tiring for the listener.
There is not much personally to get from Sergey Lazarev’s vocal performance either. He simply sounds too clinical in this studio version of the song. This is where a not too perfect live performance with a couple of false notes may actually add some humanity to the song. And then there is the lyrics: basically another banal love song with a lot of clichés such as “No one’s gonna keep us apart”, “You’re the only one” or “You’re my life, every breath that I take”. Plus the line “Thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting” is among the silliest ones I have ever heard.
To sum it up: Technically the song works well, but it lacks both originality and personality, and there isn’t really anything in the music to make it interesting. The production is too sterile, and so are the vocals, and the lyrics are clichéd. 6/12
Montenegro: Highway – “The Real Thing”
Montenegro have sometimes participated with an atypical song for Eurovision, and they deserve credits for often challenging the stereotypes of the contest. In 2012 they participated with the wonderfully bizarre and satirical “Euro Neuro” without reaching the final, sadly, and in the following year they chose a hiphop song with dubstep elements (and space suits!) which didn’t make it either (I was not fond of it personally, but it clearly stood out from the bunch). They had more success in 2014 and 2015 with some more traditional Balkan sounds, but this year they go rock – a genre that has had hard times recently, alas.
The musical cornerstone in the present song is heavy, riff-based hard rock, complete with distorted guitars whose deep strings are probably tuned down, but there are several electronic elements appearing in the song as well. This combination partly leads my thoughts to the nu metal genre which was very popular in the 00’s. An Eurovision entry like maNga’s “We Could Be the Same” from 2010 comes to my mind as well. There is a sort of hook in the heavy, unison guitar riff in F sharp minor that appears in the chorus and in the intro. In the chorus it is mixed with the title phrase: “Feel it, I’m the real thing, yeah”. It could have been the chorus in a grunge song from the early 90’s, f.e. one by Soundgarden, had it not been for the electronic elements that occur in other parts of the song.
The most interesting part is the verse (in C sharp minor) which is held in a more electronic universe. Particularly fascinating is the deep singing which is double-tracked, containing an almost Brian Eno-like sound manipulation, especially in its second half (“speedy shadows on the wall”) where the vocals are overdubbed three or four times, if not more. I like this aesthetics a lot, but the question is if that sound can be successfully reproduced live in May – without all the studio technology that is present here.
At the end of the verse a beat takes off as if it were introducing a techno part. Whether one likes that or not is a question of taste. As for me personally, it is quite liberating that we don’t go techno here, but instead we move towards the heavy rock chorus. Neither am I personally crazy about the contrast piece after the first chorus which contains dubstep elements (I am generally not fond of “DJ music”, and I believe this is what kept me from voting for maNga back in 2010). Here it actually seems a bit intrusive, and I am not sure if it really fits into the music.
As for the lyrics, I don’t have so much to add, except that in some parts they are almost haiku-minimalistic, containing very short lines. I believe the focus is mostly on the music here, which is of course perfectly fine; some artists put more emphasis on their words, while others focus mostly on the music – and some focus on both elements.
Even though not all elements of the track appeal to my personal taste, I think the combination of different genre elements work quite well for the most part. The production generally seems homogeneous, and the different parts (verse and chorus) make a good musical balance. Moreover the song is a welcome musical contribution to the diversity of the contest in that it stands out from most other entries. I think it deserves a place in the final, but judging by the response it has gotten, I am not too optimistic. Fingers crossed. 8/12