Songcheck 2016: Australia, Croatia

We continue our journey through the entries for this year’s Eurovision. Today we have reached the songs from Australia and Croatia.

Australia: Dami Im – “Sound of Silence”

Australia was the rather controversial debutant in last year’s contest. Back then, their participation was said to be a one year off, but the question was always, how on earth do you throw them out again afterwards? So here they are again though this time they have to participate in one of the semi finals. Last year they chose a talent show winner – it seems to be the rule rather than the exception nowadays, sadly – and this year they have found yet another one, namely a former X Factor winner, Dami Im.

The song she is going to sing has the same title as an old Simon and Garfunkel song: “Sound of Silence”, but apart from the title, the two songs have very little in common. Whereas Paul Simon’s song was acoustic and folk-like, this one is pompous synth pop – something that is characteristic for quite a lot of songs this year. The song also contains the same formal build up as most of the other songs: verse-prechorus-chorus-verse-prechorus-chorus-contrast piece-chorus. There are many pop songs in general, the outside world included, that don’t have a pre-chorus, so it must simply be a trend this year. The presence of a pre-chorus generally puts a lot of emphasis on the chorus – its main function is to lead up to it – so apparently it is all about the chorus this year.

Is it a good chorus in “Sound of Silence” then? It is quite effective in that it is easily remembered, among other things because the very phrase “sounds of silence” is concluding every line in it, thus appearing six times in each chorus. Melodically, however, it is a bit monotonous, mostly containing the notes G, A and B, except for the word “beats”, which is a D. The five notes leap from G up to D, and then four notes down again, to A, on “and it beats to the sound of silence”, adds a certain element of pomposity. Since the melody in the chorus is rather high pitched and performed in a loud way, it is on the risk of becoming tiring in the end – also because Dami Im is singing it with little dynamic variation. As such it comes across as rather cold and clinical, so there’s not much personality present here. The same goes for the pre-chorus (“And I keep calling…”) which is also very much based on the same notes as the chorus, making the melody further enervating. It is also a bit ironic that the music is loud when the lyrics are referring to silence.

However, the chorus contains some intensity mainly due to the chords. The main key of the song is Aeolian E minor, but the dominating chords in the chorus are C major and D major. They contain a lot of tension in this context as they can potentially lead to the parallel key of E minor, namely G major – which they don’t to here though.

Vocally the verse works better than the chorus. Here Dami Im is singing in a more relaxed way, thus allowing some more dynamic variation and allowing a little more emotion. The melody in the verse is composed in a way that leads my thoughts back to Loreen’s “My Heart Is Refusing Me” from 2011. The lines are ending in a descending way (“weary brown eyes”), adding an element of sadness and resignation as a contrast to the more energetic chorus.

Production-wise we are speaking of clinical synth pop, as mentioned, so there is not much personality to get here. The soundscape in the first verse is however a bit fascinating because of some “dangerous” sounds behind the beat (a bass drum that is obviously meant to symbolize the beating heart in the lyrics). The underlying beat works very well rhythmically together with the melody lines, creating a good dynamics.

As for the lyrics, at first they seem like just another ‘I-miss-you-’cause-you-are-not-here’ song, though there are a couple of metaphors present in them, f.e. “Symphonies of dreams and highlights” or “Tidal waves of tears are crashing, no on here to save me drowning”, as well as the title phrase itself. I will have to say, I personally find it annoying when a Eurovision song is taking the title of a great song outside the Eurovision world, f.e. as was the case with last year’s winning song (Måns Zelmerlöw vs. David Bowie) – other examples include “Something” (Andrius Pojavis vs. the Beatles) or “Once in a Lifetime” (Ines vs. Talking Heads). There is of course the possibility that the title phrase here is actually meant to be a reference to Simon and Garfunkel’s song. There the ‘sound of silence’ is referring to people’s inability of communicating (according to Paul Simon himself), but if the narrator in the Australian Eurovision song is in that state, then it doesn’t make sense that she “keeps calling, calling”. It is more likely that it is just silent because her love isn’t there, and so it lacks the level of deeper meaning that is present in Paul Simon’s song.

“Sound of Silence” is all very professional, and the interplay between the melody and the rhythm section is effective. However, even though the chorus is catchy enough, it is also very clinical, and it is in danger of becoming enervating due to the repetition of the same high-pitched notes. Dami Im is singing the song in very clean way, especially in the chorus, and combined with the synthetic production, it makes the overall impression of the song rather cold and impersonal. Still, it is not without nerve, especially due to the harmonic tension that is present in the chorus, as well as the big dynamic contrast between verse and chorus. It gives the song a lot of direction, but because of the weak sides I can’t get higher than 6/12.

Croatia: Nina Kraljić – “Lighthouse”

Croatia did not participate in either 2014 or 2015, primarily due to economic issues, but their poor results since 2006 may also have been a factor, f.e. they have not been in the final since 2009. This year, however, their song is one of the favourites according to the bookmakers, and it is also doing well in the OGAE voting (which isn’t always a sign of success in the actual contest), so could their song “Lighthouse” be a turning point for the country?

It contains a certain folklorist flavour, f.e. with some pentatone elements in the melody, especially in the chorus, and with the harmony which is held in church modes (once again): the verse (“Lightning strikes”) is in A-Dorian (chords: Am, C6, G, D) whereas the pre-chorus (“In devastating times”) as well as chorus (“’cause there is a light”) are in A-Aeolian (chord progression in the chorus: Am, F, G, C/e). As such it it contains a touch of something Celtic, but there are also some Balkan sounds in it, especially in the instrumentation. The bombastic drums are very common in the Eurovision songs at the moment, and in the last chorus we meet a good old Eurovision cliché: a key change one note up, to B minor.

The song actually begins in a very promising way with a quiet verse which contains a bit of mysticism, f.e. in the way the melody line ends in “I feel my ship capsizing”: the final chord is D major, and the notes in “-sizing”, A and C, sound quite open in a D chord, suggesting that we don’t know what will happen next. Unfortunately, as we enter the chorus, the mysticism disappears completely as the music turns into a pop song that sounds like far too many other songs this year. The production is very clean and sterile, and the high pitched melody consists of notes that don’t really go anywhere. Moreover, whereas the Australian chorus at least contained some tension that gave the song some direction (partly due to the chords), there is no such thing here, and as a result the chorus basically sounds empty and shallow. A big shame given the promising elements in the verse.

A more positive aspect, however, is the vocals. Nina Kraljić – yet another former talent show participant, in this case The Voice – is adding a lot of personality to the song, especially in the verse. It is mainly due to her accent which is giving her vocal performance a seductive sense of something a bit exotic or mystic. In the chorus her singing reminds me a bit of the Cranberries with its “cracks”, contributing to the somewhat Irish feeling in the song. Unfortunately, in the last chorus she gets a bit too shouty which may have to do with the key change.

The lyrics are built around a ship metaphor: The narrator is on the sea on a ship far from land that is in danger of capsizing, but (s)he still has hope that she will reach land. The metaphor (of not losing hope when things look hopeless, obviously) is not exactly original, and the alone-on-the-sea thing has already been present in other songs, f.e. in the Police’ “Message in a Bottle”. That one, however, was mostly dealing loneliness, but it also contained lines like “Only hope can keep me together”. The lyrics here may be metaphoric, but they aren’t really telling anything interesting.

“Lighthouse” is a song with a very promising verse, but the chorus is rather directionless, thus being a bit of a let down. Moreover, the music is contradicting the lyrics: There the starting point was being on the sea, and everything looks hopeless, but then there is light at the end of the tunnel (the lighthouse). The music here is taking the opposite direction: a promising start (the verse) followed by a let-down (the chorus). In any case, the song is not without charm due to 1) the verse and 2) Nina Kranjićs vocals. Unfortunately, it can not add up to more than 6/12.

3 thoughts on “Songcheck 2016: Australia, Croatia”

  1. Australia and Croatia are both sort of the same kind of song: grand divaesque mid-tempo pop depending on strong vocals. I see that Croatia is one of the pre-favourites right now but it leaves me absolutely cold, which is a bit sad considering how many Croatian songs I’ve liked in the past who got very unfair results.

    I do like Australia a bit more, even if I find it way too polished for my actual taste.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I more or less repeated what you wrote because I couldn’t figure out anything more interesting to write about the songs than that. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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