Marcus Keppel-Palmer, another person helping me out with this blog, is here to talk about this year’s entries. Here are his thoughts:

Eurovision 2011 – A View from the bleachers

The time has come, the Walrus (who was not Paul) said, to talk of cabbages, kings and the 43 (count ‘em) runners and riders in the 2011 Eurovision stakes. As usual, the songs are being judged on their recorded versions as per the official Eurovision cd and in that order.

ALBANIA

“Feel the Passion” indeed. This charges along quite pleasantly until she starts shrieking over some chugging guitars and then just fades out. Pleasant as I say, but not a personal favourite.

ARMENIA

Hooray for a return to the contest of songs that are titled in Euro-speak and here comes the first “Boom Boom” – or rather first and second as this is two separate songs bolted together, with a swish verse drowned alive by the boom boom chucka chucka chorus. irritating and catchy. This is almost certainly a Top 10 finisher.

AUSTRIA

Welcome back to the Alpine territory, a country which hardly ever gets votes, and as a consequent huffed off home in 2007. They return with a belter of a big ballad which Jennifer Hudson will no doubt record on her next cd. “The Secret is Love” builds from an acapella opening to a superb gospel finish. On stage with only 5 backing vocalists and no orchestras this will lose something of its magic, but on cd revel in the lush strings and the soaring vocals. One of the best this year.

AZERBAIJAN

Oh oh ey-oh. Here comes the country most gagging to win this contest, and after last year’s cold “Drip Drop” comes a super little piece of modern pop “Running Scared” – not the most uplifting title – but a well-served up duet between attractive looking boy/girl combo Nikki and Elli. It is catchy, gets to a good chorus, and has a fine bridge and isn’t too far from what Take That would offer up. To my mind, this is the most radio friendly song in the contest, the most likely winner – and to be honest it would be a mighty fine one.

BOSNIA

Continuing an early run of fine songs, here comes Dino Merlin from Bosnia for his second go at the Contest with the jaunty chug-along “Love In Rewind”. This is as catchy as crabs too, with enough going on to keep you interested – just listen to the trumpet fill come in after about 1 minute 30 secs. I will be surprised if this isn’t garnering a Top 5 finish – and again another really good song. Has the Balkan ethno-votes sewn up – and will probably get mine.

BELGIUM

After a cracking run of songs, we come grinding to a halt with this acapella vocal piece of swing “With Love”. It didn’t work for Kosmos a few years back, and the mouth music just sounds a little false and forced when they say “break it down now!”. Bring Urban Trad and Tom Dice back. Little in the way of redeeming features. Enough already! Bring back Azerbaijan. A long 3 minutes.

7. BULGARIA

Piano openings normally herald something worth listening to and this one leads us to our first non-English song so far. “Na Inat” has some rocky guitar work and a slightly screechy female vocal with a nice build into a chorus. Trouble is that is it – just a nice little amuse-bouche. It doesn’t have a killer bridge/middle eight and really needs a power boost to get it across the line. Unlikely to trouble to scoring table much.

BELARUS

Last year Belarus had butterflies. This year they don’t minsk words and turbo-folk their way into our hearts with the tourist trade helping “I Love Belarus”. This has a monster of a sing-along chorus, a bit of Rusky balalaika, and no doubt they think they draw a veil across their repressive tendencies. Hey, this is a sparkling 3 minutes that I want to hear time and again. A great summer song especially when it takes away the turbo for the shouts of “I Love Belarus”. It should qualify.

SWITZERLAND

Pleasant bells and plucked guitars herald “In Love For A While”, Switzerands finger-clicking entry. I have loved many of the Swiss entries over the past decade, but this na na and na attempt at a song with a bit of a female Mumford & Sons tempo doesn’t remain memorable during the song let alone after. Bring back Belarus please. Dull!

CYPRUS

Dramatic song in Greek, with a boldly quiet opening reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel’s “I’d Rather Be a Hammer” which then after a minute explodes into a bit of a rock out dedicated to “San Angelos”. Not hugely effective and unlikely to be one on repeat. 4 great songs in the first 10 on the cd isn’t bad – this isn’t one of them.

GERMANY

Cd 1 continues with Lena and her rather irritating estuary voice trying to emulate last year’s winner with the somewhat creepy “Taken By A Stranger”, which comes out of the same sort of twisted mind that gave us Falco’s “Jeanny” some years back. This has got plenty of interesting twists and turns in the background, and at times echoes “Stray Cat Strut” – but the sum of the parts is much more than the whole. Not a repeat winner.

DENMARK

But this is another fantastic song this year with an anthemic sing-along quality. Ok “A New Tomorrow” does sound a little like Andreas Johnson’s song in MF a few years back, but this is aspirational and uplifting. If Joan Baez were singing in Eurovision she may echo these sentiments. The middle eight with its oh-ohs is catchy and the whole thing swells to a finish. Another high finish and a classy song. One of the best of the year.

ESTONIA

Unaccountably everyone loves this song. I don’t! It has martial drums; it has kooky vocals; it has pumping drum loops and synthesised computerised voices. Ulp – if Austria needed an orchestra, this really needs to be in a computer game. This has been built trying to tempt kids who like Tiesto to like this. Epic fail. The most overrated song this year. “Rockefeller Street” if you are interested.

SPAIN

“Que Me Quiten” or something. Another jaunty but long three minutes. You can’t take the fun they sing. Well this would only be enlivened by a whole host of Jimmy Jumps getting up on stage. This doesn’t hold a candle to last year’s “Algo Pequinito”. Sorry Spain, back to the drawing board.

FINLAND

Last year my favourite song was Tom Dice and his guitar. The song has been re-entered this year by Finland’s Paradise Oskar, re-titled “Da Da Dum”, and has been given universal lyrics about saving the planet – and you know what it is da-da-damn good. Catchy, reflective and the nonsense title cleverly hides an intelligent lyric. If there were any justice in the world, this would end up in the top 5, but I can’t see it beating Azerbaijan. Great great little song.

FRANCE

“Sogniu” comes next with the “Bolero” drums driving forward an anthemic operatic entry sung in Corsican. This would have them standing on their feet, and has accurately been described as a swelling National Anthem for a country which doesn’t exist. Tipped heavily in the betting and unique amongst 43 songs. But if “Questa Notte” didn’t win, I don’t see this taking the honours – and the ending is weak. But again a good cd song.

UK

As is this – “I Can” by Blue. This is again a great radio song and sounds fab on the cd with the depth afforded by multi-tracking the voices. It is also catchy and the chorus is interesting and immediate – all you want in three minutes. The high spots are definitely Lee’s shrieks and it is a great vocal ensemble. It also sounds as if it is modern, although it is fairly timeless. This should be a top 5 finisher too – I know there are lots of them. Another really good song.

GEORGIA

This isn’t though. It tries to be all rock chick and has a male rap. Georgia has done some great stuff but “One More Day” only stands out by using the fire/desire rhyme shamelessly whilst trying to rip off Evanescence. This year you are the runt of the Caucasus. No doubt qualifying easily!

GREECE

Portentous opening drums with talk of betrayal growled out heralds one of the most interesting Greek entries in many a while. I thought “Opa” last year would do well. This is a more interesting and arresting song, “Watch My Dance”, and the bouzouki are hidden away, and I shall be interested to see where they get the dance in. Dark, swirling, mysterious and fascinating. A cd song rather than a contest song I would guess.

CROATIA

Swirling electro synthesised groans herald this year’s Balkan dance-along entry now called “Celebrate”. Wouldn’t it be better under its previous title “Break A Leg”? This has little to celebrate and little to commend it. Fast-forward to Friday and avoid this musical galaxy! Ooh now chocolate sounds good. Key change doesn’t help it!

HUNGARY

Cd 1 ends with this year’s fan-favourite “What About My Dreams”, which is confidently tipped to bring the trophy back to Budapest. It fair gallops along like a good front runner should and Kati yelps through the middle part in french. But the whole thing leaves me cold. You have heard this song many an evening in a gay bar and you may even tap your toes. But I don’t see it as a winner.

And so cd 1 comes to a close. I would be mightily surprised if 4 of the top 5 in the final didn’t come from this cd. Only one real stinker and nine really good songs make this a really strong collection. And so on to cd 2 …..

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