Eurovision 2004 preview: the finals. Part 1.

(Preview videos can be seen here – then click on “Multimedia Lounge”.)

Er… you don’t think I’m in danger of doing this subject to death, do you?
Actually, perhaps it’s better that you don’t answer that.
On we plough!

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1. Spain – Ramón – Para llenarme de ti
You’ll need to get settled down fairly promptly this year, because the opening song is a sizzling Latino cracker; it’s well constructed, keeps its pace, and never runs out of ideas. Ramón is an undeniably comely young man, who has been getting certain people I know worked up into a right old lather. He also has the honour of being the first of this year’s contestants to intone the sacred words “mi corazon“, which come second only to “fire/desire” in the ESC lyrical pantheon. As the brass blares, and the invisible lesbian drummers swing into action at about the one and a half minute mark, you know that you’ve made the right decision in staying at home tonight.
Prediction: Top 10.
Actual position: 10th. CORRECT.

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2. Austria – Tie Break – Du bist
At which point, you may suddenly find yourself questioning that decision. On first hearing Du bist, I pegged it as the sort of leaden, dead-eyed ballad that is doled out to finalists in reality TV pop shows. Having said that, this would have struggled to make the grade on the Michelle McManus album. Hell, even Rik Waller would probably have turned his nose up at it. So hey, guess what? It turns out that this three-piece boy band were all finalists in the Austrian version of Pop Idol. Now, there’s a thing. Atrocious. Not even their spirited last-ditch attempt to corner the gay market can save them.
Prediction: Bottom 3.
Actual position: 21st. NEAR MISS.

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3. Norway – Knut Anders Sørum – High
Despite my pronouncement that Eurovision and soft-rawk make uneasy bedfellows, it has to be conceded that Kurt makes a much better stab at it than those unfortunate Latvian semi-finalists. A passable Bryan Adams facsimile, solidly delivered, which soars where it needs to soar, and basically makes all the right moves in all the right places. If you like that sort of thing.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 24th (last). INCORRECT.

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4. France – Jonatan Cerrada – A chaque pas
Like Norway before him, the French song is all about healing your wounds, stepping forwards into a bright new tomorrow, the redemptive power of love, et cetera et cetera, and so we remain on similar emotional territory for a while longer. Like so many French singers before him, Jonatan (winner of the first French Pop Idol; is a pattern forming already?) is once again given an elegant, stately, timeless French ballad to perform. And as always, it is destined to languish in mid-table; admired by the “bring back the orchestra” fan brigade, ignored by the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like here.
Prediction: early teens.
Actual position: 15th. NEAR MISS.

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5. Serbia & Montenegro – Željko Joksimoviæ – Lane moje
Ah, the old pan pipes. Just thought I’d get that in before Wogan does. Because you know he will. The first song from the semi-finals to qualify – and, for me, quite a surprise to see it get through. This also means that it’s the third time I’ve had to write about it this week – and, frankly, I’m running out of inspiration. This was well sung on Wednesday night, and should finish respectably.
Prediction: just inside the top 10.
Actual position: 2nd. INCORRECT.

Now, here’s a thing. Of the opening five songs, no less than four are sung in their native language, with only Norway settling for English instead. Whereas from this point on, all of the remaining songs are sung in English, with only a brief snatch of Ukrainian in Wild Dances, and – bizarrely – a brief snatch of Spanish in the Polish entry. Apparently, this is the highest percentage of English language songs to date. I think we’re in danger of losing something rather precious here; don’t you?

So, as the Indigenous Authenticity Section draws to a close, we move into the Oh How Sweet Section, with a run of fresh-faced little ditties that, depending on your pre-disposition, will either charm your socks off or curdle your blood.

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6. Malta – Julie & Ludwig – On again…off again
In an unusually male-dominated contest, the Maltese entry marks the first female lead vocal of the night – although there is still quite a way to go before our first female soloist. Cheesy operatics are the order of the day, as a shuffling 125bpm beat almost makes you want to start wiggling your hips. But not just yet. Watch out for that extraordinary middle section, as Julie takes over the operatic role – and watch also for a rather smarmy peck on the shoulder at the end.
Prediction: just inside the top 10.
Actual position: 12th. INCORRECT.

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7. Netherlands – Re-union – Without you
Acoustic strumming, old-tyme Frank Ifield/Karl Denver yodelling, but unlike the semis, this is a poor place in the draw for the rather raddled looking Dutch duo, who will struggle to be remembered by the end of the night.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 20th. INCORRECT.

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8. Germany – Max – Can’t wait until tonight
After three semi-final qualifiers in a row, we come once again to a new song, and one which divides opinion. Some will love it; some will loathe it; some will talk all the way through it and go“which was the German one again?” at regular intervals during the voting. Me, I love it: a genuinely soulful ballad, with something of the early Café Bleu era Style Council about it. Max isn’t exactly the prettiest of tonight’s contestants, I grant you – but remember, it’s a song contest, right? (It is axiomatic that every third or fourth posting to every Eurovision fan forum will haughtily remind you of this fact, palpably false as it is.) Minus five points for singing “my lady” with apparent sincerity, though.
Prediction: a very tough call indeed, but I’ll say just outside the top 10.
Actual position: 8th. INCORRECT.

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9. Albania – Anjeza Shahini – The image of you
After just one new song, we now have another run of three qualifying semi-finalists. I recently heard the original four and half minute version of this song, and cannot believe how much it has been improved since then. They’ve edited it down, speeded it up, added a gospelly backing, and turned a ropey old screecher into a miniature classic, which progresses from soft ballad to out-and-out belter in not much more than a minute. My big worry here is Anjeza’s vocal performance, which was dangerously ragged on Wednesday night. However, it’s the first song since the opener that will get the crowd on their feet, and as such will make a nice warm-up for the next act.
Prediction: 5 to 10.
Actual position: 7th. CORRECT.

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10. Ukraine – Ruslana – Wild Dances
Enough with the winsome sweetness; let’s ramp it up several hundred notches, with leather, whips and Big Big Drumming that would test even the toughest of lesbian drumming troupes. As for Ruslana herself: who says that Eurovision has no appeal for heterosexual males? Lads, she’s gorgeous! Possibly the most Total Performance of the night. If the rumour mill in Istanbul is to be believed, this was the runaway winner on Wednesday, and quite rightly so.
Prediction: definite Top 3, possible winner.
Actual position: 1st. CORRECT.

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11. Croatia – Ivan Mikulic – You are the only one
For many of us, this was the biggest shock result of the semi-finals. Those of you drinking pints might be advised to use these three minutes wisely. (The rest of you should try and hold on for another seven songs.) Undeniably well sung, and I’m certainly not averse to a bit of butch Balkan belting, but this resolutely fails to do it for me.
Prediction: 15 to 20.
Actual position: 13th. INCORRECT.

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