Albania’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

UPDATED 24 FEBRUARY 2015: Elhaida Dani announced that “Diell” has been withdrawn as Albania’s Eurovision entry by its songwriters, Viola Trebicka and Sokol Marsi. She didn’t give an explanation of why the song was withdrawn, but Albania has recruited Kosovo Albanian songwriters Zzap & Chriss to write a new song, “I’m Alive.” To be honest, we’re pretty happy to hear this because, as you can read below, we thought “Diell” was pretty dreadful.

Elhaida Dani won the 53rd annual Festivali i Këngës and will represent Albania at Eurovision in May with “Diell.” Short review: pageant ballad.

Longer review: “Diell” is a Celine Dion-type ballad being sung by someone who is not Celine Dion. I don’t want to judge it too harshly, since Albania often re-stages its entries between selection and presentation at the Grand Prix. But I really hope they rethink the arrangement, which just clings to “Diell” like cobwebs on Miss Havisham’s wedding cake.

Also, I’m kind of bored with the guitar solos. Four of the last five Albanian entries had guitar solos, and only “Identitet” really called for one. You got three minutes to make an impression, so don’t waste precious seconds noodling on the guitar. Unless it shoots sparks. Obviously.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with Dani’s performance at the time of Festivali i Këngës and the more I listen to it, the less impressed I am. There is a difference between singing a big note and shouting a big note, and Dani errs on the side of shouting. (Granted, she won’t have to sing over a live string section in Vienna.)

“Diell” is a safe choice for Albania. Maybe it will get them into the Final, but it’s a mid-table entry at best.

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2015 Entry

Building on the new normal of the 9-month Eurovision season, Netherlands today debuted its Song for Europe, Trijntje Oosterhuis and “Walk Along.”

Trijntje (pronounced: Traincha) Oosterhuis first got onto our radar nearly a decade ago, when we were in our “see the old crooners before they die” phase. In a span of 5 years, we made pilgrimages to see concerts from Andy Williams (in Branson, Missouri), Jack Jones (Elgin, Illinois), Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (Red Bank, New Jersey), Tony Bennett (Chicago), and Paul Anka (Atlantic City). These are folks who have made careers covering of the Great American Songbook, Broadway showtunes, and easy listening standards. The more ambitious have attempted to make themselves relevant for younger generations, to varying degrees of artistic and commercial success. But I digress.

Somewhere in that period, Trijntje Oosterhuis released an album of Burt Bacharach covers and it was fabulous. Here was an artist in her prime capturing the spirit of the “beautiful music” of the ’60s in a way that was modern, relatable and not at all annoying (I’m looking at you, Diana Krall). Our own generation, taking the baton from the previous.

So when earlier this year Netherlands announced Oosterhuis as their internal Eurovision pick, we were pleased mightily. And while we were happy, we were also a bit wary. Here’s a jazz singer, a standards vocalist (she was signed to Blue Note, for pete’s sake). Sure she can sing, but will she have a pop song that’s a fit? Will she come over well on stage and be able to appeal to a broad audience?

With the presentation of “Walk Along” I’m not sure that either of those concerns have been addressed.

“Walk Along” was written by Anouk. It is decidedly pop, of a decidedly bland theme, and is perfectly immediate. It feels like a song you might hear on an episode of Nashville or playing in a Walmart somewhere (I mean that in a good way). Oosterhuis does what she can with it. Worth noting, Anouk sang backup on the recorded version linked to here. The song is good, but Oosterhuis is better than this song. I found myself enjoying “Walk Along” in the way that someone enjoys a fine vodka mixed with cranberry juice. Yes, I enjoy the cocktail, but I would much rather drink a high-end vodka straight. There’s just one other problem…

Diction. I found myself ruminating on repeated the emphasis of the “yi” sound in the refrain, “Why-yi-yi-yi-yi”. There’s a disconnect between the use of the harsh, forward “i” sound in the chorus, and the rounder vowel that sits further back when we use the word “why” in real life. And while this may seem nitpicky, when it is the primary focus of the chorus, the thing that is emphasized and repeated, and the thing that sticks in your head after the song is over, it’s annoying. The issue is rooted in the lyric craft, and I don’t think it can be softened in execution. I’m not sure this song will wear well over time.

To cleanse the aftertaste of blatant pandering to mainstream adult contemporary pop audiences, here’s Trijntje Oosterhuis’ version of Bacharach’s “Walk on By” with Leonardo Amuedo on guitar. For songs about walking away, I’d much rather listen to this instead.

Malta’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

On November 15, 2014, Malta hosted the Junior Eurovision Song Contest at the Malta Shipbuilding. A week later, it used that same location (as well as the same footage of the Junior Eurovision interval acts) to decide its entry for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. The runaway winner on the night was Amber, who will represent Malta in Vienna with “Warrior”:

Amber is no stranger to the Eurovision stage. She was Kurt Calleja’s back-up singer in 2012 (where she never did quite hit her one big line).

“Warrior” was penned by Elton Zarb and Muxu, who were part of the team that wrote Malta’s Junior Eurovision-winning entry “The Start.” It’s a big ol’ pop ballad, well-suited for the Grand Prix. However, when we saw Amber perform it in Malta’s final, we felt like the song was performing her instead of her performing the song. In other words, she didn’t quite own it yet. Fortunately, she’s got plenty of time to get comfortable with “Warrior” before May. A little more confidence and maybe a tweak or two to the arrangement and Malta will be good to go.

Macedonia’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

While Eurofans are gearing up for this weekend’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest in Malta, people in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia selected their representative at the next Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna. Here is Daniel Kajmakoski with “Lisja esenski”:

It’s not bad, right? It has simple melodies that Kajmakoski can riff off of, and it has a big chorus for him to sell. It also has a well-constructed arrangement that gives the stage producers marks to build around. (I fear there is going to be a fire curtain to punctuate that pause between the verse and the chorus.)

Kajmakoski has an amiable voice and some brooding charisma, but his performance was punctuated by a lot of unfocused movement. I was distracted by all of the hand gestures, lip licking, looks around the stage, rock star posing, and occasional dance moves. (Although, to be fair, if you wear yellow shoes, you have to show them off.) Goodness knows he has plenty of time to reign in that ragged energy so he can deliver a smooth performance in Vienna.

We’ve been following Eurovision closely long enough now to tell that “Lisja esenski” is not going to be one of those tracks we listen to obsessively. It’s pleasant, but it doesn’t excite us.