Up until 1998, the Eurovision Song Contest featured a live orchestra to accompany the performers. When you listen to some of the entries this year, it feels as if abolishing the live orchestra might have been a rash decision. A whole raft of entries, largely ballads, sound pretty much exactly like the pre-1998 orchestrated pieces. Here's Switzerland, Hungary and Romania:
Paolo Meneguzzi - Era Stupendo
Csézy - Candlelight
Nico and Vlad Miriţă - Pe-o margine de lume
There's nothing, save perhaps the slight accelerando in the Swiss track (which is a problem, usually), that set these apart from the type of ballad Ireland used to win with consistently in the mid-nineties. Ireland has kept sending bland ballad entries since and consistently lost, because it has felt old hat, but suddenly no less than three countries that usually do fairly well are going for the format. (Plus, in all likelihood, Sweden. Sanna Nielsen's "Empty Room" is hotly tipped to win and sounds like Ireland's 1993 entry.)
Has the orchestrated ballad tipped over from old-fashioned to retro-cool? Or is last year's ballad win a cue for all the schmaltzy songwriters to crawl out from the woodwork? I'm fairly uncomfortable with it, but I still think all three of these entries have a fair chance to go through, Switzerland because of the great energy, Romania because of the strong performance and Hungary for being so formulaic (always a good thing in these contests).
Personally, I much prefer retro done with some sort of a twist. Lithuania's entry may be overblown like hell, with that damned operetta singer bawling away, but it still does something unusual to the traditional ballad.
Jeronimas Milius - Nomads In The Night
Once the distorted guitar creeps in around the 1:35 mark you realise this is going to be something different, and the last minute hits one of this year's strongest trends square on: operatic pop with metal roots. (Cf. Azerbadjan, Turkey, another vigilantly copyright-watched Swedish pre-selection entry in Therese's "When You Need Me". I'll be discussing these later.) I think the progression might be too subtle for Eurovision audiences and having a "grower" as your entry is usually a bad idea, but Lithuania has surprised before. We'll see.
Croatia, on the other hand, has decided to twist it up by going much further back in time.
Kraljevi Ulice and 75 cents - Romanca
Sounding more like the very first Eurovision winner than anything recent, this is certainly a fun song with only a set of badly-tacked-on breakbeat drums distracting from its lively folksy nature. I'm not sure how well it'll do but I like it, especially the cute old men.
A potentially even more interesting retro attempt is Moldova's:
Geta Burlacu - A Century of Love
Going for Retro flavour from completely outside the Eurovision is risky business as Germany certainly showed last year. But I think the vaguely latin-tinged Moldovan cool-jazz type excercise might actually be very much in step with the times - as the successes of bands like nouvelle vague certainly shows. We'll see how well it can do but I think it might be a surprise hit.
So, in summary, I think the staple Eurovision ballads might be making a comeback this year, hopefully (but probably not) to be shot down straight away. I, myself, prefer slightly more piquant retro, but I doubt it'll do all that well. Well, that's the way it turns sometimes. Next time I'll look at some decidedly more modern music.