Montenegro, Israel, San Marino, Slovenia, Belarus: Pop Rocks

Right. I know I'm ploughing through these with a fervour that makes Johnnn's obsession with Fleetwood Mac look like he's maybe heard a song by them once and kinda liked it. But I'm in a rush to review them all by Tuesday when the first semi-final is broadcast. So expect a couple of big, loosely-held-together round-out posts in the next few days, after which I never, ever, ever want anything to do with the Eurovision ever again (until next year).

Well, anyway, here's the other dubious trend for you - commercial pop that incorporates ideas and moods from rock. (We've had Lithuania and Azerbaijan previously who also echo this sort of theme.) Is it a more sophisticated attempt to cash in on the Finnish winner two years ago? Is it another sign the Eurovision is trendier than previously? In any case the world of rock now seems to be open pickings for all sorts of poppy songwriters.

On the other hand it doesn't have to be that modern at all. The Montenegrin entry is ageless pop-rock, the kind that might as well have been written by Elton John or Mark Knopfler or Don Henley (if they spoke Serbo-Croatian). It's reasonably well-produced and clad in a contemporary costume, and I guess the chorus is kinda memorable, but it's not going to matter an iota since no-one likes this kind of music anymore.

Israel's entry is also on the traditional side (though rather more Savage Garden than fogey-rock) but the attempt to update it with little touches of oriental pop flavour almost work. I say almost, because the greater part of the song (from about 0:20 to about 2:10) is such a straight-forwardly dull pop-rock excercise that it's a bleedin' mystery they didn't put just take the intro and the last part and constructed a whole song around that. I guess they're trying to go for the often-so-successful ethnic-western combo but the energy just deflates completely in most of the song.

It's like we're going through a gallery of different combinational approaches here. Here is the entry from debutant country San Marino and it tries to be big, grandoise pop-rock in the Andreas Johnson tradition, but here it's the production that totally, utterly falters. It so needs a big, fat beat and more soaring keyboards to work and the flagging energy in the verses is just ridiculous. It's a pity because it's a fairly fresh entry and a decent first effort from the tiny mountain nation. And it could have been real good.

Now we're reaching the opposite end of the scale - pure pop songs that incorporate a deft touch of rock in their formula. The Slovenian entry is one of my favourites all-round in this category, partly because the rock can only be felt in the little electric guitar touches and in the melodic structure and it doesn't disrupt the pop in a way that feels somehow very now. It's also probably the one song in the competition which is most incessantly memorable, with it's extremely simple and meme-building chorus. It's bound to do fairly well, pity they didn't make more out of the marvellous bridge.

Europe's last dictatorship Belarus does again what it's done every year - pick a big pop star from Mother Russia, spend millions on consultant songwriters and producers and marketeers to make the perfect Eurovision song... and fail because it's always somehow soulless, forced, and people see through the veneer of modernity to the ugly heart beneath.

Need I say that it fits completely perfectly into this category of tinkered and manipulated music?

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