Monthly Archives: October 2012

Holidays are coming… holidays are coming

So November is nearly here. Just Halloween to get out of the way, and we can start bleating on about Christmas with every breath. In fairness it’s not been nearly as bad this year. The worst thing about last year was the Christmas backlash. I can barely remember when the Christmas commercials started, but I certainly remember how the only topic of conversation seemed to be that “OH GOD the Christmas adverts are on too early… blah blah it’s only about money now… blah blah what you do want for your present, TELL ME I DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO THINK OF SOMETHING).

On top of this there are the usual accusations flung my way that I’m a Scrooge or a Grinch or whatever, thrown at me by the same people in December when they are wearing tinsel hats, bragging about their completed Christmas shopping weeks ago, and enforcing merriment by whatever means possible.

I want to be festive, but they make it intolerable, and I’m resigned to treating Christmas as God intended, i.e. a transactional exchange of presents I’ve thought long and hard about, with vouchers and cash that show that the majority of my family either don’t know or don’t care what sort of interests I have. Huff. Maybe I’ll just get everyone vouchers this  year and be done with it. Or be like my brother and just go to a cash machine.

I’m working over Christmas too, what a load of wank. But it’s not all bad, the Christmas sandwiches have arrived at my usual lunchtime haunts. So I can feast on a variety of… well it’s usually either Turkey Feast or Brie & Cranberry. Either way they are very nice. I just realised I haven’t been to Marks & Spencer yet, they’re BOUND to have some good sandwiches. They’re also bound to not be in the confusingly-labelled meal deal. But you can’t have it all.

A friend on Facebook was bragging about how she’d done all her shopping a few weeks ago. Are we supposed to be impressed? Of course the yummy mummy brigade were all over it, but my internal monologue was psychotically type-writing “GET A LIFE GET A LIFE”.

Suppose I should get to work on the list of things I want for Christmas, which I think it’s tacky to write. But it’s demanded of me, even if those people never pay attention to it. THEY MAKE ME A GRINCH. Anyway here’s a cat video to cheer me up after all that.

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Album: Loreen – “Heal” (2012)

It can’t be easy, being the saviour of the Swedophiles. Their capacity for hyped-up expectations, and equally powerful hate (or hugely unconvincing apathy) is a tough obstacle when you’re releasing a long-awaited debut album. Worse still if you’ve finally won Eurovision for Sweden, for the first time in 13 years. Particularly if the winning song delivered on its potential to be a huge European hit, transcending the usual indifference that many Eurovision winners get.

So Loreen has a lot to live up to, and certainly needs to seem justified in only releasing her debut album 5 months after her victory. Admittedly, she could easily have thrown a single out before now, especially if the European follow-up single to “Euphoria” was a remix of her 2011 Melodifestivalen entry “My heart is refusing me”. With this and its follow-up single “Sober” on the tracklist, you have to wonder if the album wasn’t mostly ready by the time “Euphoria” won victory in Baku. If that’s the case, what took it so long?

Anyway, no matter the convoluted journey to get here, we are here now. Will this just be a string of Euphoria clones? If that’s what you wanted, then brace yourself for disappointment. Loreen is an ARTISTE, don’t you know!

08 In my head – OK the Euphoria sound wasn’t totally unrepresentative, as you may have expected given her dark dancey previous singles. This simmers nicely for the first minute, with Loreen’s distinctively breathy vocals setting the scene. Is it just me, or does that bridge remind me a little of “My Heart Will Go On”?! The track doesn’t have a fast tempo, which I think works out well, with different layers of production filtering in smoothly. The repetition can make me question the 4 1/2 minute runtime, but there’s a nice mix in here, a strong opening track.

08 My heart is refusing me – I was very familiar with this from last year’s Melodifestivalen, so it takes a little adjustment to get used to this remixed version. Her gentle vocals on the verses soar when they hit that huge chorus. Thankfully all this remains, but we’ve got a more Clubland feel to the production. Not sure I totally get on board with it in comparison, but it stands up well as an album track.

07 Everytime – The dance anthems take a break now, and we get an almost acapella heartbreak track. It blossoms after the first minute into an atmospherically dark slow-burner. I can’t say this does much for me, even if she is trying to display some versatility. I’ve no doubt some people will love this, and (perhaps contrarily) say this is one of the best on the album, but Robyn does this sort of thing better.

10 Euphoria – Getting a gorgeous orchestral intro, this the max track of the album, and she’s teased us long enough. I love the intro, but it does feel a little disjoint with the horn-klaxon intro to the usual track. What can I say? This was an incredible moment for Eurovision, a brilliant performance and proof that the contest has the capacity for wide-reaching relevance. It’s a perfect blend of atmospheric verses and soaring chorus vocals over a state-of-the-art dance track. This is something really special.

10 Crying out your name – The Swedes had heard plenty of “My heart is refusing me” last year, so they got this as their album lead single. We should be jealous, as this is an amazingly strong track to follow up such a massive hit as “Euphoria”. It follows a broadly similar structure as that track, but it doesn’t feel like a clone. THIS is how she should do heartbreak tracks. She emotes really well, better than she copes with the breakdown of this relationship, opting for some good old-fashioned breakdowns and hysteria. The first new track so far that shows that “Euphoria” wasn’t doomed to be a one-off.

06 Do we even matter – Let’s not get over-stimulated, time for another bleak slow track. She knows how to have a good time, doesn’t she? Really this feels much in the same vein as “Everytime”, which doesn’t really help. Her vocals get a bit of a stretch, but it’s a pretty dismal thudding dirge.

08 Sidewalk – Heartbroken again? Much be a tough year. But thankfully this has got a bit more punch to it, and while she sounds a bit despondent, she sounds like she’s getting over it. She needs to enunciate a bit though, it took me a few double-takes to hear she was saying he had “no more CARDS to show”. It’s a downtempo track but there’s plenty of jolting electronic flourishes to give the track a jump-start. It knows when to give a bit of subtlety, and plays to Loreen’s strengths.

07 Sober – Another former single from last year, which also gets a remix. While I thought this was the weaker of the three previous singles, I can’t say I feel this remix has helped matters. This takes all the event out of the chorus, in fact the production barely flinches when she reaches it. It all feels curiously off-key too, and homogenises the track with the rest of the album sound. A shame, as it makes me appreciate the original single version more. This is just a bit neutered.

08 If she’s the one – Heartbreak time again! But she’s taking it well, and being surprisingly understanding about losing her lover to some harlot. But only if this other woman really means something. How progressive! There’s something missing from this, I can’t quite put my finger on it, the beat sounds ever so slightly out of time, and needs a bit more beef to it. She gets her standard-issue chance to stretch her vocals towards the end (does she do this every track?). I quite like this generally, but that chorus just needs a bit more energy.

07 Breaking Robot – What a title! Some echoey minimal dance production – why break the habit of a lifetime! A pulsing beat quickly joins the mix, which really does help, and a distorted voice effect actually breaks the vocals up quite nicely. Loreen’s a great singer, but her tone is just the same mournful tone throughout this album, you’d think she’d never smiled once in her life. It’s listenable but it feels a bit directionless and lacking in substance. But it’ll do.

09 See you again – Finally! For a woman so famous for her Euphoria, finally we get some positivity. I’m sure someone will describe this as vaguely Guetta-like, but I think that doesn’t hurt at all, there’s a reason he’s so popular at the moment. This is a breath of fresh air, just the key it’s all pitched at is uplifting and irresistible. Sounds a bit like similar songs by Usher, which in my books is a good thing. Could do with a key change or some sort of variation in chorus at the end, but it’s a good package.

08 Heal – Closing the album (what do you mean, we could go out on a high?), we get another slow-burner. It’s easier to get into though, that almost acapella intro has a real gravity, and when the chorus arrives, it’s a lot more polished and layered than similar tracks I’ve heard on this album. That glassy effect throughout the track is really memorable and unique, love that. OK it flounders a little outside the choruses, but those choruses are worth the effort.

I won’t pretend that I got into this album immediately, and I think it’s a bit of an arrogant attitude to purposely make a ‘grower’, demanding that the listener give it multiple attempts before it will dispense any pleasure. But sometimes that’s how these things pan out in any case. I won’t say I completely ‘got’ this album, and while it would have been easy to try and fill the album with “Euphoria” clones, in avoiding this it ironically ended up sounding a bit samey in places. There seems to be more versatility to be had in dancier uptempos than there is in minimal miserable heartbroken ballads, and I am left wishing she’d explored that avenue more thoroughly.

But still, it’s a decent listen, and there are a handful of tracks that are worthy successors to the post-“Euphoria” hype, and that’s more than a lot of people get. I just hope she lightens up one day.

Keepers for the iPod: In my head, My heart is refusing me, Euphoria, Crying out your name, See you again, Heal

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Filed under Albums, Baku 2012, Eurovision, Melodifestivalen 2012, Music, Reviews

Eurovision reloaded: Istanbul 2004: My Top 10

Much prolonged, but it’s finally time to count out my top 10 tracks from Eurovision 2004. The top 10 is always a tough group to pick, but I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out, even if the top 3 really didn’t have much separating them.

Eurovision Song Contest Istanbul 2004 logo

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United United Kingdom

James Fox – Hold On to Our Love

#16 in the Grand Final

British entries haven’t had the best reputation in the last decade, though they’ve got nothing but themselves to blame most of the time. They needed to bounce back after 2003’s humiliating nul points finish, and while this wasn’t a total disaster, it did highlight that the UK’s glory days would take more effort to maintain.

I vaguely remember this guy from Fame Academy, and while this didn’t do a lot for me at the time, I’ve really grown to love it. It’s cheesy and MoR, but that chorus really works for me. It’s the sort of chorus you’d sway along to if you’d had a bit too much to drink, and as old-fashioned as it sounds, it certainly didn’t shame the UK.

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Croatia Croatia

Ivan Mikulić – You Are The Only One

#12 in the Grand Final

Balkan ballads are a funny thing, I don’t know what makes me love one and snore through another. I think if there’s a bit of the mystery that Eastern Europe holds for me, and a bit of melodrama and an ear-catchingly unusual melody (to Western ears), that’s a good start.

Ivan sings his way through what I can totally understand most people for thinking was a pretty tepid midtempo. But the chorus really sticks in my mind, maybe it’s his accent as he belts out “You are the only waaaaaannn”. He’s just got a curious tone to his voice, maybe his breathless vocals remind me a bit of Enrique or something. Weird as it is, I’m still fascinated by this.

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Cyprus Cyprus

Lisa Andreas – Stronger Every Minute

#5 in the Grand Final

Barbra, is that you? Teenage Lisa bravely kicks this off with a cute acapella segment. It’s a pretty dated song, like a schoolgirl singing a Carpenters track, but her voice is so pretty that it’s hard for me not to get all sentimental.

OK the vocals weren’t 100% in the semi-final, but she certainly held her own against more experienced vocalists on the night and gave Cyprus a top 5 result that hasn’t been matched since. Shame they were STILL beaten out by Sakis’s midriff in the end.

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Ukraine Ukraine

Ruslana – Wild Dances

#1 in the Grand Final

It was clear from the first performance that Ukraine were looking to raise the bar with the performance this time around as they blew the cobwebs out of the semi-final. A photo-finish secured Ukraine their first Eurovision victory, just pipping Serbia & Montenegro in the last few sets of votes, who had beaten Ukraine in the semi-final.

It’s a largely unintelligible tour-de-force with battle horns, crazy Xena Warrior Princess outfits and bags of energy. Ruslana was a thoroughly likeable character, who would later be instrumental in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution after a rigged election later that year. A memorable winner that demonstrated that winning Eurovision wasn’t as formulaic as it seemed.

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Russia Russia

Julia Savicheva – Believe Me

#11 in the Grand Final

I’ve always had a soft spot for this track, with a melancholic disco tragedy vibe about it. The verses are pretty mid-tempo but those choruses really have a great sound to them. Just as well, because the lyrics are a little lost in translation at times.

Her vocals weren’t amazing live sadly, perhaps victim to nerves, or a rather OTT dance routine involving multi-coloured dancers and multiple lifts. The choreography was iffy in places, and she looked like an uncomfortable Avril Lavigne, but there’s a great Russian pop track at the heart of this.

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Bosnia Bosnia and Herzegovina

Deen – In the Disco

#9 in the Grand Final

Oh lord, how did this happen?!? Moments like this are why I love Eurovision. Fiercely heterosexual Deen tried his best to get some chemistry with the female dancers for the more deluded viewers, but all said and done this is a fantastically full-on Eurotrash disco masterpiece.

There’s not a huge amount to it lyrically, it’s just about loving music in a disco, with a frankly astonishing hi-NRG dance routine. His vocals might sound a bit weak, but it all feels like that’s how it’s supposed to be. He hits the notes despite the frantic choreo and struts confidently around underneath that awesome mutant disco-ball. A real joy, even though Europe were never going to be totally on board, but 9th place is a great achievement for something like this.

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Belarus Belarus

Aleksandra and Konstantin – My Galileo

Did not qualify, #19 in Semi-final

Highest non-qualifier here, and I get why it might have floundered a bit, but my God, this is the lightest most uplifting bit of ethno-pop I think I’ve ever heard at Eurovision. Not sure how to describe it… speed new-age? I’m still astonished that this is in English, I dare you to decode more than 10% of the words without the internet.

What does “My Galileo” even MEAN? Anyway I don’t care, treated as a foreign-language track it’s totally magical, heartwarming and of course totally doomed. I’ve just seen the music video for the first time, what the hell? Is she controlling the solar system? What an enigma!

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Belgium Belgium

Xandee – 1 Life

#22 in the Grand Final

It’s not easy being a Belgian Eurovision fan, consoling yourself that at least you aren’t a Dutch Eurovision fan. For there have been disappointingly few times Belgium have had justice served in their favour. OK they haven’t been amazing, but at least Kate Ryan should have qualified in 2006. Xandee at least didn’t have to qualify for 2004’s final, with Belgium’s Sanomi missing out on a second Belgian victory the year before by only 3 points.

Still, let’s not dwell on that, nor the fact that Xandee came a sad 23rd in the final. What we have is a powerfully-performed Europop titan. My only criticism is that it sounds pretty dated now, in the great way that trancey-pop music from that region was great at the time, like Ian Van Dahl and Lasgo etc.

It sounds a little more like a tampon advert soundtrack than those acts, but Xandee gives it her all, with a frantic arm-waving dance routine. Some great camera shots from behind the stage too, it just all came together for me.

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Sweden Sweden

Lena Philipsson – It Hurts

#5 in the Grand Final

A golden rule of Eurovision is never to rule out Sweden. The adoptive motherland of the contest, they (usually) give it their best every year. This time it’s Schlager superstar Lena’s turn with a minimal routine of her doing everything she can with a mic stand.

This is classic Schlager heartbreak, with that campy wry smile from Lena doing her best drunk inappropriate aunt persona. I must admit I thought the Swedophiles made a bit too much of the microphone dance, but it’s such a solid pop song that it’s difficult not to get taken in.

I’ve loved the handful of Lena songs I’ve heard so I’ll certainly look into her when I get a chance. She worked the crowd in Istanbul, and was rewarded accordingly.

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Albania Albania

Anjeza Shahini – The Image of You

#7 in the Grand Final

I know! I was surprised too! The usual suspects normally nab my favourite entry of the year, but Albania has quietly amassed several hot little tracks, the first of which being their debut that – until this year in Baku – was their biggest hit.

Starts off timidly enough, with Anjeza and a simple piano kicking off a light uptempo beat. It’s got quite an unusual melody, but it builds so beautifully, until that “Queen of the world of make-believe” line that still hits me when I hear it.

The harmonies the backing singers in the choruses really add some richness to the vocals that Sweden and Belgium missed out on. Her vocal performance might not have been quite as assured as Lena’s, but she was enjoying every second, and so was I. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, that slightly unhinged final burst finishes on a high.

I might weigh the success of this one more on the studio version than Sweden’s, but this is still such an adorable song after hearing it so many times.

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Well I hope you all enjoyed all that. I think I might post some of the latest contests up before I do another vintage year. Before we know it, the 2013 entries will start pouring in, and I won’t have time for anything else!

What is your favourite song of the contest?

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Filed under Eurovision, Music, Reviews

ABU TV Song Festival: Seoul 2012 – Watch with me!

Finally I’ve had a chance to see Asia’s inaugural ABU TV Song Festival in South Korea’s capital Seoul, which was filmed a few days after the first ABT TV Song Festival. Australia won that, but who would win the TV festival?

It turns out, nobody. There is no competitive element to the show, making the Eurovision parallels even less appropriate than the Radio Festival (which I wrote all about earlier on this blog, if you are interested). Never mind though, it still looks pretty flash, so I’m writing this as I watch it on Youtube (you can too: click here while the link lasts).

No familiar theme tune to play us in, we just go straight to the opening act, displaying traditional South Korean arts. It’s quite nice really, there’s a love story, lots of drums, much flag-waving. And a completely seamless segueway into a rave-soundtracked laser show, of course! The announcer asks if I’m ready for a good time… best offer I’ve had all week!

A cheesy & lengthy introduction to all 11 participants follows, and I worry if it’s going to be a bit ballad-heavy. There’s a scary bit of shouting on the soundtrack that looks like the Afghan entry is bellowing, but he’s just smiling and bowing thankfully. The Korean-speaking host fires off a barrage of Korean, while the fantastically-named Jamaica dela Cruz replies to his questions in English. A bit of a baffling exchange, and a synapse-melting explanation of the show (in Korean, good luck with that). But let’s get on with the songs!

Nice to see the entries get those little regional postcards, just like Eurovision. Ooh, they’ve got a water fountain that fireballs erupt from? Turns out Singapore is kicking off the show.

Singapore: Taufik Batisah – Usah Lepaskan

A Singaporean Idol winner, Taufik apparently likes ballads, so that’s what we are getting. Dry ice smoke floods the stage, and a pair of dancers twirl around on the fringes. I really liked Singapore’s ballad in the Radio Festival, but this doesn’t quite have the same magic. He’s got a lovely soft voice that’s capable of plenty of vocal aerobics. Just the song is a bit too safe for me, the climax isn’t much of a pay-off.

  Australia: Havana Brown – We run the night

Ahh, on more solid turf now, with a postcard taken directly from their tourist board advert. Good lord, what’s going on? I can imagine the more reserved countries getting totally scandalised by this, with Havana shouting her way onto the stage, doing a quick DJ set (!?) and introducing her trashy stripper dancers. You wouldn’t get a Pitbull guest vocal in Eurovision would you?

It’s a really energetic performance, by the look of the audience this is totally against the tone of the show. Despite this, they were playing it a little safe by sending a triple-platinum Australian hit, and a million-selling US hit! Really catchy and fun though, I’ll be seeking this one out later.

 Sri Lanka: Arjuna Rookantha & Shanika Madhumali – Me Jeewithe

Who knew there were so many animals in Sri Lanka, judging from that beautiful postcard. A nice little midtemp intro, wonder what this is going to grow into. Her vocals are beautiful and high. His are lovely too, but what in God’s name is he wearing/doing. It doesn’t really feel like an air guitar moment, especially with that church backdrop.

She looks a bit pissed off, rigid with anger and motionless for the whole performance, while he seems to be from some Sri Lankan hair-rock troupe. They sound great together, but they look a strange pair. I was going to say they are like an Asian version of someone, but literally I have NOTHING.

 Malaysia: Hafiz – Awan Nano

Malaysia has weird owls, look at that. Nice postcard again! Hafiz is styled as a hipster Willow Smith tonight, not a hot look. Sounds like we are in for another terribly earnest ballad, though confusingly translated as “Nano-clouds”. WTF?

While I think I liked the Singaporean guy’s tone more, Hafiz has more power on this song, and the tune’s a bit more interesting. He’s a lovely singer, but I’m not in a rush to hear this again. And what the hell are nano-clouds?

 Vietnam: Lê Việt Anh – Mây

A slightly less bombastic postcard from Vietnam, but another ballad follows. It’s about clouds too?! Is there that much to sing about them? Vietnamese is an unusual-sounding language, it doesn’t sound as naturally musical to my ears, but he does well.

He’s got a deeper voice than I expected, it’s very nice really. But again the song doesn’t do a lot for me. Perfectly pleasant but the tune is just all over the place. I can’t say I’ve yet heard a song about clouds that’s got me too excited on the topic.

 Japan: Perfume – Spring of life

Now THIS is what I was excited about. I’ve only just heard about Perfume, I saw the fantastic video for this song “Spring of life” on the flight back from Japan. A friend showed me the “Chocolate disco” video too, I love their style and awesome dancing skills, and they didn’t disappoint this time. I think this is the first mimed vocal though, but I enjoyed it more than anything so far.

Their dancing is so tight, looks well-practiced. OH GOD I WANT TO GO BACK. Love the song, love them, this is my favourite by a mile! I promise the broken robot section in the middle makes more sense if you watch the music video!

 Hong Kong: Alfred Hui – Ma Yi

How do you follow that? Poor Alfred has to, with a song about an ant?! I feel that something is lost in translation here. Gorgeous city skyline backdrop. Sounds like he’s a bit artist in HK based on the English bits of the ticker-tape at the bottom.

These Asian ballads seem to blur into one for me, sadly. Maybe that’s why they write them about clouds and ants! He’s a good singer, perhaps a bit too breathy for my tastes, and he certainly likes to EMOTE. I don’t think I could feel that strongly about ants, personally. Maybe this one broke his heart, so he fried it with a magnifying glass.

INTERLUDE

What’s with these Korean-English conversations? Very confusing. I don’t mind it being two languages, but mixing them up is a strange choice. Hang on, what’s going on? With only 4 songs left we are getting an interval act/toilet break!

It’s “Fly me to the moon”, played on traditional Korean instruments! Of course!! It’s pretty nice actually, if a little bizarre. What the hell is that girl playing? It looks like a cross between a skyscraper and a smoking pipe. The overall result is a little baffling, but it sounds very nice. I decided I love this 😀

 Indonesia – Maria Calista – Karena Ku Sanggup

Maria Calista, what a cool name. Indonesia looks great too, and what a strange face on that kid trying to dance! Looks like another graceful ballad, get comfy!

Oh I love the styling, is that a scorpion-tail hairdo? She’s brought a full band too. Is she going to sing at all? OK she’s tried to spice up a fairly standard ballad with a crazy costume, but in fairness, her voice is gorgeous. Powerful but emotional. Like Celine Dion if she knew Indonesian.

Wow, she’s got a huge mouth! One of the more memorable performances, particularly when she launches a surprise English-language attack, evoking Beyonce and Mariah in a climactic final section.

 China: Cao Fujia – Quian gua

A surprisingly modest postcard for China, they’ve got more to show than that! I get the idea that Cao is a big deal, or at least the Koreans think so. Another gorgeous backdrop. She’s beautiful too, despite the frumpy outfit.

In a strange way, this ballad reminds me most of Eurovision than any entry so far, sounds like one of those pretty Balkan ballads. Her voice is amazingly pure, and her minimalist dance routine is strangely captivating. Not sure why she plays peek-a-boo with a scarf at the end, but otherwise a really lovely performance.

 Afghanistan: Hameed Sakhizada – My eye

Oh this doesn’t bode well, only named “Folk music” on Wikipedia, and confusingly called “My eye” on-screen. Are the audience clapping along to this? The rhythm is weird, it doesn’t feel much like a clapping moment!

His voice is nice, but this sort of thing really does nothing for me. To my ears, very shapeless (and endless), it’s just a soundtrack rather than something I could listen to a performance of. The audience seem to love him though, so that’s really great. His voice is effortlessly tuneful, but I guess this is just one of those things I don’t get.

 South Korea: TVXQ – Catch me

The host nation finishes off the show now, and I’m led to believe TVXQ are a big deal in South Korea and Japan. Judging by the squeals of delight from the audience though, they are going going out with a bang. Gorgeous postcard too!

More Asian electro-pop, I love it! Really full-on intro, a crazy dance routine, why is it in the dark? The backing track is amazing, love the sound. What a strange dance routine though, not like I’m used to at all! Oh I love that bit where they’re all lined up!

Very melodramatic vocals, it’s all over the place, and understandably mimed. Can you imagine singing to this while doing this routine? The English-language chorus is great too. Certainly interested to hear these again, very interesting hi-energy performance. I wonder if this is sort of thing might ever drive a worldwide K-Pop craze, post-Gangnam Style.

So that’s it! I guess there’s a chance for countries to send what they like if there’s no competitive element, but it was still a fun show with a different energy to Eurovision.

I mean, you wouldn’t get the participants all on stage singing “Heal the world” at the end would you. Felt bad about the extended shot of the Afghan guy who clearly had no idea of the song! An endearing bunch really, particularly Maria Calista trying to outsing everyone! Here’s to next year!

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Filed under Music, Reviews, Songs

Gotta catch ’em all… again

I wanna be the very best, like nobody ever was. To catch them is my real test, to train them is my cause. So it has been for the last 13 years since I first picked up a Pokemon game. I didn’t really play Pokemon Blue much really, but I certainly got the bug in 2005 when I got Pokemon LeafGreen, and my collection started.

Back in the present, I have 648 of the 649 Pokemon in a save file on Pokemon White, the latest generation of the enduring video game saga (the last one, Meloetta, hasn’t been released through a Wi-Fi event, as a handful of Pokemon are each generation). It’s turned into a bit of a labour of love, and I’m sure I’ll keep collecting any new ones that get released in subsequent games. Some of them I’ve had for many years, why lose them now?

The game itself has stayed frustratingly unchanged throughout this whole time. You play the role of a young child, irresponsibly encouraged to go on a long pilgrimage around your country’s 8 Pokemon gyms, whilst ‘collecting’ (i.e. trapping) a variety of cute monsters with different skills, strengths and weaknesses. You use these to fight other wild Pokemon in order to trap them too, or to level up your Pokemon so they are strong enough to take on the Pokemon of fellow trainers, the 8 Pokemon gym leaders, and ultimately the “Elite Four”, the top trainers in the country. Only then are you declared the Pokemon champion.

The more these games change, the more they stay the same. This central tenet of the gameplay has really not changed at all since the first games were released in the late 90s. But there are other things to occupy you on this epic quest. Of course you can try to tick off every Pokemon (and eventually catch ’em all), perhaps the true ultimate purpose of a trainer.

There are always other little distractions on the way. Link-up battles and trades, beauty contests, Olympic-style tournaments, even a movie studio in the latest iteration. But these are mere trifles, and don’t explain the enduring appeal of these games for me.

Every game so far has been released in two ‘colours’, each with a few differences in which Pokemon are available (thus forcing trades to complete collections). The following year or two, there is normally a third edition of the game that builds on the previous pair, but having sunk dozens of hours into one, I’ve never really bothered with it.

However this time around, two years from Pokemon Black & White, we don’t get a 3rd version, we get the first ever sequels – wait for it – Pokemon Black 2 & White 2. They are a continuation of the storyline, but separate enough to stand alone. The mechanics are largely the same as ever, and yet I’m right back into it already.

I’ll do a proper review later (much later!), but as it stands, this will likely consume a lot of my time for the forseeable. I’ve picked my first ever Grass-type starter for those interested, and I’m resisting the temptation to bring over some tough Pokemon from my copy of Pokemon White, at least until I’ve finished the main story. Is anyone else playing?

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Filed under Computer games, Reviews