Time to look lively, the national final schedule is only just starting, with countries selecting every weekend from next week onwards. So let’s take care of the last of the early birds, Albania.
Albania have never been major players in Eurovision, but they can be relied on to provide something that’s usually decent, often overlooked, but always entertaining. Since their debut at the contest in 2004, their entries have been selected by the long-running Festivali i Këngës contest, now in its 52nd year.
I had a soft spot for this festival after reviewing it last year, mainly for their use of a live orchestra in the show, and you know how I like those. Last year wasn’t entirely successful, with a creditable but dated entry by Adrian Lulgjuraj and Bledar Sejko winning, and ultimately fell way short of qualification in the 2013 semi-finals.
As always, a few former Albanian representatives are trying their luck; 2006’s Luiz Ejlli and 2007’s Frederik Ndoci both entered their year, but could they become the first Albanian entrant to take the Eurovision stage twice? A seven-strong jury decided. Let’s see what they came up with – as always in reverse order, finishing with the winner.
Don’t ask me to pronounce her name, or the song. That’s a LOT of umlauts. Rock ‘n’ roooolll! A rather fierce-looking young lady and a dramatic song. The chorus is alright, and I love the strings, but this is just a bit dated.
Lynx – Princesha
More rock, is this the same song? I hope it’s not all going to be like this. The singer’s cute but he’s got that gravelly Eastern-European rock voice that suits the native language but otherwise doesn’t do a lot for me. Again there’s a decent chorus melody in there but it’s not my thing.
Edmond Mancaku and Entela Zhula – Vetëm për ty
Oh lord, who’s this guy? He looks like a leather daddy, flanked by Shirley Manson. He’s a bit off but she’s got a nice vocal. Unfortunately it doesn’t improve as a duet, and it’s passable but disposable rock-ballad. Not a great deal to say otherwise, the middle-eight is good but despite Entela’s strong vocals it’s a bit of a lame duck.
Besiana Mehmeti and Shkodran Tolaj – Jam larg
Another duet now, another fairly naff 80s ballad. But it’s probably the best so far, they’ve both got good semi-operatic voices, and the overall sound of the track is quite rousing with that choral set of backing singers. Not exactly a toe-tapper but it’s a pleasant listen. That last minute is good though, the lady goes totally operatic on us, very impressive.
Blerina Braka – Mikja ime
I really hope there’s going to be something more contemporary later on, don’t they remember “Carry you into my dreams”? Now THAT was a song. Blerina has probably the nicest voice so far, but again the song doesn’t feel like anything special. It’s a solid tragi-ballad though, with the best melody so far, I guess that’s progress. I’m sure she can pull off a more emotional performance but it lacks subtlety, it’s a bit shouty.
Marjeta Billo – Ti mungon
Another strong female voice against a dramatic lite-rock backing track. It’s got an interesting melody but this isn’t going much for me at all, all these powerful vocal performances are giving me a headache. Her vibrato is all over the place though, I can’t say I’m a fan.
Luiz Ejlli – Kthehu
So eight years ago Luis represented Albania, but this year he just squeezed into the top 10. He’s got a sweet voice, this is a nice change even if it’s another ballad. He looks very young, I must see what he was like back in 2006. This song isn’t making me too excited though, even if that climax is worth waiting for. But it’s the first song so far that sounds like it could pass for a Eurovision entry.
Renis Gjoka – Mjegulla
We are only halfway now? This is a LONG selection, and this drowsy rock midtempo isn’t helping at all. He seems like he’s enjoying himself though, or he’s drunk, I’m not sure. Next!
NA – Jehona
Here was me thinking that maybe they had just ranked all the dramatic rock stuff near the bottom and I’d eventually find my way out of it. But no, another one with very little to distinguish it from the rest. The lead singer just looks bored, and I don’t blame him.
Rezarta Smaja – Në zemër
A mini-skirt? This seems more promising, even an engaging performer, who would have guessed? There’s even some BPM! It takes an age to get going, but finally a bit of a pulse in this contest. This isn’t a brilliant song or anything, but finally here’s something with a bit of life and passion in it. A bit dated still, but it’s given me some hope at least.
Xhejn & Enxhi Kumrija – Kur qielli qan
I guess these are probably sisters? Good voices, but I hope this is going somewhere! Braced for a strong chorus I was a little disappointed. I love how grand the orchestra makes everything sound though. It’s got a nice pace to it, but somehow it still doesn’t really move.
Frederik Ndoci – Një ditë shprese
Top 5 time now… that’s a deep voice, and an interesting look. Is he a plastic surgeon or something? Unfortunately he doesn’t give this song a lift, and it’s yet another fairly plain ballad. He’s got quite a nice tone, he represented Albanian in 2007, though I can’t remember the song (that whole contest is better best forgotten). It does perk up towards the end, a decent crescendo but… hmm, maybe this wasn’t going to fly.
Venera Lumani and Lindi Islami – Natë e pare
Oh he’s a cutie, isn’t he? What a sweet couple! For now I can overlook how nondescript this ballad is, but at least it’s a brief respite from the doom and gloom of the other songs. This is quite easy to listen to though, one of the best so far, but that’s not saying much is it? A rather lovely duet though.
Sajmir Braho – Grua
Third place now, they are cutting it fine if they are going to bring something great out, and this guy doesn’t look like the one to do it. At least he looks like he’s enjoying himself. It at least morphs into a palatable but cheesy midtempo halfway through. A bit dated, but it’s alright.
Klodian Kaçani – Me ty
I’m a little comatose here, this doesn’t start promisingly. He’s cute though. Actually that first chorus is quite good, plenty of melody & energy with some great backing vocals too. That military drum beat livens up the second verse too, this isn’t bad at all. Not exactly a toe-tapper but one of the few artists showing sings of actually being alive anyway. Deserved to do well at least, and he’s got quite some voice.
Herciana Matmuja – Zemërimi i një nate
Well after that dreary dozen, I dread to think what they ended up sending, but Herciana was the runaway winner with the juries (and the audience, by the sound of it). What a dramatic intro, it’s like a boss fight, but then that piano kicks in and she starts with that lovely vocal. Quite melodic, she sounds like an alternative female singer from the 90s.
I wonder if this will get performed in English, and what it will sound like. I feel like it’s missing a chorus though… She’s a good singer and interesting to watch, that melody is quite intriguing. It’s as good a winner as any from this selection, it’s certainly interesting at least.
I think they’ll have their work cut out for them to get out of the semis this year to be honest, but there’s no change there. Best of luck…