Monday, August 31, 2009

Rewind: Swedish summer telly

There are some traditions that I eagerly await every year, one of them being the Swedish summer TV show "Allsång på Skansen". Even if it's raining outside, I hear the opening bars of "Stockholm i mitt hjärta" and that officially tells me that summer is here.

2009 was just that little bit different. We didn't just have Allsång on SVT, but also Lotta Engberg's show, Monday nights on TV4. Both shows have now ended their summer runs.

Allsång, the established favourite with its usual pick & mix format brought the usual highs and lows. The best show of the series was the first one, on 23.06.09, which featured Tomas Ledin and Måns Zelmerlöw, the latter being instantly acclaimed as a possible successor to the under-fire Anders Lundin, who was consistently a target for the Swedish press from day one. As I don't live in Sweden I'm not sure what the reason is for all this criticism, as I think he's ok for that sort of thing, although (IMHO) he's no singer, which is ironic as he's the host of a singalong show!

Other guests I enjoyed during this series: Magnus Uggla, John ME, Magnus Carlsson and Wille Crafoord (a very nice duet of the Swedish 1973 Eurovision entry), H.E.A.T. and Bjorn Skifs.

The mythical backdrop of Skansen and the Stockholm skyline makes watching Allsång a very special experience, even if the line-up of guests isn't always your cup of tea. That's what probably edged it in front of TV4's rival "Lotta på Liseberg", which was televised weekly for the first time this year. Still, I thought she had some very good guests - Ola Svensson, Brolle, Scotts, Agnes (an excellent "Release Me"), the new-look (and very glam) Linda Bengtzing, and for me the icing on the cake on the final show....Salem Al Fakir. Now you all know by now that Salem is my favourite singer, but he also has such a lively and infectious personality that you could imagine him hosting Allsång one day in the future as he relates so well to his audience and had so much fun here. The same could not be said for fellow guest, Paul Potts who sat squirming on the sofa whilst being interviewed by Lotta Engberg, and was then subjected to an "English Allsång" - "The Laughing Policeman". The irony was not lost on me, given Mr Potts' consistently sour-faced expression during the show!

But I digress. The other big hitter on Swedish summer TV is TV4's "Sommarkrysset" from Grona Lund in Stockholm, which I have also enjoyed greatly this summer, although I need to catch up with the latest editions. Again the highlights this summer for me were (goes without saying) Salem again, also Moneybrother, Brolle (again), Erik Hassle, Darin, Star Pilots.

"Sommarkrysset" finishes its current run this coming Saturday with a cracking line-up of guests including Fibes, Oh Fibes! and Kim Wilde, Europe, and Ola. Don't miss it.

Rewind: Eurovision Song Contest 2009, four months on...

So, with the benefit of hindsight, what will we remember about the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest? Play that violin...

If Norway's Alexander Rybak's win was "predetermined" like many recent pre-contest favourites, no-one could have predicted the landslide victory which followed. Juries and televoters, from every part of the continent, awarded maximum scores to "Fairytale" (apart from the foregone conclusion of the Bosnia-Croatia, Greece-Cyprus, Azerbaijan-Turkey, Moldova-Romania 12 point love-ins, to name the most significant). It wasn't just the "Nordic bloc voting" much derided by Terry Wogan over the takes much, much more than that to win Eurovision these days.

The major change this year was the introduction of jury-televoting split, to save a contest which was losing the last little bit of credibility it had, thanks to the neighbour voting which had dominated/ruined the show (delete as appropriate) in recent years.

I think it worked.

It all started with 2008 winner Dima Bilan walking in the air, catching his jacket along the way (oops) and -points deducted here - miming to "Believe" whilst auditioning for "Hole In The Wall". All together now...."Bring on the wall!!" Nice chap though.

I grew to like those postcards featuring the Russian 'Miss World', she was very pretty wasn't she?

So on with the show....
  • Lithuania: Sasha Son sang this very well, but he was a good singer in need of a better song.
  • Israel: It was a little contrived but a nice idea nonetheless, and I didn't hate it.
  • France: Patricia Kaas did what she did best, stood on a stage and was mesmerising for 3 minutes, although my mum didn't like this. Faithful travelling companion, a self-confessed Eurovision-phobe, broke the habit of a lifetime and watched the contest this year because Ms Kaas was there. Of course he voted for her. Quelle surprise!!
  • Sweden next. For some reason it still left me cold, and the wonky vocals before the big finish didn't help, although there was that big note at the end. Mum: "there's something unsettling about her, isn't there?"
  • Croatia: We both hated this. And probably still do. Mum: "Baloney. Chronic".
  • Portugal: this on the other hand was just lovely, she was lovely, the very colourful flowery staging was memorable, and the song was very nice and cheerful.
  • Iceland: A simple song, sung in a simple style, with virtually no gimmicks. The kind of thing which used to be enough to win Eurovision, from the days before the dance routines and the drumbeats took over. This wasn't my favourite Icelandic entry of all time, but credit to Yohanna for a nice performance anyway....and a fabulous result.
  • Greece, and the understated performer that is Sakis Rouvas. Mum: "Is he miming?" This also still left me cold, and by the end of it I wished he'd got swallowed up by that giant stapler.
  • Armenia: They would appear to be another one of those winners-in-waiting countries, although the visual impact of this - two girls looking like something from Camelot - outweighed the song in my opinion.
  • Russia: in the "defending champions trying our best not to win again" trend (Sweden 1992, Ireland 1995 for example) here was a woman dressed in a towel, wailing a load of old rubbish.

A word at this point for the BBC's Graham Norton. Terry Wogan in his prime would have been a hard act to follow, but he had gone stale and past his sell-by date in recent years, and sounded as if he didn't want to be there. Norton did well in his first year: subtle, agreeable, funny - but respectful too. Eurovision fans would have found much to like here. Back to the songs....

  • Azerbaijan: this had the Swedish "Boro Boro" guy on it so post-contest top 10 success and maximum radio airplay was assured. One more thing: faithful travelling companion was very impressed by AySel. Mum: "it's beauty and the beast!"
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina: I thought this had top 5 finish written all over it, although 9th is still a pretty decent position. Passionate and emotional, but not in that forced, manipulative way which had maybe characterised Balkan entries in the past. I still love this and it's one of the very few songs from this year's contest which I still play.
  • Moldova: I missed most of this as I was putting my potato wedges in the oven at the time. Her visual similarity to Shirley Clamp had escaped me first time round, but it was extremely obvious here. A novelty song which did better than I expected.
  • Malta: Chiara yet again. Graham Norton: "She never met a Malteser she didn't like!!" A good singer, yes, but a duff song. She needs to be give something decent to sing.
  • Estonia: We like!! Understated and extremely hypnotic, and well deserving of its 6th place. Glad to see them doing well again after a few off-years.
  • Denmark: Tonight, Matthew, Brinck is going to be Ronan Keating! Although we liked this, we maybe had played it too much before the contest and had got a bit bored with it. Vocally he wasn't at his best, "a bit pitchy, dawg" as Randy Jackson might have said.
  • Germany. Oh the shame of it. As I transferred my potato wedges (McCain Salt and Black Pepper wedges, the undisputed world champions of the potato wedge IMHO) from oven to plate, I thankfully missed most of it. A low point from beginning to end, and just when you thought it couldn't get any worse..."ladies and gentlemen, Miss Dita Von Teese".
  • Turkey: to use an over-used word, dare I say "meh"? This was like Turkish-Eurovision-by-Numbers, and not in a good way. "For Real" it definitely wasn't, but a top 5 placing was guaranteed. Could do better.
  • Albania: She was like a rabbit caught in the headlights, and we found it so interesting that we spoke all the way through it.
  • Norge! Victory for Norway! He did enough, although those dancers continued to annoy me. I liked the stage set for this one though.
  • Ukraine: I never thought we'd get anything cheaper than Deutschland tonight but here you have it. Me: "She's had 'work'". Mum: "And it's not made much difference". Top entertainment though if nothing else, and you'll remember the centurions.
  • Romania: Yuk. This was one of our most hated qualifiers. Cheap, tacky rubbish. Possibly the worst song of the night, on a night with a lot of contenders for that title.
  • Royaume-Uniiiiiiiiiiiii!!! Wow! Now you know I famously described "It's My Time" on here as a pile of mince, but on the night it was an excellently performed pile of mince and you could hear it being cheered throughout. Yes they milked the Lloyd-Webber factor for all it was worth, but 5th place wasn't bad going for the UK (a.k.a. "no one likes us") and may just have saved this country's Eurovision future.
  • Finland: I'm glad they made it to the final, but for some strange reason this lost its impact for me on the night although it was still one of my favourites. Mum: "they could have done without the flame-throwers".
  • Spain: After all the bother they go to with their elaborate qualifying process, this was the best they could do? They shouldn't have bothered, and I can't really see them hanging around Eurovision for too much longer.

So then there were recaps, and Dimitry (yum!) in the green room, and an interval act called "Fuerza Bruta" which was all water and art and swimming pools and was unusual and quite breathtaking. There was an interview with ALW who was very proud of Jade Ewen's performance, while Jade herself was also very euphoric. Sir Andrew commented before the voting that "it's a close run thing and not a shoo-in for us at all".

Despite what felt like 17000 countries casting votes, the voting skipped along smoothly and I had lots of fun identifying the jury spokespersons. Sadly no Bjorn Gustafsson for Sweden this year, but look! it's Sarah Dawn Finer! Duncan James gave the votes for the UK, DMGP host Felix read the votes for Denmark and finally....that sweet little package of Norwegian cuteness, Stian Barsnes Simonsen, delivered the Norwegian jury vote. How much would I love it if he hosted the semi-finals and/or the finals next year!!

Norway were runaway winners and earned the right to host next year's contest which will take place at the end of May in the Telenor Arena in Oslo. What we know is that Georgia will be back (I liked their Putin-bashing song and it was a sad loss to the contest when it was disqualified); whilst the Czech Republic have quit due to lack of interest.

The political nature of the ESC is well documented but recently took an even more sinister turn in Azerbaijan, as recent press reports stated that Azeri citizens who voted for arch-rivals Armenia were being taken in for questioning for being unpatriotic. Hey, it's only a song contest remember????

Whether you love or hate "Fairytale" you can't deny that it was a deserved winner, and its high placings in the charts across Europe - shock horror, it even made the UK chart - proved that it was also a very popular one. Thanks to the participation of established international acts (Patricia Kaas) and songwriters (Andrew Lloyd Webber) the contest's profile has never been higher, and I can only hope that this is reflected in better quality entries next year. It'll be no time till it's "on-season" once again....

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rewind weekend: Tour de France 2009

Finally posting my review of this :)

The 2009 Tour de France was unusual this year for quite a few reasons. Firstly there was the route, completely missing out the north and east, no Brittany or Normandy cobbled-stone stages this year. The race began in Monaco, and controversially the final mountain stage, the epic climb up Mont Ventoux, took place the day before the final stage in Paris. Cruel or what??? In recent years Le Tour hasn't just confined itself to France and this year it visited Monaco, Barcelona, Andorra and Verbier...and the 2010 Tour will start in Rotterdam!

Then there was the comeback of one Lance Armstrong. If you watched ITV4's otherwise excellent coverage, the one criticism I have of Liggett and Sherwen is their one-rider obsession - in previous years they have been obsessed with Greg Lemond, Miguel Indurain and most recently Cadel Evans, and this year, for them it was all about the "Tour de Lance".

That was of course until the British interest kicked in. Firstly there was Mark Cavendish, the unofficial king of the sprints this year as he won no less than six stages, but a points deduction for allegedly riding too close to rival Thor Hushovd meant that he couldn't make up sufficient points to win the green jersey competition: that was won by Hushovd. However it was some consolation for Cavendish that he got the "big one" - he won the final stage on the Champs-Elysees.

And then there was Bradley Wiggins, British Olympic gold-winning track cyclist who may have lost weight for the 2009 Tour, but he became a road race heavyweight in this year's race and at one point was a serious contender for a spot on the podium. He ended the race in fourth place, which was an incredible achievement, I thought.

What about the yellow jersey? Earlier in the race it was worn by Fabian Cancellara and Rinaldo Nocentini (the latter a new name to me) before it was taken over by Alberto Contador in the Alps and he kept it all the way to the finish. Lance Armstrong meanwhile was determined to prove that he was a serious challenger once again. Both Contador and Armstrong were on the revamped Astana all-star team which included some ex-Discovery riders and management. Contador was the official leader, but the media made a lot of the conflict between the team's real leader Contador, and Armstrong, whom they described as the team's unofficial leader.

Luxembourg's Andy Schleck took second place on the podium: he is an impressive young cyclist with a bright future ahead of him in the sport.

What pleased me most about this year's Le Tour was that the cycling spoke for itself and thankfully the race wasn't overshadowed by the drugs scandals which had blighted the race in recent years. I thought it was a very enjoyable Tour, even if it wasn't the most competitive or unpredictable one I've ever seen, but there were enough little rewarding episodes throughout the three weeks to make it well worth watching.

Some Swedish music news: Melodifestivalen, Agnes, Fibes

Some news about Melodifestivalen 2010: this week the names of the cities hosting next year's weekly extravaganza were revealed. The four semi-finals will take place as follows:

06.02.10 - Örnsköldsvik
13.02.10 - Sandviken
20.02.10 - Gothenburg
27.02.10 - Malmö

Andra Chansen:
06.03.10 - Örebro

13.03.10 - Stockholm

Aftonbladet reports today that Agnes has signed a $1 million deal with Interscope/Geffen Records in the USA and she will be launched there with "Release Me" the song that has been a big hit in the UK and Europe this summer.

I'm getting very excited because the new Fibes, Oh Fibes! album "1987" will be released next week and received a 4 star review in Aftonbladet today, which is saying something as they're not always too generous with their review marking.

Ready to check into the Tokio Hotel again?

Good news for fans of the band and also the eyeliner industry, as the German pop/rock phenomenon that is Tokio Hotel is on the way back.

Their latest album "Humanoid" will be released in October, with its first single "Automatic" - described as an 'epic' - set for release in September.

There's something missing this autumn....

The end of August in France has meant only one thing to me since 2002: the annual return of my all-time favourite reality pop-talent show. At this time every year (apart from the year that the Rugby World Cup was in France), the new series of Star Academy would launch with an all-new set of contestants all hoping to win the contest almost four months later. But that's not going to happen in 2009: there will be no Star Academy this year, leaving a void in this blogger's life and an overwhelming desire to take a look back...........

It all started back in 2001. Jenifer Bartoli was the first Star Academy winner and is arguably the most successful of all the Star Ac winners over the years, but I didn’t get into the show till 2002 (during my holiday in Biarritz) and that for me is still the best ever series. Star Academy 2 was of course won by Nolwenn Leroy, despite every effort made by the programme and the French media for her rival Emma Daumas to win the show. (Nolwenn & Emma pictured above, picture courtesy of

It was inevitable that series 3 in 2003 would be an anti-climax: despite Michal and Sofia being the best contestants, it was Elodie who triumphed. Where series 2 had appeared natural and genuine, series 3 was planting the seeds of viewer manipulation and effective editing, the tools which have become commonplace in reality/talent shows. Therefore Elodie was shown to be fragile, almost bullied by the ‘profs’ whilst her rival Sofia was continually shown in a bad light despite being the most talented of that year’s contestants.

The result of Star Academy 4 (2004) could be predicted before a note was sung: when a young man with cystic fibrosis entered the chateau it seemed inevitable that this would sway the sympathy vote. And then Gregory Lemarchal began to sing, and there was no question that he would be the winner, based purely on his considerable singing talent and nothing else. Female singers had dominated Star Academy so a male winner was long overdue. If the win was a foregone conclusion, then there was one other significant thing about Star Academy 4 for me: Mathieu Johann (pictured above). Enough said.

Star Academy 5 (2005) was probably my least favourite of all the series. There was a new theme tune - the excellent "Love Generation" by Bob Sinclar replaced Bustafunk's "Run Baby Run". The series was blighted by manipulation from start to finish: despite some very talented singers - Alexia, Ely and Jean-Luc were my favourites - it was Magalie Vae (pictured top left) who won, in an "overweight girl wins against the odds" kind of way. The problem was that her ‘story’ didn’t translate into a musical career of any longevity. This was probably the crucial turning point when winning Star Ac wouldn’t guarantee success any more....

Year 6 - 2006 - finally brought the first black winner of the show: Cyril Cinelu, who originated from Martinique. Since the contest began, there had been much debate in France that there had never been a non-white/mixed race winner of Star Academy, or any other reality-talent show for that matter, despite the rich racial mix within the country. He beat my favourite Dominique Fidanza, (pictured above, with Cyril) former Italian 'Popstars' winner in the final. Earlier in the series it looked as if the 'chosen ones' were Cynthia and Marina, the latter being a singer-songwriter who was favoured by the "prod" from the beginning and who was allowed to sing her own compositions on the "Prime".

In 2007, Star Academy 7 brought yet another foregone-conclusion winner. You couldn't imagine anyone but Swiss-born Haute-Savoie native Quentin Mosimann (pictured above) winning the competition that year: he beat off the vastly inferior Claire-Marie in the final, and we will always have fond memories of his classic "Love is Gone" with David Guetta and Peter Cincotti. Meanwhile, Quentin's much-nominated fellow finalist Mathieu Edward eventually found chart success as a credible r'n'b star, Maureen (a French Amy Winehouse?) memorably walked out and Alexia - a particular favourite of this blog - didn't do as well as expected.

Finally, to 2008. Star Academy 8 had a revamp - new theme tune ("Superstar" by the Merrymakers) and no more Dammarie-Les-Lys as the show relocated to the Marais in Paris. Once more I was on holiday in Nice (as in 2003/2005) so was able to watch the show whilst on holiday. From the beginning it looked as if the strongest contestants were Joanna, Harold and Mickels....whilst the "Prod" focused its attentions on Gautier and Alice. Inevitably these two (inferior IMHO) contestants would go far in the competition, but it was Mickels (pictured right, second row from bottom) who finally beat off Alice in the final to become the last Star Academy champion.
Rumours from France suggest that the show will return in 2010, although I can't really see that happening. In the meantime if you're having withdrawal symptoms, I'm sure YouTube and DailyMotion will deliver....!

Album Review: "Hassle" - Erik Hassle

I mentioned in my previous post about Neil McCormick’s article on the rise and fall of the next big things, and how that fate may or may not befall Erik Hassle. Big in blog-land this year, and tipped for Robbie-sized success (Guardian’s new band of the day), Erik Hassle had a lot to live up to before his debut album was released.

On the evidence of "Hassle" recently released in Sweden - the British version, with a different title ("Pieces") and album cover, is out later this year - he needn’t worry, because he delivers.

I initially didn’t understand why "Hurtful" wasn’t the first single in the UK, but thought some more about it and realised that maybe that was quite a smart decision, as releasing "Don’t Bring Flowers" has got him some publicity and some press coverage, so maybe by the time "Hurtful" is out, the recognition will already be there and - hopefully - the charts will be there for the taking.

"Bump in the Road" is a powerful opener. "Hurtful" is still the standout track on the album. "The Thanks I Get" is also impressive: it’s a teary-eyed lovelorn ballad. Now you know I don’t like ballads but I find this one genuinely touching.

"Wanna Be Loved" comes on like a cross between EMD’s "Baby Goodbye" (the whistling hookline) and The Beatles’ "Eleanor Rigby" (the "all the lonely people" lyric) yet is an uptempo pop-rock track which succeeds on its own merits. The lyrics on "First Time" recall teenage memories and will feel very relevant to anyone in that age group, whilst the more mature "Bitter End" is reminiscent of Coldplay and Keane’s big sweeping soaring anthems.

There’s another pretty acoustic ballad, "All I Wanted Was You" - what particularly struck me about this track (and the album in general) is that young Mr Hassle isn’t following the crowd and is just making the music he wants to make, whilst having the potential mass appeal of an act like The Script for example. My worry is that in the cureent UK musical climate, there doesn’t seem to be any room for quality pop music, and I return to the "next big things" debate.

In Sweden, Erik Hassle will be allowed to develop as an artist: that isn’t such a certainty in this country. A young man with big hair and big talent, Erik Hassle deserves massive success. I only hope that he will be allowed to have it.

Rating: 7½ out of 10.

Big in Japan / Next big things

A couple of interesting articles which I found this week: which interestingly examines why home-country popularity can totally pass an act by, yet they can become huge abroad. "Big In Japan" syndrome in other words. They completely hit the nail on the head about Charlie Winston: yet further proof that the movers and shakers who dictate British musical tastes continue to have an aversion to artist development in favour of the next big thing.

Which brings me on to an article in the Telegraph. Now you wouldn't catch me reading that newspaper in a million years, but I found this whilst searching for articles about Erik Hassle:

Mr McCormick makes some very relevant points indeed: and I fear the worst for Erik's career in the UK if he's going to be bracketed alongside pop's next big things, rather than being allowed to develop as the talented artist which he undoubtedly is. Album review to follow....

Saturday, August 29, 2009

This week's playlist: And I feel like taking off

Supernova - Mr Hudson featuring Kanye West: despite my hatred of vocoder-hell pop, this is a notable exception, and I look forward to hearing what else he can do.

Warning Sign - Nick Heyward: obscure maybe, but I've been listening to this a lot lately. Catchy and underrated track from his post-Haircut One Hundred solo repertoire.

Kylie Said To Jason - The KLF: Hard to believe that this is 20 years old, but still sounds so fresh. I previously gave this a mention on Retro Saturday (which is back with a vengeance next week!) Nonsensical lyrics + an irresistible chorus = excellence.

Lala Song - Bob Sinclar featuring Sugarhill Gang: I still don't understand why UK chart success passed this one by this summer, when it's just got such a sunny, happy vibe about it. Great stuff for anyone who likes old-school rap music.

Say It - Booty Luv: Very very nice to have them back. They make rather fab commercial-dance music, and this is a pretty good comeback.

The Rain/Ready For The Weekend/Stars Come Out/Flashback - Calvin Harris: did I ever mention that "Ready For The Weekend" is my most-played CD of recent weeks? Top dance music which has soundtracked everything from bathtime to housework.

Trippin' On You - Cahill featuring Nikki Belle: this was played a few times on Galaxy Radio (which is otherwise the home of vocoder-hell) and I realised how much I still liked it after all this time.

Sweet Dreams - Beyonce: Now you know that I can't really stand Beyonce ("Halo" is currently my undisputed most-hated-song of 2009) but for some strange reason I like this.

Don't Bring Flowers/Hurtful/Wanna Be Loved/Bitter End - Erik Hassle: Swedish pop's latest brightest new talent releases a very impressive album indeed. Here are four songs from it.

Release Me - Agnes: yes I know it's old news by now, but I still like it. 2009-50 place guaranteed by now. I don't know how her UK chart career will go now, but this is a pretty good start.

Been to the movies today....

Faithful travelling companion suggested going to see the latest Quentin Tarantino epic, the title of which I won't mention here in case it messes with my blog-filter at work....although I didn't know anything about it and hadn't read any reviews beforehand, so I didn't know what to expect.

"IB" turned out to be a very good movie indeed, set in World War II with the usual parallel-storytelling that you would expect from Tarantino by now, and a fine international cast.

The film begins with a German colonel Landa, known as "the Jew Hunter", who kills off a Jewish family being hidden in a dairy farmer's home. The daughter of the family escapes, takes on a new identity and is subsequently seen running a cinema which is chosen to host the premiere of a film made by Goebbels about a German war hero - played by an old favourite of this blog, Daniel Brühl of "Goodbye Lenin" fame - and this gives her the opportunity for revenge against the Nazi hierarchy attending the premiere, as she plans to burn down the cinema during the film.

None other than Brad Pitt, as Aldo Raine leads the "B******s", a fearless group of Jewish-American scalp-hunters who will stop at nothing to get revenge on the Nazis, carving a swastika into the forehead of the Germans whom they do save. Although I've never quite understood Mr Pitt's popularity, I have to admit that he sparkled in this role.

Despite the serious subject matter, it wouldn't be a Tarantino film if it didn't have some very black comedy: the scene when Raine's fellow fighters reinvent themselves as Italians only for the multi-lingual Landa to rumble them is a particular treat.

The ending of the film sees Tarantino taking liberties with history as only he can; and of course, it being a Tarantino movie means there's lots of look-away-from-the-screen-now violence.

The fact that I sat and watched a 2½ hour movie without dozing off says a lot for my attention-span: it's a relentless and compelling war movie reinvented as spaghetti western, and it's well worth seeing.

Rewinding and starting with a clean slate

It's "rewind" weekend at EuropeCrazy: I thought I'd take the opportunity to "rewind back to summertime" as the great philosopher Måns Zelmerlöw would say, and finally post all those reviews and ramblings which I never got around to during this summer.

Anyway I want to start my autumn/winter season on this blog with a clean slate, so between now and midnight on Monday 31st expect a bit of a blogging extravaganza. I always think that the end of August signals the end of summer, as the days get shorter and the nights get longer, so this is a bit of a "goodbye to summer" weekend on EuropeCrazy. Once I get these posts out of the way it will also free up some time for me to devote to September's pre-holiday preparations (16 days to go!!!!!) and then from the end of September it'll be full speed ahead for this little blog once more.

I never did get around to posting that Eurovision review either so I may just post that too, with a little benefit-of-hindsight twist. :)


Monday, August 24, 2009

Message for Mick (Tracklister)

Any chance of an invite?

Laura (EuropeCrazy)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New BWO video.

Thanks to Expressen here is the video for BWO's new single, the excellent "Rise to the Occasion" which is the latest track to be released from their fab "Big Science" album.

Album Review: "Ready For The Weekend" - Calvin Harris

It’s that age-old dilemma once again: can dance acts make good albums? In many cases the answer is a definite ‘no’. But Calvin Harris is not just any old dance act. Regular readers of this blog will be well aware that I’ve liked his music a lot since his debut - "Acceptable in the 80s" and "The Girls" were never off my stereo at the time, and with "Dance Wiv Me" (also featured here) he managed to do the impossible and get me to like a Dizzee Rascal record. The first time I heard "I’m Not Alone" (which is officially the most searched-for song on this blog, ever!) I absolutely loved it and couldn't wait to hear this album.

At the moment, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been time-transported back to, say, 1982: we’re deep in recession, three million on the dole, the record companies are falling over themselves to sign one electro-pop act after another, and the British charts are full of rubbish.
But here is Mr Harris to cheer us all up with a dose of euphoric dance-pop which, even if most of it sounds "acceptable in the 90s" then what’s wrong with that? (I happen to think that the 90s was an underrated musical decade which will someday get the positive re-evaluation it deserves).

The album starts off with an absolute cracker - "The Rain" had me hooked immediately. Despite its title it’s a dance anthem filled with positivity and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The title track (and follow-up single to "I’m Not Alone") is a hands-in-the-air dance anthem with a great chorus.

"Stars Come Out" is like two songs in one: to these ears it’s got more of an 80s electro-house vibe than a 90s feel, and I love the way it changes about halfway through. "You Used To Hold Me" doesn’t float my boat so much, purely because its repetitive chorus really annoys me, but this is one for the electro-dance crowd.

"Blue" shows off a more reflective side to Calvin, and is probably as near as he gets to a ballad, well an electro-one anyway (!) I do like his vocals, even if a lot of the time he chooses to feed them through a vocoder/autotune thingy, but he even does this in a more positive way.

Next is "I’m Not Alone" which is my favourite single by a British artist in 2009 so far. Euphoric, commercial dance at its very best, which recalls Faithless at the top of their game, and that unforgettable chorus - "If I see a light flashing, could this mean that I’m coming home?"

I read somewhere that "Flashback" is to be the next single: it's perhaps more trancey than its predecessors and probably won't do so well as a result, although artistically it's a triumph I guess.

"Worst Day" reminds me, for no particular reason, of N.E R.D.'s "Maybe" and is a diversion from the stadium dance concept of this album. Like many other albums of late, "Ready For The Weekend" loses its focus a little in the latter tracks but is still very much worth a listen. Despite its title, "Burns Night" isn’t an electro-bagpipe piece of haggis-house but is a reflective instrumental; "Yeah Yeah Yeah La La La" won't ever win any prizes for lyrical genius but reminds me of Bob Sinclar, for some reason.

The ‘rich kids’ in the media who dictate and force-feed us with musical trends may not like this album and prefer to push on with hyping this year’s thing, but Twitter-rant aside, I doubt if Calvin Harris should really be too bothered about their criticism, as he's made a commercial dance album to be very proud of indeed, and has brought some long overdue musical sunshine into these dark, rainy days.

Hello again....

...I thought it was about time I came back here. I’m about ready to resume normal service on this blog. There are a couple of out-of-date posts about Eurovision and the Tour de France, which will be posted on here over the next few days, if only to get them out of my system!

Still addicted to Flight of the Conchords: so much to love but we're still obsessed with "If You're Into It" because it's daft, silly, funny and Jemaine is just on top form, "doing stuff with the food" :) I promise you will love this!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Another blog-break week (or two)

I'm trying to remember what it was like in the early days of this blog when I had lots of time to do about 17 posts a day (only kidding) anyway for the last few months I've been struggling to do justice to this blog so rather than take a few months out, I find it helps to take the odd week out and I've decided I need another one this week, if only because I'm still not really at full fitness physically, mentally or emotionally, and because I've got lots to do at home and very little time to do the research which this blog demands.

I'll be back when I'm ready - hopefully a few early nights should sort me out!! I'm not giving a return date but I think two weeks off should be enough.

(Of course Planet Salem will continue in the meantime, as I find that blog so much easier to update!)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Dutch Charts Update

Have we ever done a Dutch update before? Can't remember, but I should really do them more often.

A bit of Dutch-language summer-reggae at no. 1 in the Mega Top 50 this week. "Mi Rowsu" by Damaru & Jan Smit is a very pleasant laid-back little tune, which, apparently, is sung in a Volendam accent.

It's not the only Dutch-language song in the top 5, as there is also "Slaap Lekker" by Diggy Dex featuring Eva de Roovere. It's a more contemporary rap/r'n'b song but I think being sung/rapped in its native language makes it so much better. I quite liked this too.

There's also a German artist in the Dutch top 10: Peter Fox's "Haus Am See" has been in the chart for 10 weeks. The great thing about continental Europe is that they have no boundaries to music in another language, unlike here in the UK where not even a song with a couple of German words (Polarkreis 18's "Allein Allein") could get any airplay (Radio 2 excepted) and needless to say, failed to make our singles chart.

A summer dance tune next."La Mezcla" by Michel Cleis is climbing the charts. The Netherlands of course is a significant player in the European dance music scene - as you know, I like commercial dance music but this instrumental is repetitive to the point of deeply annoying.

At no.11, climbing from last week's no.30, is "Mr Light" by Bertolf. I don't know anything about him apart from he's a Dutch solo artist - I must investigate further. A nice mid-paced pop-rock tune, which is very pleasant indeed. Here's a link to the official video:

Krezip is a band which has been going for the last 12 years but now they're going their separate ways. Their appropriately named "Sweet Goodbyes" has been in the charts for the last 26 weeks. It's a sweet little inoffensive acoustic number, quite nice. I've heard of them but never really heard any of their music so I don't have anything to compare it with.

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: July-August 2009

How bad is TV at the moment? I know it's summer and it's supposed to be the silly season, but where has all the good telly gone? This would explain why all sorts of retro-box-sets are appearing at EuropeCrazy HQ these days as we dive into the vaults for something reliable and good to watch.

In these days of poor quality telly we should be all the more grateful for absolute gems like "Man On Wire" which received its premiere on BBC-2 last week. It was the story of the man whose biggest challenge was to walk between New York’s Twin Towers on a high wire. When asked why, he responded "there is no why". This documentary was humorous, moving, profound and inspirational, and Mr Petit’s urge to follow your dream and seize life was infectious. In his own words: "life should be lived on the edge of life".

Good old BBC-4 is still showing a series of the original Swedish-language version of "Wallander" which I find compulsive viewing. I’m not a fan of cop shows but I love the way the little complexities of the plot are unravelled, with the back-story of the relationship between the lead character and his daughter.

One thing I recently got into and now can’t get enough of is "Flight of the Conchords". If you haven’t seen it before, it’s a deliciously dry comedy about a New Zealand folk-parody duo in New York. Their manager Murray is total comedy gold - imagine a hilarious version of (unfunniest man alive, IMHO) Ricky Gervais’ David Brent. After seeing a couple of episodes of season two on BBC-4, I rushed out to buy the season one box set, which I’m working through at the moment. The series is of course now over and it would appear they won't be making any more of it - that should guarantee the show classic comedy status by leaving us all wanting more.

Good comedy on British TV is very very hard to find, but "The Kevin Bishop Show" (Channel 4) is an exception. Its quickfire sketch format pokes fun at the celebrity world which he and his chums already did brilliantly on "Star Stories" and if you get the jokes you’ll find it very funny indeed.

I don’t know why, but season two of "Private Practice" (Living), isn’t really doing it for me and it’s missing something. It doesn’t press the emotional-buttons that "Grey’s Anatomy" does, but sometimes you don’t want that either, yet there’s little character development beyond who’s sleeping with who.

I love "Come Dine With Me" (currently off-air). Watch that format go.....for dinner party read wedding, and voila - you have "Four Weddings" (Living) where four brides attend each other’s weddings and mark them, "Come Dine"-style. On paper, it sounded good but based on the shows I’ve seen so far, it missed the mark. And it doesn’t have the hilarious Dave Lamb doing the voiceovers either.

A couple of programmes about hotels: "The Hotel Inspector" (Five), used to be one of my favourites but is now past it’s sell-by date. I’m not too keen on that new woman Alex either - preferred the old one. The show was previously quite interesting but has now turned into a bit of a "Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares"-meets-makeover format and the end result leaves me cold.

You can have cash coming out of your ears but it doesn’t always mean you’ll get things done: "Rock N’Roll Hotel" (BBC-1) is quite an interesting documentary series about Mark the nightclub owner’s hotel project - and if anyone’s thinking of opening a hotel then you might want to think twice after watching this.

After watching "Hollyoaks" (E-4) for two years, I recently decided to give up watching the show purely for the reason that it’s in terminal decline. The final nail in the coffin was Newt, Lauren and Theresa’s camping trip, a week of my life which I’ll never get back.

"Coronation Street" - recently, controversially wrenched from it’s 7.30 Wednesday night slot on ITV and moved to Thursday nights at 8.30 - isn’t much better these days. When the major storylines revolve around the Platts, you know there may be trouble ahead. Add to that Rosie Webster - possibly the worst non-Platt character in British soap today, and the tiresome Fiz/John Stape/Chesney and you have one very unwatchable half hour.

Just a brief mention about "Strictly Come Dancing" (BBC-1) - there’s controversy already before the first quick-step has been taken, thanks to Arlene Phillips’ dismissal from the show and replacement by former winner Alesha Dixon. Now much as I like Alesha, she is no expert choreographer and it looks as if she’s been brought in purely to provide some Cheryl Cole-style judging panel eye candy. With the show already reeling from accusations of ageism, then came the news that former winner (and one of my favourite professionals) Karen Hardy would not be among the professional dancers in the new series. Ms Hardy is 39 years old. Imagine the drop in viewing figures if the BBC banned everyone over 39 from watching the show? Pity they can’t apply their recruitment criteria to, say, Bruce Forsyth or "Uncle" Len Goodman, who in TV terms are a long way over that hill. How about replacing them with some younger eye candy....? (Talking of which...not that we need an excuse for another picture of Mark Ramprakash, pictured above with Karen Hardy in that unforgettable series 4 win in 2006). Note to BBC: if you really want to make "Strictly" better, then scrap the tedious dance-off and stupid Sunday night results show...

Finally it was good to see Louis Theroux (pictured above) back on BBC-2 tonight, with his latest documentary "The City Addicted to Crystal Meth" focusing on the drug epidemic and its effect on the citizens of Fresno. The best thing about Louis is his refreshing lack of sensationalism, as he easily persuades the interviewees to tell their own story, rather than punctuate the show with drama and "previously on..." recaps. One very sad aspect of British TV in this disposable decade is the decline in quality documentary making, so there's all the more reason to treasure Theroux’s deceptively simple and effective style.

Retro Saturday: Mink De Ville

I just read that Willy De Ville, frontman of this super-cool 70s combo has passed away so as a tribute tonight, I thought it would be appropriate for a bit of "Spanish Stroll".....R.I.P.

The Round-Up

I’m going to try this and see how it goes: I thought it would be a good idea to occasionally do a little write-up about some current musical goings-on and throw in the odd rant along the way ;)

Recently I’ve been pretty depressed with the state of the music scene in this country, particularly the dominance of over-hyped, under-talented female acts, and the very low profile of male pop stars. So I was genuinely happy to read this week that Robbie Williams is on the way back with a new album to be released in October. The news that Trevor Horn has produced it is a mouthwatering prospect alone. And even if it’s not a return to past glories, then we can always take comfort in the fact that it will be better than "Rudebox". It wouldn’t be hard....

I’m still dealing with the aftermath of the disturbing sight of seeing Mika in his big white underpants in his new video: "We Are Golden" (or should that be "Heaven Is A Place On Earth") didn’t really impress me the first time I heard it, but having heard it again it’s beginning to work its way into my brain. Nice to have him back, if only for the fact that he will be back on the radio which means one less playing of Pink, Rihanna, Beyonce blah blah blah.

The weekly Friday night ritual of watching the music channels with faithful travelling companion at EuropeCrazy HQ has been rather frustrating of late, with the increasingly depressing parade of one dire autotuned r’n’b or tedious electro song after another. Last night wasn’t much better: that Tinchy Stryder/Amelle song is like r’n’b by numbers and might as well have been written by a computer - and as for the Sugababes’ new song....needless to say, faithful travelling companion enjoyed the video, but as for the ‘song’, well it’s unspeakably bad. Time for the Right Said Fred revival?

Last night I leapt up and yelled when I saw Milow’s "Ayo Technology" on The Box, or Chart Show TV or one of these channels....this song has been a big favourite of mine on this blog for the last 4 months although I still think the video’s a bit unsavoury, with a nod to the song’s hip-hop origins. Still, I’m glad it’s being released here, so fingers crossed that it will be a hit. Bizarre fact: Milow bears a startling similarity to someone who works in my office!!

That's where the truth is, that's where the lie is: You may have heard of someone called Peter Andre, I think he’s been involved in some high profile marriage breakup or something? :O
The man at the centre of that breakup has conveniently chosen a good time to relaunch his career. I saw the video of "Behind Closed Doors" which plays it very straight indeed. The video features a Jordan lookalike...a bit of the "Cry Me A River" thing going on eh? I was quite surprised by this on first hearing as it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever heard, although I still can't help but think that the whole thing is one great big orchestrated publicity stunt.

There's a she wolf in the closet: Shakira - one of the few female pop artists I can actually stand - is back with "She Wolf" which is quite catchy although a change of musical style. Even she has succumbed to the dreaded autotune. Anyone think the melody in the verse sounds like RHCP’s "Californication" though??

It’s too late to apologize, Ryan Tedder: much of the 2008/2009 dreary-pop vintage has been written by the OneRepublic frontman. Don’t get me wrong, I like "Apologize" and "Stop and Stare" but I really can’t stand stuff like "Bleeding Love", "Battlefield" and the song that is my most hated of the year, "Halo" by Beyonce which redefines the meaning of dire. So the news that Tedder gave Kelly Clarkson virtually the same track is not good news at all. Even Kelly herself is, to say the least, a bit miffed as her record company now want to release the song. This blogger is also seriously annoyed, as it means we will now have to suffer "Halo II" every five minutes on the radio. Wake me up when it’s all over, although that will probably be a long long time away.....

Hopefully by that time Erik Hassle will be a big star, although I’m still puzzled by the choice of "Don’t Bring Flowers" as his big UK debut, when "Hurtful" (or "Bump In The Road" for that matter) was a more obvious choice. Don’t get me wrong, I like this song though and I really want it to do well.

The whole September situation is equally baffling, firstly the excellent "Until I Die" was scheduled to be her follow-up single to "Can’t Get Over" then was pulled from release by her record company due to a lack of radio airplay support. Now it would appear that "Cry For You - The Album" will not get a physical release in the UK and will be download-only. I can’t really understand this - is it maybe because her target market is more likely to download songs than buy CDs? Also, as there is no physical CD format it means that the album won’t show up in the album chart. :(

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Retro Saturday: Hipsway

One of the many, many great bands which came out of the great Scottish guitar band boom of the 1980s - a period which delivered so much classic music which still sounds good today.

"Tinder" came to the public's attention thanks to its use in a TV commercial for a certain brand of lager, and I always thought this was a great record. Top stuff!! No video but enjoy the audio at

Retro Saturday: Laban

Big hair and shameless 80s production values, this time from Denmark. Lecia Jönsson and Ivan Pedersen were the lead singers in Laban, and I quite liked their music back in those mid to late 80s days. "Prisoner of the Night" was my favourite song of theirs: no video but hear it at - I didn't realise that there was also a Danish-language version of it called "Fange i Natten" - video at

I never realised this was a cover version of a German song called "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" by Heinz Rudolf Kunze until I started investigating YouTube tonight: that site is an education!!

Retro Saturday: Nick Heyward

In case you are new to this blog, Retro Saturday is one of my regular features and hopefully serves two purposes: a) it's a musical memory jogger for those of us who remember these songs first time round, and b) it's a chance to pass on some rarely-heard tunes to my younger readers to give them a chance to discover music they maybe haven't heard before.

After our short summer break it's time to jump into the Saturday night YouTube time machine once more, starting off with a long-forgotten tune by Nick Heyward.

To begin with, I liked "Favourite Shirts" and "Love Plus One" but after that, Haircut One Hundred frankly annoyed me, with their twee image, big guitars and cricket jumpers. Nick Heyward's solo career didn't fare much better in my book, but then along came "Warning Sign" in 1984, a song which I liked a lot. The song and the video are very 80s, but don't let that put you off. Quite an underrated gem, which deserved a better chart position than it got.

Friday, August 07, 2009

This weekend (and beyond)....

I'm finally going to get my act together and get this blog up and running again so you can expect the following:

A review of this summer's Swedish TV singalongs!
Tomas Ledin's new album reviewed!
My (very belated) look back at the Tour de France!
A couple of charts updates!
"Square-Eyed Couch Potato" for July and the beginning of August!
The return of Retro Saturday!
This week's playlist!

All of the above will be appearing on this blog from tomorrow night onwards...

EDIT 09.08.09: OK, OK, I knew it was too ambitious and a bit premature - Swedish summer TV review's been postponed for yet another week as I need to watch some more of them, whilst I had written that Ledin review but then misplaced it so I'll have to do it again :( also I haven't got the playlist together yet. Mañana, mañana....!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Turkey here we come!

Yes the unlikely possibility of your humble blogger and her faithful travelling companion going on a package holiday (OK I exaggerate, we've done it before - the Algarve and Madeira to be precise) is about to become a reality as we have finally booked our summer holiday, a credit crunch-busting non-Euro jaunt to Turkey, six weeks from tomorrow.


So let's celebrate with a top Turkish tune shall we? The brilliant "For Real" by Athena from 2004.