Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer Rewind: Eurovision 2010

Two months ago, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest took place in Oslo, Norway. I realise that I hadn’t posted a full review - I thought of writing one, but given the time that’s passed since the event I decided instead on an "edited highlights" package of the two semi-finals and final, accompanied by a few pictures courtesy of

So here, finally, is the EuropeCrazy guide to the good, the bad, the ugly (and the completely bonkers) of Eurovision 2010.


Well, how about the winner for starters? In recent years I haven’t always agreed with the winning song, but two months on, "Satellite" still makes perfect sense as the winner. It's such a catchy, contemporary commercial song - written by an American/Danish songwriting team - which still sounds great on the radio, and proof that the Eurovision Song Contest has reinvented itself for the 21st century. Of course I listen to Swedish radio stations, which are not ashamed to play the song. (Unlike British radio. Which is another matter entirely.)

Germany's win was a highly significant one - they're one of the 'Big 4' who haven't always done so well in the televoting era where certain countries have benefitted from the alleged neighbout/diaspora vote. Like last year's "Fairytale", "Satellite" simply appealed to the voters all over Europe. Lena Meyer-Landrut didn't need gimmicks, stupid choreography or novelty clothes - just a young girl in a plain black dress, dancing around in a geeky-charming way :) In other words: the triumph of simplicity over hype, even if the song already had over 3 million views on YouTube prior to the contest.

However, Germany needs to rethink its plan to have Lena defend her title next year - I don't think she should compete again, as the novelty will have long worn off and they will just end up with egg on face :(

After the shrieking screamers we’ve had to put up with in recent years, 2010's presenters Erik Solbakken, Haddy N’jie and Nadia Hasnaoui (pictured below in the semi-final) were calm, capable and professional, Erik, the man with the, um, interesting hair, also proved he had a sense of humour in some of the green room snippets (the Serbian comedy-wig and then on Thursday the Lithuanian glittery pants, for example!); Haddy was an elegant co-host and Nadia brought a sense of authority to the voting.

The postcards were quite nice this year - with the country maps generated over the audience and the flash-mobs in various capitals.
The interval act wasn't the usual band of folk dancers etc but came up with a genuinely new twist - audience participation all over the continent in one of the biggest flash-mob dance routines ever! Of course Madcon's 'Glow' - the song which accompanied the interval act, has become a pan-European hit, outwith our own pathetic ESC-hating country of course.

But what about the songs? Two months on, how many of them am I still listening to? By the way these are in no particular order.

Estonia continues to be one of my favourite ESC countries and you never know what you’re going to get from them from one year to the next. After last year’s spellbinding Urban Symphony, 2010 gave us Malcolm Lincoln with the unique and very un-Eurovision "Siren". We loved it, and I still play it despite its failure to qualify to the final.

In a horrific first semi-final, along came Belgium’s Tom Dice to save the night. "Me and My Guitar" was greeted warmly by the audience both in the semi-final and final; and young Mr Dice came across very well on screen with a charming performance of a nice, straightforward song with no gimmicks, which at least deserved its 6th placing in the final. And he had taken my advice to lose the hat :)

Despite the volcanic ash which sabotaged so many spring holidays this year, Europe didn't punish Iceland, although Hera played a little green-room visual joke! My mum was impressed with Hera’s voice, (even if the tent-styling was, again, not a good look). This may have been one of 2010's more traditional Eurovision entries, but it was also one of the best.

Romania's "Playing With Fire" was a potential winner in my eyes and totally deserved its 3rd place. Paula Seling and Ovi were just great - he's so talented, and she looked amazing in that catsuit!! Love the song - it still gets a lot of play on my iPod.

Turkey may only have to turn up at Eurovision these days for a guaranteed top 5 place, but maNga delivered something completely different from the usual Turkish fare. Could have done without the unnecessary background drilling robot woman and excessive flashing lights though.

What more does Switzerland have to do, to get to a Eurovision final? Golden boy Michael sang a good song well. I could see them withdrawing like their neighbours Austria - that would be a real shame.

I was delighted to see the Cyprus entry reach the final -although it was very unusual this year as they were represented by Jon Lilygreen and the Islanders, a very good young Welsh singer and a group of musicians from, well, all over the place! I'd liked to have seen them do better, but maybe this was cancelled out by the Belgian entry which was in a similar style although a better song.

The truly horrific entries which didn't make the final - Slovenia's folk/rock hybrid - as the young folks say, OMG, (and indeed, FFS); FYR Macedonia's shockingly sleazy non-song; Poland's dramatic death-by-headlock detracting from a theatrical mess; Latvia’s song - even more horrific than the Finnish drunk-wedding-song which preceded it - sung by Aisha in a dressing gown and high heels, so not a good look. Only Mr God knows why this seriously off-key effort won the Latvian national selection this year. And then there was Sweden.

In semi-final 2, Anna Bergendahl took to the stage dressed up like a 9 year old in a little-princess costume for a fancy dress party, but the party was over. For the first year since Sweden began competing in Eurovision, they did not qualify for the final, and all the audience participation and glowstick-waving in the world couldn’t change that. "This Is My Life" is an incredibly dreary song, and got what it deserved. But will Sweden learn from this? Maybe. Or probably not.

But on the plus side, we got to see Eric Saade giving the Swedish jury vote!

Norway's Didrik Tangent-Thingy impressed in rehearsals but I felt he succumbed to serious nerves during his final performance of "You Raise Me Up", sorry, "My Heart Is Yours" resulting in a very poor final placing for the host country. At this point this is where we say they should have sent (delete as appropriate) A1/Alexander Stenerud/Bjorn Johan Muri...

Ireland: they may have sent previous winner Niamh Kavanagh, a very good singer, but you wait ages for a "You Raise Me Up" and then you get two in the one contest. No that's a lie actually: I wouldn't wait any length of time for a "You Raise Me Up" :)

Azerbaijan's 'by any means necessary' campaign to win the contest. That's all very well, but the rather dull song - "Drip Drop" - wasn't worth the trouble. Eliza Doolittle-lookalike Safura ran around in her high heels trying to up the drama, but it was just laughable.

The Azeris' arch-rivals Armenia overloaded their 'song' - a load of tosh about apricot stones - with all sorts of gimmicks going on behind the extraordinarily upholstered Eva Rivas (insert gag here about having a big future ahead of her). Aargh.

Belarus’ 3+2 and their unspeakably dull "Butterflies", accompanied for some strange reason by Swedish music legend, Mr Rhapsody in Rock himself, Robert Wells...and that gimmick of the butterfly wings on the dresses, and it rendered the whole thing a tacky mess.

Jimmy Jump's finest hour, hijacking Spain's Daniel Diges-and-his-wonderful-hair-but-incredibly-annoying-song. Mr Jump subsequently went on to have yet another finest hour, this time after Spain's triumph at the World Cup Final. Here's Daniel and his circus act, sans Jump...

Lithuania's InCulto and their Eastern European Funk. God bless their glittery pants.

Serbia - who I'm enjoying a lot more these days since they dumped the Zeljko-dirges and stopped taking themselves so seriously. Milan Stankovic was hilariously off-key and entertaining, with his blond bowl-cut hair and all-round camp wonderfulness. Not much of a song though, but as a ‘performance’ it worked!

The Netherlands' relentlessly cheerful, defiantly old-fashioned "Shalalie" and their own definition of 'organ donation' :) ....and inevitably another year that they didn’t make it out of the semi final.

Here am I, whoa! Lost and forgotten. So what if Russia’s song was a joke entry, with all that knitwear and snow and throwing the photo to the wind, the EuropeCrazy HQ jury (mum and me) thought Peter Nalitch was extremely charming and the whole thing was very sweet.
And then there

After being very well-placed (for a change) at Eurovision 2009, the United Kingdom slipped back into more familiar surroundings in the final results table. i.e. bottom of the table. Yes, last again, with only Ireland, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Albania awarding points to this shamefully dated offering. I still refuse to blame Josh Dubovie, the young singer chosen to sing our entry this year. He was a lamb to the Eurovision slaughter, and all the fancy staging and Ani Lorak-style light boxes in the world won't be enough to take away from a very obvious fact.

The. Song. Was. Not. Good. Enough.

The blame must be placed at the door of the BBC, and the Pete Waterman/Mike Stock songwriting partnership. Excuse me, Mr Stock and Mr Waterman, but check your calendars. It's not 1989 anymore, and you're not writing Jason Donovan album-track-filler. And as for the BBC, they still view Eurovision in that 1950s/1960s/1970s bubble, all boom-bang-a-bang and old fashioned countries dressed in old-fashioned clothes, singing old-fashioned songs. They refuse to accept that Europe has moved on and is setting musical trends and embracing all kinds of musical styles. An example which this narrow-minded country would do well to follow.

Apart from that time-warp, it's easy to understand why this country will never do well at Eurovision again...and it is even more apparent, two months down the line. "Satellite" may briefly have graced the Radio 2 playlist, and the song limped in at no. 30 in our own UK top 40, then completely disappeared without a trace. Over in Europe on the other hand, the song either topped the charts or made the top 5 in 15 other countries. As long as this country remains so narrow-minded about Eurovision, and European music in general, Royaume-Uni will always remain at the bottom of the heap.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Album Review: "The Defamation of Strickland Banks" - Plan B

This year, more than ever, I've been turning my back on British music. Having a blog called "EuropeCrazy" might be an indication that this is a deliberate choice, but I can definitely assure you it's not. I want British music to be good, to be great, to be innovative - not for any particularly patriotic reason, but purely because I'm a music fan, and I want to love good music wherever it's from. So I'm particularly delighted with the success of Plan B, who is one of the very few new acts who have broken through this year who are actually worth bothering about.

Versatility is also a talent to be treasured. When Plan B kicked off his music career as a gritty rapper, his music had completely passed me by at that point. The last thing you'd have expected was for his next step to be a retro-soul revelation. Who knew that he had such a fabulous white soul falsetto voice?

My first encounter with Plan B, mk II, was on hearing "Stay Too Long" and it literally stopped me in my tracks. With its Northern Soul-type beat (an immediate winner for me), bursting with urgency, it seemed to perfectly capture the spirit of a 'lads night out'.

The unusually titled album is that very un-2010 concept, a concept album, about an innocent man found guilty of a crime he didn't commit and he's sent hence "Welcome To Hell"...and things get darker for the main protagonist. Yet despite the dark theme, Plan B has taken up residence on many a radio playlist thanks to the massive, catchy hit "She Said" although I prefer the follow-up, "Prayin'" which might I suggest owes a great big debt to "Beggin'" - another song which I completely love, so borrow from the best I say!

Whilst listening to this album I thought of another former favourite of this blog - Daniel Merriweather, whom I had high hopes for but his debut album was an overall disappointment. Dare I suggest that "The Defamation Of Strickland Banks" was the album that Merriweather should have made.

A further indication of Ben Drew's versatility is that he will now turn his back on the retro-soul sound for his third album, "The Ballad of Belmarsh" which will be a hip-hop album. Clearly he doesn't 'stay too long' (groan) with the same musical style!

"The Defamation...." meanwhile accurately captures a 60s soul sound and updates it for the 21st century - and defines 'soul' in the true sense, rather than the soul-less drivel which has hijacked that term in recent years. Well done Plan B.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Allsång på Skansen Week 4: Tuesday 20th July

OK, I'm almost a week late with this review but I'm painting my house at the moment and there's not enough blogging-time so bear with me...

I previously posted about this year's much-maligned summer singalong shows which the Swedish media seem to take great delight in knocking. Yet on the other hand you can't help thinking there's a agenda at work - think of our own British TV shows like X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing which get press coverage on non-stories and rumours about presenter changes and show overhauls, and all that press gets the desired result - more people tune in and watch the show.

With that in mind - the 'any publicity is good publicity' idea - SVT must have been delighted (although probably not) with the hysteria over the idea that they had allegedly approached Måns Zelmerlöw to take over from Anders Lundin. When in fact they had asked MZW if he's be interested (at some point in the future) and MZW replied yes (at some point in the future). But when did the press ever let the facts get in the way of a good story?

Last Tuesday night, 27,000 people turned up at Skansen to watch the show, just falling short of the record 28,000 who watched Lordi's appearance in 2006 (tack, Wikipedia!!) anyway the massive turnout probably had more to do with who was on the bill than a pro-Anders Lundin show of strength.

If last week was "the week that Allsång fought back" then it was important that the evening kicked off on a high. I know just the man for the job....

Salem Al Fakir - who I have been known to mention once or twice in passing - opened the show with a rousing "4 O'Clock" ...

and closed the show with a triumphant "Keep On Walking"...

Interestingly enough he didn't do an Allsång this time, but it didn't really matter as we got "I'm So Happy" in the internet-only extra-show..

It was his second appearance on Allsång; he made his debut in the 2007 season, just a few months after he had shot to fame - but since then he has gone from a reasonably well known artist to superstar status. Allsång with its audience of all ages and musical tastes, was a perfect environment for Salem's music which appeals to everyone.

Salem has many young fans at the moment and the same could be said for his friend and fellow talented artist Oskar Linnros. The crowd went crazy for Oskar and who could blame them? He gave a fabulous and energetic performance of debut hit "Ack, Sundbyberg"...

Oskar followed that up with an Allsang: "Vem Kan Segla Förutan Vind" and if you caught the extra-show on SVT's website then he also performed the excellent "Från Och Med Du" which was co-written with Christian Olsson from Fibes, Oh Fibes! As if Oskar isn't musically talented enough, he collaborates with some other brilliant musical talents as well!!

Allsång being Allsång, it was inevitable that some of it would be hit-and-miss. At one point it appeared that trumpet-playing, bagpipe-blowing multi-instrumentalist Gunhild Carling was monopolising the show and becoming a bit annoying, but I have to admit she is talented even though that's not my kind of music.

The Real Group seem to have been around forever. Back in 1996 on my first trip to Sweden (Gothenburg) I remember going to Liseberg and seeing a sign advertising their concert there. Yes they are still going and still doing the acapella thing, on this occasion a medley of Swedish-written pop hits.

And then there was Thomas DiLeva, who I vaguely remember from a few years ago but couldn't remember what he looked like. EuropeCrazy readers of a certain age may or may not agree, but when I saw Mr DiLeva he reminded me of Doctor, from Doctor and the Medics, y'know "Spirit In the Sky" and all their other hits....umm.....well "Spirit In The Sky" anyway. At least Thomas DiLeva had many many more hits, the one I remember best is "Vi har bara varandra" which he played at Skansen.

And as for Anders Lundin? He seemed to have a little more 'oomph' although I still feel his time is up, but well done to him anyway for rising above all that media pressure.

IMHO we've seen the best show of the series and it'll be downhill all the way, but I'll still be watching regardless...

Summer Rewind: The World Cup

So what will we remember about the 2010 World Cup which took place in South Africa between 11th June and 11th July 2010? The top quality football? The entertaining individual stars? Matches overflowing with goals?

NOPE!! The main thing I'll remember about this year's World Cup is..BZZZZZZZZZZ...the Vuvuzela!! To some it was an instrument of torture, to others it was music to their ears. Me? I loved it!!

South Africa did a fantastic job in staging the 2010 World Cup, despite the prophets of doom having written it off before it even started, with talk of delays and organisational nightmares. What we did see was a colourful and professionally staged event, although only time will tell whether the success of the event will have made any difference to the day to day lives of the real people of South Africa, not the politicians and the dignitaries in attendance at the various games.

As for the actual football, 2010 World Cup was one great big massive let-down. Having said that, I still watched almost all of it, but compared to those tournaments of the past which are still very special to me for various reasons, 2010 just seemed to sum up the state of world football at the moment. That is: full of overpaid prima donnas more interested in their next (obscenely huge)pay cheque than entertaining the world's football fans. I won't name any of them in particular, but those tipped to be the big stars just flopped. Even my team, Argentina, won't escape my criticism - despite Lionel Messi's undisputed talent, a combination of stifling man-marking and off-target shooting meant that he was one of the major disappointments of the tournament.

In fact that was my main criticism of most of the strikers on show - they should have gone to Specsavers as many of them definitely needed an eye test. Never mind introducing equipment to tell whether a ball was over the line or not (!) ...they just need to make the goalposts twice as high and twice as wide. Bigger goalposts = more goals. But even then, they'd still miss :)

Aah yes that brings us to England, tipped as usual by the droning pundit brigade prior to the tournament as potential winners...and in predictable style they failed to deliver. Perhaps the omens were in the World Cup song - 1990 had the best football anthem ever ("World In Motion") whilst 2010 had...."Shout for England" by Dizzee Rascal and the loathsome James Corden. As if this aural torture (gimme a vuvu anyday!) wasn't bad enough, ITV felt the need to give Corden screen time after every live match. A sign, not that we needed one, that Britain's biggest commercial TV channel is well and truly in deep s**t.

It was the year when France and Italy, both recent world-beaters, couldn't beat an egg and couldn't even make the second round. The French team took up the national pastime - going on strike - whilst Italy were sent home to rethink their style of play. Portugal (another one of my faves) also failed to impress me, with star man Cristiano Ronaldo probably off to check his reflection in a passing mirror or something. And as for Brazil - they were just a disgrace to the name.

The lack of goal-averages continued into the knockout stages and my frustration over the poor quality of the games continued...

One of the few teams to impress me though was Germany, who brought a mix of youth and experience to the tournament and by the time of the next World Cup they could be potential world-beaters. I was also impressed by Uruguay, so it was highly appropriate that my favourite match of the whole tournament was the normally meaningless 3rd place playoff between the two sides, which saw Germany triumph.

There were a number of new teams in the tournament, and some who hadn't played in a World Cup for a long time. I wonder what became of the North Korean side after their first round exit???

Before this year's World Cup, Spain were hotly tipped to do what they'd never managed to do before - to actually go on and win the World Cup. Although they had impressed me two years ago at Euro 2008, which they won of course, I was less impressed with their showing in South Africa. It was as if they were doing enough but no more, as if they were holding back, in an automatic-pilot run of victories on their way to the final.

By 11th July the only team that could stop them was Holland, who had enjoyed an unbeaten run and played some rather nice football along the way, even though I never really rated them as highly as the legendary 1974 'total football' side or my particular favourites, the 1988 European Championship winning side.

In this year's World Cup final, Holland abandoned total football for total wipeout, as they tried to take apart the Spain side one by one. In a tournament marked by many a questionable refereeing decision, the busiest man on the park was the ref, who struggled to contain the constant torrent of fouling and brutality by the Dutch team, who were completely unrecognisable from the skilled and promising outfit from earlier matches. Spain, already acclaimed as moral victors, struggled to score and had to wait until the second half of extra time for Andres Iniesta to finally find the net. Spain's lack of goal action was no surprise here, as they had the lowest goalscoring total of any World Cup winners - but the least goals against too. Perhaps that sums up everything that's wrong in the modern game?

However, I was very happy for Spain: they deserved their win as we would all have been pretty disgusted had Holland won, playing like that.

Above: the ref's seeing red. (picture courtesy of

Above: Spain celebrate being the world's best football team. (picture courtesy of

Only four years to go till the next World Cup!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Album Review: "Night Train" - Keane

The casual radio listeners could be forgiven for thinking that Keane’s recorded output stopped after "This Is The Last Time", as none of their subsequent singles have been a fixture on any radio playlists since then.

So I was pleasantly surprised to hear their most recent single, "Stop For A Minute" getting regular airplay on my local radio station recently. Keane have been away for a while, but they’ve been working hard on new material and been prolific enough to release this mini-album as a stopgap between "Perfect Symmetry" and their fourth full album.

Keane’s critical acclaim for "Perfect Symmetry" didn’t quite translate into commercial success as it seemed the fickle British record buying public had moved on. The band do however have a loyal fanbase who put "Night Train" into the top 10 albums on its release, although the state of the British singles chart suggests that a band like Keane will probably never make the top 20 singles chart again. So it was no surprise that despite the airplay, "Stop For A Minute" failed to chart.

"Night Train" is further proof that Keane are one of this country’s best bands - although remain extremely underrated following the initial hysteria of their debut album "Hopes and Fears" which for me remains their best work. However they continue to musically develop and explore new musical styles.

"Back In Time", which follows a short instrumental intro track, sees Keane in more familiar territory, then the aforementioned "Stop for a Minute" has a guest appearance from rapper K’naan, who’s currently burning up the worldwide charts with that great little World Cup song "Wavin’ Flag".

"Clear Skies" is a more acoustic flavoured song which is well worth a listen.

If a second single is to be released off the album (although I doubt this - I could be wrong though?), "Your Love" would be a great choice. This is a major departure for the band as it features Tim Rice-Oxley on vocals (did I ever tell you that I had a minor crush on Mr Rice-Oxley??) - he’s not just a pretty face but a talented songwriter and rather good singer too. When you have such a great vocalist as Tom Chaplin it could be quite intimidating stepping out into the spotlight, but Tim does it with some style. You can see why there are some well-documented ‘power struggles’ within the band.

"Looking Back" er, ‘borrows’ from the Rocky theme. Another track which features K’naan. I’m not sure if Keane and rapping works, but they seemed to enjoy it. "Ishin Denshin" is a bit strange, and closer "My Shadow" is a U2-style building ballad, but I wouldn’t be too bothered if I heard it again.

"Night Train" may be a little patchy in places, but it proves yet again that Keane have a lot of life left in them yet, and it's enough to keep the fans happy until the next album comes along.

Album Review: "Body Talk Pt 1" - Robyn

With "Body Talk Pt 2" on the way and already causing much excitement I thought I'd better get a move on and get my review of Part 1 out of the way :)

It’s been a long time since Robyn released her hugely successful self-titled album. So it’s about time for another one. Or in Robyn’s case, another three (!) Yes, this is the first part of a trilogy of new albums from ‘the killingest pop star on the planet’. But is this all killer and no filler?

Robyn has her own distinctive musical style which has certainly influenced the recent crop of electro-influenced female singers. It’s clear that she’s not like all the other girls though... Those acts who were last year’s next big thing will fade fast but Robyn will still be around, because she's not a one-dimensional bandwagon jumper: instead she has the talent, the versatility and she does it all on her own terms.

A fact that’s very obvious in the first track on the album, "Don’t F****** Tell Me What To Do". Unfortunately it’s a little repetitive, with the singer rapping about all the things that are ‘killing her’. It’s, um, different I guess, but I don’t think I’d be giving this one repeated listening.

"Fembots" was the first song we heard from the album, and it combines a cute and catchy chorus line with something a little more leftfield, although the rest of the song isn't as good as the chorus.

The album’s high point is "Dancing On My Own". When you hear this winning combination of melancholic lyrics and pulsating electronic beats - a formula which previously worked so well on "With Every Heartbeat" you can see why it was chosen to be the album’s first single. Robyn makes pop music which sounds effortless - "Cry When You Get Older" is a good example of a catchy pop song and if you had any doubt that Robyn could turn her hand to other styles check out "Dancehall Queen" - electro-reggae.

"None of Dem" - a collaboration with Royksopp, with whom she worked on "The Girl and the Robot" isn’t quite as good as that track but it’s a grower as it goes on.

"Hang With Me" is a lovely piano ballad - you get the feeling that Robyn ‘means it’ and that’s what sets her apart from all those other female acts. Of course this track has now been remade in a dance-version and opinions are divided. For what it's worth though, I like both versions - which yet again says a lot about Robyn's talent: the emotional pull of the ballad version and the electro-dance remake both pack a punch.

Finally, Robyn puts her own distinctive stamp on traditional Swedish folk song "Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa" - I particularly love it when Swedish pop stars sing in their own language!

All in all, "Body Talk Pt 1", on its own may not be an absolutely classic album, but it may just turn out to be an important part of a classic trilogy. Roll on part 2!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Album Review: "Now 76" - Various Artists

"It's back!!!" as the TV ad used to say. But things have changed. Once upon a time I eagerly awaited the release of Britain's longest-running and most successful chart hits compilation album. But with the British singles chart in steep decline, I inevitably greeted the latest in the series with a weary shrug instead of gleeful enthusiasm.

It's not the fault of the album's compilers as they have so little in the way of chart hits to go on - since the arrival of the download single I had hoped that this would call a halt to the pre-download trend of 'in at no.1 one week, dropped to no. 23 the next' but instead the chart has become so stagnant that you could take a break from looking at the chart for a few weeks and on your return you would still find the same songs.

So as I said they don't have too much selection of hits to choose from, but they manage to get an accurate reflection of the UK Top 40 at present - a mix of American pop, tedious r'n'b/grime, kiddie/X Factor pop and the odd dance track. Highlights are few and far between - only Robyn, Example, Scissor Sisters, K'naan, Swedish House Mafia, Train and David Guetta get the thumbs up from me, otherwise most of it just sounds like the Galaxy Radio playlist, and if you are "lucky" enough to live in a reception area for that station then you'll know that's definitely not a good thing.

If we can be reassured on one thing, it's that pop music goes in cycles, and that this musical hell shouldn't last too much longer. And for everything else, there's the music blogs: where you will discover more good music than you ever thought existed!!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Rewind: the Swedish Royal Wedding

(picture courtesy of Prolineserver 2010, Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons)

I'm not a royalist by any means, but I've always been fascinated by the Swedish Royal Family for some reason. So needless to say I was very interested in the recent Swedish royal wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling, which took place on 19th June in Stockholm.

In the lead-up to the wedding, the Love Stockholm 2010 festival took place in the Swedish capital, which featured a number of events and free concerts all over the city, featuring some of the country's top musical artists. The event attracted 2 million people and guess whose concert attracted the biggest crowd (10,000)??

Given the country's strong musical heritage, the royal family have always been linked with Swedish music: top Swedish artists appear at the annual Victoriadagen concert every year, for example. On the night before the wedding, a gala concert took place in the Stockholm Konserthuset, attended by all the royalty and dignitaries in Stockholm for the wedding, and the guests of honour were of course Victoria and Daniel themselves. The concert featured Malena Ernman, Magnus Uggla, Helen Sjöholm, Peter Jöback, and a reunited Roxette singing ‘The Look’

But the best thing about it all? This song, specially written and performed for the happy couple...

As for the wedding itself, it was a natural and joyous occasion. Victoria, in a simple but classy dress, was a happy and serene bride, and Daniel had that usual facial mix of admiration and embarrassment going on (!). Unlike many royal weddings, where the spouses are headhunted for the sole purpose of an "heir and a spare" with no consideration whatsoever given to, well, love, at least Victoria dug her heels in and made sure she actually married someone she loved, rather than someone she was told to marry. I hope they have a long and happy married life together.

On a final musical note, two of Sweden's biggest musical stars, past and present - Agnes and Björn Skifs - got together to perform a specially written song at the wedding ceremony. Here's "When You Tell The World You're Mine" which has remained at the top of the Swedish singles chart since the wedding.

SVT has extensive coverage of the wedding which is still available at the following link:

German Charts Update

World Cup mania in the German singles chart: Shakira’s "Waka Waka", K’naan’s "Wavin’ Flag" and various other football/African themed songs - "Gimme Hope Joachim" by Basta (self-explanatory) and "Helele" by Velile & Safri Duo, which I immediately recognised as "Aie a Mwana" with new lyrics. Once a Bananarama fan, always a Bananarama fan :))

Down in the very lower reaches of the chart there are some old footie-themed songs too - "Zeit, Dass Sich Was Dreht" by Herbert Grönemeyer Feat. Amadou & Mariam, and bizarrely "Three Lions" which has always been popular in Germany of all places!

Although Britain doesn’t seem too interested in OneRepublic anymore, they have been doing well in Europe this year, firstly with "All The Right Moves" (one of my favourite songs of 2010) and now the uptempo "Marchin’ On" which proves that there’s more to the band than just Tedder-ballads.

One of the great things about checking out the European charts is that you occasionally discover some other non-European acts who may have escaped your attention. Robert Francis, climbing the chart with "Junebug", is an American singer who I’d never heard of until now. Musically he’s not reinventing the wheel, but this song was unusual enough to grab my attention. And being totally shallow here, I think I’m just a little bit in love with him. So allow me a completely shallow moment here, and a gratuitous picture of Mr Francis.

Lena-mania seems to have faded a little, as "Satellite" has begun its descent down the chart and her other songs which previously charted around the time of Eurovision are now nowhere to be seen. But it's time for her new single "Touch A New Day", and it will be interesting to see how well that does.

Of course the "summer hit" is alive and well in Germany - in previous years we’ve had Culcha Candela and Marquess bringing some summer musical vibes, this year it’s Der Checker with "Checker Der Vollstrecker" which has the kind of beach-themed video you’d expect from the ragga-style track.

Summer Rewind: The Playlist

All Day Love - Salem Al Fakir: do I really have to say how brilliant this is??
4 O’Clock (Adrian Lux Remix) - Salem Al Fakir: pop perfection reinvented as killer dancefloor anthem.
Skisser för Sommaren - Kent: catchy standout track from a smashing new album.
Love Will Always Find A Way (Damien Adore Remake) - Fibes, Oh Fibes!: great band, great song, and of course great remixer!
Wavin’ Flag - K’naan: A song which goes all the way back to our Bratislava holiday and which I’ll always associate with this year’s World Cup, even if the tournament was dull.
Doot Doot - Freur: a song which was ahead of its time and which I’ve recently rediscovered - it sounds better than ever. And I didn't realise until recently that the people behind this band went on to form Underworld!
Dirty Picture - Taio Cruz featuring Ke$ha: This shouldn't be in my favourites list but it's one of those so-bad-it’s-good songs which somehow managed to become a Friday night EuropeCrazy HQ favourite after a few glasses of wine :)
All Time Low - The Wanted: one of the best pop songs of the year, by a new boyband to get really excited about. Can’t wait to hear their album.
Misery - Maroon 5: trying to capture the glory days of "This Love" and reasonably succeeding. I still like them, even if they are no longer "in vogue" in this country anymore.
Hygiene Squad - The Ark: completely bonkers track from their latest album "In Full Regalia" which still hasn’t grown on me in the way I thought it would. It’s taking its time...

Album Review: "En Plats i Solen" - Kent

It’s been a prolific period for "Sveriges största rockband" Kent. Hardly any time has passed since the release of "Röd" but just a few months later here they are, back again with their latest album. After the cold, stark electronic sound which characterised their last two albums, "En Plats i Solen" sees the band return to more conventional instrumentation and the result is, dare I say it, their most "pop" album yet.

Even the cover is different from the typical, distinctive Kent album sleeve - it looks more like a compilation album of 80s summer love songs, or maybe that’s just my weird take on it :)

Further evidence of this is the appearance of "Skisser för Sommaren" in the top 10 most played tracks on Swedish radio last week - they haven’t had an ‘airplay hit’ since "Ingenting" but I doubt the band will be too troubled about that. "Skisser.." starts off with a ZZ Top-style drumbeat and turns into a very instant song with an anthemic chorus which sounds good on commercial radio.
Damian, in his review of the album at the excellent Swedish Stereo blog (by the way you must check out Swedish Stereo, if you haven’t already done so!), noted the similarities within the album’s opening track, "Glasäpplen" to "Ingenting" and as that’s one of my favourite Kent songs then needless to say I like this one too! "Ismael" sounds as if one of those Swedish radio remixers has been let loose and it’s a very accessible song.

"Ärlighet Respekt Kärlek" has an even more anthemic chorus; "Gamla Ullevi" is one of their most accessible songs of recent years, and I would even dare to describe "Minimalen" as funky and danceable, a description that you wouldn’t normally use to describe Kent! It has a little Empire of the Sun vibe to begin with, and then gives way to a very danceable groove.

Despite its title, "Team Building" is in Swedish, as is all Kent’s recorded output. In the past they tried to break the international market and recorded a couple of albums in English, but then returned to concentrating on what they do best - making music in the Swedish language and concentrating on the Swedish market. If you are a non-Swedish speaker, their official website has forums in various languages, including English, and that messageboard is well worth a visit.

This is a very good album, from a band who have always maintained a high standard all throughout their musical career. If you haven’t been familiar with Kent’s music then this is a great place to start.

The mystery of Allsång, Lotta, and the missing viewers

It sounds like a TV crime drama....but the drama is being played out in the Swedish media at the moment, as Swedish TV’s two rival singalong programmes continue to lose viewers week by week. Needless to say, the Swedish tabloids take a morbid delight in bashing this great summer tradition, and if Allsång-bashing was an Olympic sport, then certain Swedish newspapers would win a gold medal!

SVT's Allsång på Skansen has been a summer TV tradition since 1979, but three episodes into this year’s run and the series has had its worst ratings in 10 years. And returning to the "crime drama" theme, it was beaten in the ratings by Midsomer Murders, an unfathomably popular and incredibly dull British crime show.

OK I'll agree Allsång's not for everyone, it's distinctively Swedish, it's cheesy and occasionally unwatchable - it really does try to be all things to all people - and the resulting pick'n'mix won't appeal to everyone but I will always check out one or both singalong shows every week as there is usually someone I'm interested in seeing. For example week 1 had The Ark, week 2 Eric Saade, and then Darin on week 3.

Why the drop in viewers? Well, I don’t live in Sweden but even I know that the country has been enjoying one of its hottest summers in years. And when it’s hot, people don’t want to watch television! And then there was the World Cup. And when the excuses run out there’s always that old favourite....’Anders Lundin must go!"

One of the columnists in Aftonbladet the other day suggested that Lundin’s time is up - and that he should be replaced by none other than Måns Zelmerlöw. And I completely agree: he would be a perfect candidate - a great singer and entertainer with mass appeal to both young and old alike. If Måns continues to put his music career on hold, and concentrate on musicals/TV presenting, then SVT could do a lot worse than approaching him to host next year: especially after his successful efforts at presenting Melodifestivalen. Maybe SVT needs to let acts promote their new singles, rather than have them performing an old/recent hit, which would give artists even more incentive to appear and there would be something fresh for the viewers too.
EDIT 19.07.10: in an exclusive interview with Aftonbladet today, MZW revealed that he has been asked by SVT if he'd like to present the show sometime in the future...

As for the "new kid on the block", TV4's Monday night singalong Lotta på Liseberg, returned for a second season this summer, despite being tipped for the axe after being panned by the critics last year. It has half the viewing figures of Allsång, and seemingly half their guests too, as some Swedish stars are appearing on both shows this summer. Maybe the allsång-concept is spreading itself too thinly? I guess that if one of the shows was to be axed, it would be Lotta's, as SVT's Allsång is far too established to drop.

It may be trendy and fashionable to knock Allsång, but there's something so reassuring about hearing the opening chords of "Stockholm i mitt hjärta" and realising that summer is here, and wishing I was Swedish :)

Also, when you live in a country where music programmes on television are now almost non-existent apart from the awful talent shows (even Swedish Idol is a million times better than X Factor), then you realise how lucky the Swedish people are to have a variety of musical talent on prime time TV every week. And thanks to the internet, those of us outside Sweden get the chance to see it too.

My interest in Allsång will reach its peak this coming Tuesday as this week's guests include none other than Oskar Linnros and Salem Al Fakir. Prepare for wild enthusiasm on this blog and at Planet Salem in the coming days ;)

Album Review: "Vilja Bli" - Oskar Linnros

Back in this blog’s early days (summer 2007) one of its earliest Swedish musical discoveries was the young rap duo Snook, comprised of Oskar ‘Kihlen’ Linnros and Daniel Adams-Ray. Their "Är" CD became a firm favourite with its mix of sharp lyrics and elaborate musical backdrops. The duo had been critically and commercially successful and I had hoped to hear more music from them, but they stopped making music together: Adams-Ray concentrating on his "Lagom" clothing line and Kihlen working with Maskinen, and his talent as producer coming to the fore on his then girlfriend Veronica Maggio’s Grammis-nominated "Och Vinnaren Är..."

Spring 2010: out with the old rapper Kihlen, and in with Oskar Linnros, solo artist. I welcomed the news of his return, with much celebration and anticipation of his debut solo album which for me would be one of the most eagerly awaited Swedish album releases in a year where there has already been many of them.

And it doesn’t disappoint. Linnros is a revelation, with an intelligent musical heartbeat and quality pop music running through his veins. Some of Snook’s material certainly hinted at that, but here we have a top quality album that sounds like nothing else at the moment.

Like many in a long line of Swedish ‘do-everything’ artists (Salem Al Fakir, Tingsek...) Oskar Linnros is a multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician and producer.

The album starts fabulously with the pounding "Genom Eld" which for about 10 seconds brought Nordman to mind (!), and then turned into a great big life-affirming drum-driven anthem. Total fabulousness indeed.

The retro-flavour which ran through Maggio’s album is a significant feature on "Vilja Bli" - there is an almost Northern Soul-vibe going on in the hugely successful single "Från Och Med Du" and the album’s first single "Ack, Sundbyberg".

There’s a very good production on "Debut" (which makes good use of stereo!). "25" is maybe a little too busy but I can imagine it working well as a live track.

"Annie Hall" starts off with a "My Life Would Suck Without You"-riff but is altogether more chilled and is one of the album’s best tracks.

Reviewer after reviewer cited Oskar as this decade’s successor to the likes of Orup in producing intelligent Swedish-language pop. A lazy comparison maybe, but I can see where they’re coming from. Parts of "Din Mamma" for example scream "Orup!!!" But rather than being the second Orup, Oskar Linnros is....the first Oskar Linnros and we should celebrate the arrival of a bright new talent in Swedish music, and like all the best Swedish musical geniuses (you know who) he takes influences from here and there, past and present, and turns them into something new and completely accessible.

In a recent Aftonbladet interview, Linnros stated that there is "no love" between himself and Daniel Adams-Ray any more. And what of the other half of Snook? Well he too is now a solo artist: first single "Dum av Dig" (try not singing "Got My Mind Set On You" to it) is out now and his debut album will follow in September 2010. Snook, it would appear, is a million miles away now, but at least we now have two solo artists to get excited about.

Oskar Linnros will appear on SVT's "Allsång på Skansen" on Tuesday 20th July. More information at

Oskar's official website:

EuropeCrazy is back!!

Hello again!!

I decided to bring the blog back 24 hours earlier :) with a slight redesign as you will see. Those new Blogger templates are very tempting although I'm keeping it simple for the moment.

Feeling revived and refreshed after this blog's 6 week break. The time has flown in so quickly! At the time I decided to put the blog on hold, it had been a bit of a stressful time which wasn't helped by a bout of nasty back pain which meant that I couldn't do very much apart from sit around watching the World Cup on TV, and catching up with a few outstanding things which needed to be done. Happily I'm now feeling a lot better on all counts!

Over the next few days I'll be running a catch-up of what's been going on over recent weeks. I'm calling it "EuropeCrazy's Summer Rewind" - OK I know that summer isn't over yet, although where I live you could be forgiven for thinking that it was, with all the torrential rain during the past week!!

I'm particularly touched that EuropeCrazy has continued to have visitors during this 'down-time' and I can only thank you all once again for visiting. However I'm well aware that "if you blog it they will come" so I'm hoping to update this blog more regularly now.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

19th July...

....this blog will be back. That's the plan anyway :))