Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in rewind

So I'm sitting here at home on the last day of the year. Time for a quick (or not so quick) rewind through 2011.....

TV: Big stuff happened this year - analogue telly was switched off in my part of the world, and the digital switchover went smoothly enough.

One casualty of the analogue switch-off was the demise of good old 888 - in other words, the mighty Ceefax. Here was BBC Scotland's Ceefax on its last night in June 2011. Digital text just ain't got the same magic :(

We finally took the plunge in October and got a flat-screen LED smart TV. Just last week I also realised that you could wire up the PC to the TV via an HDMI cable and watch videos/streamed broadcasts on the big screen - so that will definitely change our viewing habits in 2012.

But as for the traditional way of watching TV, will the programmes be any better than over the past year? I should hope so. TV dumbed-down more than ever this past year with the relentless rise of "constructed reality" shows like The Only Way is Essex, Made In Chelsea, Desperate Scousewives; featuring talentless fake-tanned-fake-haired wannabe airheads who seem to view celebrity as a right and not a privilege, and is a guaranteed ticket to the celeb-reality-show party. Currently on that VIP list: a certain Mark Wright. Yes he's a good looking boy, but what does he actually do?

OK so I moan and groan about dumbed-down trashy telly, then in the next breath go on to say that my most fave TV show of the past year was Louie Spence's Showbusiness. Full of contradictions, I am. My other 'guilty' pleasures (although in my world there's nothing to be guilty of):- Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, Top of The Pops 1976, The Hotel, The Apprentice, Showboaters, Seven Dwarves.

The X Factor may have been on a slide, happily trounced by a dominant Strictly Come Dancing, but the XF monster still dominated the tabloids and every magazine on the stands. Just one more thing: why all those months, all that bother, only for the eventual winner to be given the dreariest of dreary cover versions to sing? They could learn from other countries who actually give their winners a decent original song.

We said goodbye to Swedish Idol this year - its final winner was Amanda Fondell, although my favourite contestant was her fellow finalist Robin Stjernberg. Not being ageist here, but the problem with this year's series was that all the contestants were too young, and there was certainly no-one of the calibre of, say, Tove/Amanda J/Linnea/Agnes or Darin/Erik/Danny/Sebastian.

The second series of Så mycket bättre also came and went, but turned out to be a disappointment for me. Too many dreary song choices, Laleh-mania left me cold, and the artists weren't interesting enough. And then TV4 pulled the plug on viewers outside Sweden watching any of their shows. Thanks for that TV4, you are my Killjoys of The Year.

The next big international TV phenomenon, The Voice, is on the way and the best thing about it is that Simon Cowell has nothing to do with it - it was born in the Netherlands, and comes from the John De Mol stable. Which was the home of that other TV phenomenon - Big Brother. Which is still running by the way, not that anyone really cares anymore. Back to The Voice: the various forthcoming international series have some fabulous mentor choices. We get Jessie J and Enough said.

In 2011, the best TV didn't come from this country. It came from Denmark - Forbrydelsen a.k.a. The Killing; and Iceland - Naeturvaktin a.k.a. The Night Shift. Both of which screened on BBC4, the best of all the BBC channels. The future of this channel is currently under threat, and it would be very sad if the axe fell. Just shut down BBC3 instead please: since the demise of Liquid News (and that wasn't yesterday) that channel has had no redeeming features whatsoever.

Those of us in the STV a.k.a. "not available in Scotland" area finally got the chance to catch up with the Downton Abbey phenomenon as series 1 was finally screened immediately followed by series 2. We're not ashamed to say that EuropeCrazy is totally hooked on Downton - roll on series 3 next year!!

The biggest TV story in Scotland was the demise of The Hour. It was addictive teatime TV nonsense which did well in its slot, but the powers that be decided to move it to a Tuesday night 8pm slot - clashing with that equally addictive local soap River City - and it only lasted 4 weeks before the axe spectacularly fell.

Talking of River City, it continued to be just a bit too gloomy over the past year, and had too many stupid storylines. But we continue to watch the show as it heads into its 10th year. Just one request though - can we have a bit more of the Glaswegian humour which the city is famous for??

Not that you expect reality from soaps though. Prime offender this year: Coronation Street. For every decent storyline there were at least 10 rubbish ones. A bit less time spent in soap prison/soap hospital next year would be nice :) Meanwhile some things never change: EastEnders (which I stopped watching when Dirty Den died the first time) still wins every soap award going, and Emmerdale remains completely underrated.

I continue to love American TV drama - One Tree Hill, Grey's Anatomy, Parenthood, Fairly Legal, Dexter and the brilliant Harry's Law. I didn't stick with Blue Bloods, Glee or Boardwalk Empire though. One thing's for sure, I'll be casting my eyes across the Atlantic to see what goodies U.S. TV brings us next year.

And in the meantime, I have a lot of box sets to work my way through.....

By the way, the October-December bonanza edition of The Square-Eyed Couch Potato will be published on here before the end of January.

Only one sporting event mattered to me this year. The Tour de France was fantastic from beginning to end. (Shame about the winner though). Mark Cavendish's green jersey was a terrific achievement and well-deserved. Otherwise, only in Scotland, the best small-minded country in the world, the issues around football moved from the back page to the front page. Only in this country could you have an ongoing political debate about sectarian and bigoted songs at football matches. My own view is that they should let them keep the songs for the football, and focus on tackling the bigotry and sectarianism outside the football grounds. But that just sounds like a bit too much work for our pampered politicians, particularly a government whose whole outlook is rooted in Braveheart. That's another story....

MUSIC: I spent most of the year digitising my music collection and uploading it to iTunes and filling my iPod. 2011 was all about rediscovering old, lost, forgotten favourite music which inevitably was a million times better than the new music which was on offer this year. Not that you should measure the quality of current music by what's on the radio or in the charts, but if you were just basing it on that then 2011 could be summed up by a song sung by Rihanna, with music by David Guetta, with lyrics about being on the floor in the club with your hands in the air accompanied by a rap by Pitbull and Flo Rida. The saddest thing about this year was the total international dominance of the same 5 or 6 artists in every chart across Europe.

There is a glimmer of hope that the dire r'n'b/urban/grime/autotuned/electro-dance trend of the last 2/3 years may finally be on the slide. On the down side, it looks as if things are going in the opposite direction towards "the new boring". Which probably explains the (to me) inexplicable success of Ed Sheeran over the past year. Never mind the new boring, he's the new Blunt. Enough said. And as for Adele, yes she has a good voice, but her music does nothing for me I'm afraid. I want the return of real pop music, the kind which some may describe as cheesy; I want the return of real dance music, the kind which excited me in the 90s and early 2000s; I want the return of decent guitar bands. Not much to ask for, is it?!?!?!?!

Of course, 2011 brought a well-earned rest for my most favourite artist of all, Salem Al Fakir, who didn't release any new solo material. After the past four non-stop years, three albums and endless touring he deserved a break! Things may have been quieter but that didn't mean a Salem-free year though. His music stayed in the public consciousness - whether it was a contestant waltzing to "Keep On Walking" on Let’s Dance, or Amanda Persson singing the song on the final series of "Idol", or "I’m So Happy" playing out as the theme song to the hugely successful "Solsidan". There were three terrific collaborations - he co-wrote Eric Saade's "Rocket Science", sang on J-Son's "Remedy" and was also guest vocalist on Avicii's "Silhouettes" which has been doing the rounds on the internet for the last few months and surely must get an official release in 2012! Please please!

Salem played orchestral shows at the beginning of the year and his only Swedish summer concert was a sell-out orchestral show at the legendary Dalhalla in August, with special guests Oskar Linnros and September. A big highlight of my year was the opportunity to watch his Helsinki live show which was broadcast live on the web. Salem's other musical project was related to the book "Vad är musik?" which he wrote with his friend Pontus de Wolfe. The guys spent the second half of the year promoting the book and they became a recording act named Earpony, releasing "Jag e frågan du e svaret". Salem also appeared in SVT's "Dom Kallar Oss Artister" at the beginning of the year where he performed a cover of Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" with some familiar friends. The song was released under the artist name "Sally and the Segols".

Salem may not have won any Swedish Grammys in what was a very tough year competition-wise, but he did win one very important award - Sweden's best-dressed man - at the Ellegalan. Talking of awards, Salem will present the 2012 P3 Guldgalan in a couple of weeks. My wish for 2012 is some new material from Salem the solo artist: one thing's for sure, whatever he does next will be well worth the wait.

Something which I always look forward to is Eurovision season. The waiting and the anticipation is better than the outcome. So it was this year. Eurovision ended with one of its most forgettable, insignificant yet inevitable winners in years - "Running Scared" by Ell and Nikki representing Azerbaijan. I still have my reservations about that particular country staging 2012's extravaganza....

The people of Sweden chose Eric Saade to represent them at Eurovision - which in retrospect was probably the right decision, given his good showing at the contest, however it was not my first choice and I might have appreciated the song more without the stupid breaking-glass routine/'faffing about' (© Len Goodman).

However, Melodifestivalen seems to be going through a turbulent time. Which direction should the contest go in? Should it continue to modernise or should it continue to keep the schlager-fans happy? Should it do both? It may be Sweden's biggest TV show of the year, but the event which once filled the Swedish singles charts doesn't have such a significant impact on music sales anymore - check out this excellent analysis by my good friend and top blogger Damian at

Finally, before I go, the usual thanks to all my blogging friends - your friendship and support has been so special during a personally difficult year. I'd like to wish all the readers of EuropeCrazy a very happy and healthy 2012 and you are very welcome to join me in celebrating the fifth birthday of this blog in March!

Love and best wishes to you all,

Laura xx

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The 2011-50: the full list

Here's the list of my top 50 tracks of 2011 in full:

1. Me and My Drum - Swingfly
2. Like Suicide - Christian Walz
3. Moves Like Jagger - Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera
4. Higher - Taio Cruz feat. Kylie Minogue
5. In The Club - Danny Saucedo
6. Me & My Microphone - September
7. Get You - Alexey Vorobyov
8. Solid Ground - Pnau
9. Let Me Go - Maverick Sabre
10. Bullets - Rebecca & Fiona
11. Good Intentions - Bressie
12. The Moment I Met You - Vincent
13. Oh My God - Le Kid
14. Hot Mess - Chromeo feat. La Roux
15. Coming Home - Sjonni's Friends
16. New Tomorrow - A Friend In London
17. Idiot - Lena Philipsson
18. Judas - Lady Gaga
19. Jag e Frågan, Du e Svaret - Earpony
20. Pumped Up Kicks - Foster The People
21. Loca People - Sak Noel
22. Dance Alone - Love Generation
23. Called Out In The Dark - Snow Patrol
24. Love Love - Take That
25. Love In Rewind - Dino Merlin
26. Rope - Foo Fighters
27. Don't Know Why - Soundgirl
28. Kärlekens Tunga - September
29. Breaking Up With God - The Ark
30. Fest Hos Mange - Mange Makers
31. Lifeline - Jamiroquai
32. Hollywood Hills - Sunrise Avenue
33. Paradise - Coldplay
34. Something In Your Eyes - Jenny Silver
35. Angel In Disguise - Musiqq
36. Taken By A Stranger - Lena
37. Warrant - Foster The People
38. Good Enough - Father McKenzie
39. Depend On Me - Babel Fish
40. No One Else Could - Sebastian
41. Party Rock Anthem - LMFAO
42. Traktor - Wretch 32
43. Fade Into Darkness - Avicii
44. What You Want - Evanescence
45. Wall Of Sound - Bressie
46. Not A Love Song - Wonderland
47. Jag Kommer - Veronica Maggio
48. Feel So Close - Calvin Harris
49. Changed The Way You Kiss Me - Example
50. Yeah Right - Dionne Bromfield.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The 2011-50: No.1 - Drama, drama, drama, drama like a soap opera

"Me and My Drum" - Swingfly.

And so to my no.1 song. It was always going to be difficult compiling the chart this year due to the absence of any new solo material by Salem Al Fakir, who had previously topped my chart for the past 4 years. Hoping for "normal service" next year of course!

When the line-up of songs and artists for this year's Melodifestivalen was announced, I didn't expect at that time that "Me and My Drum" by Swingfly would end up topping my chart. Yet it quickly became a favourite and post-contest I continued to play it all year. Despite the song only coming 5th in the contest, it did very well in the Swedish charts, in a year when very few MF songs charted for any length of time.

This high-powered pop-rap song has lyrics rapped by American rapper Swingfly (previously best known for "Singing That Melody"), and a mid-song rap by Beatrice Stars. All good so far, but then comes the icing on the cake - former Idol 2007 contestant Christoffer Hiding, who I absolutely love, singing the chorus. I'll never forget that moment he stepped onto the Melodifestivalen stage - one of my favourite moments of the year actually ;)

In what has been a personally very dark year, I thought it would be appropriate that something fun and uplifting should top my chart. Boom-chicka-boom-chicka-boom-boom-boom :))

The 2011-50: No.2 - I guess I love the way it burns

"Like Suicide" - Christian Walz.

The offputting title/lyrics and bizarre styling at Melodifestivalen probably contributed to him not progressing any further in the competition, but the fact remains that Christian Walz is one of the finest artists to come out of Sweden in recent years.

One more fact: Melodifestivalen will always produce some of my favourite songs of the year and this is no exception. Yes, the ill-advised title should have been changed, but the song as a whole is three minutes of absolute class. Now can we have a new album please, Christian??? (audio version)

The 2011-50: No.3 - If I share my secret, you're gonna have to keep it

"Moves Like Jagger" - Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera.

So, I made it through a week of extreme weather conditions, heavy snow and hurricane-force storms in my part of the world, to bring my annual countdown to an end with the final three songs.

It's typical: you wait for a song with "Jagger" in the title and two come along at once. One of them came to symbolise everything that is wrong with music in 2011; the other is an insanely catchy pop song which is so fresh that I never tire of it, and probably never will.

After just one hearing there was never any doubt that this song was going to place very highly in my chart this year. "Moves Like Jagger" has also single-handedly resurrected two floundering pop careers thanks to this collaboration, which came about after Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera participated as judges/mentors on the US version of "The Voice". Definitely my favourite non-European track of the year.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The 2011-50: No.4 - I got this high without taking a pill

"Higher" - Taio Cruz featuring Kylie Minogue.

Although the prolific Taio has also reached a certain level of ubiquity, he at least manages to put out the odd above-average dance/pop single from time to time: "Come On Girl", "Dynamite" and then this one. Not even the completely unnecessary inclusion of Travie McCoy on an alternate version of the song could ruin the greatness of this pop/dance crossover, which boasts a guest appearance by a certain Ms Minogue. When compiling this annual chart, the higher positions always tend to go to songs which answered my question: "do I still love listening to this song after all this time?" The answer to this, and the remaining 3 songs to follow is a resounding "Yes!"

The 2011-50: No.5 - It's Friday night, I barely made it through this week

"In The Club" - Danny Saucedo.

OK, what I'm about to say may sound contradictory, but I hope you understand what I mean. "In The Club" may not have turned out to be my favourite Melodifestivalen song of the past 12 months, but it was the one which I most wanted to win that contest.

Despite following Melodifestivalen for more years than I can remember, I still can’t figure out why the results end up the way they do. No offence to Eric, who achieved a very respectable result at Eurovision, but I still believe this should have won MF 2011. Just as 'second time around' was lucky for young Mr Saade, then it might well be the case for Danny as he's having another attempt at the contest in a few weeks' time.

In a year when every second song seemed to be about being "on the floor" or "in the club", Danny actually managed to make the concept interesting and was vocally spot on.

Melodifestivalen performance:

Monday, December 05, 2011

The 2011-50: No.6 - I wrote it for you, you're the title of my song

"Me and My Microphone" - September.

And the title of her song was originally Mikrofonkåt, which came out of the original (and best) season of Så mycket bättre. "Me and My Microphone" may have lacked the lyrical twists and turns of her version of Petter's Swedish-language track, but it is still a classic in any language. It's been a long wait, but the song's finally been released in the UK this week, one year after it originally surfaced! One more thing...on a personal note, Petra’s live collaborations with Salem Al Fakir this year inevitably strengthened her legend-status :)

The 2011-50: No.7 - I rule my world like great men do

Get You - Alexey Vorobyov.

One point was proved in 2011: that Eurovision has no regard for superstar reputations. Just as my no.22 song by Love Generation couldn't run away with a Melodifestivalen win, when it came to ESC even the might of RedOne and his team couldn’t push Alexey up the scoreboard. It still remains my favourite ESC entry of this year, however when the contest came around it lost its way, for reasons which I still can't fathom out. Maybe the lighted jackets, I don't the meantime, here's the official video.

The 2011-50: No. 8 - There's too much worth living for, baby I'll show you

Solid Ground - Pnau.

Whilst we wait for the return of Empire of the Sun - which is gonna happen, folks! - Nick Littlemore’s other project filled the gap nicely. And this song perfectly summoned up the EOTS spirit. A summery sound for a non-existent summer.

The 2011-50: No.9 - With you I won't be, a better man

"Let Me Go" - Maverick Sabre.

One of the very few good things to come out of the otherwise tedious ‘urban’ music trend of the last couple of years. Inventive use of the Portishead "Glory Box" sample. Vocally he's very reminiscent of Finley Quaye, with a 21st century reboot.

The 2011-50: No.10 - Don't let me show you how weak you are

"Bullets" - Rebecca & Fiona.

Into my top 10 with one of the brightest new musical finds of the past year or so, and needless to say they're Swedish! Rebecca & Fiona came out of the Swedish dance music scene with their own distinctive sound. "Bullets" has sweet vocals and a distinctive guitar sample/hookline which really set this song apart from the rest of the year's more cliched dance tracks.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The 2011-50: No.11 - Judged once but on trial for a lifetime

"Good Intentions" - Bressie.

If someone asked me to name my favourite new solo artist of the year, I wouldn't hesitate to name Ireland's very own Niall Breslin, a.k.a. Bressie! "Good Intentions" is the perfect kind of pop-rock song which I love, and it was my favourite track on his debut album. He has a great voice and I'd love to see him become the superstar he deserves to be. Bressie will be one of the judges/mentors on the Irish version of "The Voice" and that should massively raise his profile.

The 2011-50: No.12 - Into the wild Serengeti hills of Himalaya

"The Moment I Met You" - Vincent.

He's a huge talent and his comeback was long-awaited and very welcome. Yet Mr Pontare is in danger of being better-known for being Agnes' boyfriend than for his music, as for an unfathomable reason his return to the music scene appears to have been ignored.

Both this and its predecessor "Baby Hurricane" showcase Vincent's effortless ability to craft a classic pop song, which thankfully doesn't have any need to resort to the r'n'b sound of the day.

The 2011-50: No.13 - Like a teenage dream it's a love supreme

"Oh My God" - Le Kid.

They brought an almighty fun-filled candy shop explosion to this year's Melodifestivalen, but despite dancing sweets and exploding cupcakes it was the wrong "Oh My God" which made it to Globen. Which is a real shame, because this is a fine slice of retro bubblegum pop.

The 2011-50: No.14 - Your love is real but I just feel suffocated

"Hot Mess" - Chromeo featuring Elly Jackson.

No, it wasn't a cover version of the fab Sam Sparro song, but this collaboration between the eccentric electro-funk duo and the La Roux singer was one of my most played songs during the first quarter of 2011. As you know, I'm no fan of La Roux by any means, but this ice-cold combination was a perfect match, and in a year dominated by mostly inferior electro-dance, this definitely stood out as a quality product.

The 2011-50: No.15 - I just wanna see your face again

"Coming Home" - Sjonni's Friends.

Still on the Eurovision 2011 theme....sometimes you just get a simply delightful song which is maybe out of step with the contemporary norm, but who cares about that? The writer of this song passed away before the Icelandic national final, so his friends stepped up with the finest tribute they could pay. Even all these months later it still remains a lovely, joyous, heartwarming treat.

The 2011-50: No.16 - And your weapon is your voice

"New Tomorrow" - A Friend In London.

Several months down the line, Eurovision 2011 seems a bit strange and disappointing, marked by a totally inconsequential and forgettable (but inevitable) winner from Azerbaijan. There were very few songs I continued to listen to after the contest, but happily this was one of them. There are exciting times ahead for this band and I hope they continue to build on their 5th-place success in the contest.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The 2011-50: No. 17 - Du kan få bli min idiot

"Idiot" - Lena Philipsson.

I've been a big fan of this true Swedish music legend for almost 25 years, and she remains totally fabulous. "Idiot" may not have set blog-land on fire, or thrilled the hardcore fans who were expecting something much more anthemic, yet this fine electro-pop song became one of my most played songs of the year.

Here she is, entertaining the Linköping massive at this year's Melodifestivalen...

The 2011-50: No.18 - A king with no crown

"Judas" - Lady Gaga.

In the rewriting of the Gaga history book, if reviews are anything to go by, it appears that "Judas" is already being consigned to the dustbin of history in the style of a dead Soviet leader. Despite this, it’s still fondly remembered as a Friday night favourite at EuropeCrazy HQ and I'm not ashamed to say that I prefer it to either "Born This Way" or "The Edge of Glory".

The 2011-50: No.19 - Kanske det mest omaka paret

"Jag e frågan, du e svaret" - Earpony.

This song probably caused more controversy in my head than any other this year, purely because I had to come to terms with the idea that here was a musical project involving Salem Al Fakir which didn’t automatically guarantee top-spot in my annual chart. For anyone unfamiliar with Earpony, it's a duo made up of Salem and his friend (and previous bandmate in The Bloody Romance) Pontus De Wolfe; the duo also published a book this year, "Vad är musik?", and if you need more info, the whole thing was documented over at my other blog Planet Salem.

On first hearing of this song, (live version), I didn’t like it at all, but having listened several times to the studio version, particularly during the preparation of this chart, this lo-fi tune - performed by Pontus (lead vocals/guitar) and Salem (backing vocals/keyboards) really grew on me and I feel it therefore deserves its top 20 spot.

Of course it goes without saying that I am counting the days until Salem finally unveils his new solo material!

In the meantime....

The 2011-50: No.20 - But he's coming for you, yeah he's coming for you

"Pumped Up Kicks" - Foster The People.

I may (or may not) have mentioned at some point during the year that Foster The People was probably my favourite new band which caught my attention in 2011. This song was probably 2011's version of "Young Folks" or "Kids" in that it got lots of airplay and "crossed over" into the mainstream, however despite the upbeat style of the song it had a decidedly darker lyrical theme.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The 2011-50: No.21 - Johnny, la gente esta muy loca

"Loca People" - Sak Noel.

Now I know you may be wondering at this point why something so utterly nonsensical merits a place in my top 50. Well I'm wondering about it too :) Anyway, faithful travelling companion yesterday spookily predicted a place for this song in my chart and he was right. This is a crazy, nonsensical piece of music with some bizarre spoken dialogue and that swear word which of course was edited out of the UK radio version. It quickly became a Friday night favourite at EuropeCrazy HQ, and it ruled the charts all summer, all over Europe, along with Alexandra Stan's "Mr Saxobeat" - and when the musical history of 2011 is written, both songs will go down as the year's biggest 'holiday hits'. Viva la fiesta, viva la noche indeed.

The 2011-50: No.22 - You're a fool if you think that my night's on the brink

"Dance Alone" - Love Generation.

So...RedOne + Melodifestivalen = foregone conclusion? Apparently not - reputations, not even that of one of the biggest and most prolific writers/producers on the planet, counted for nothing, and all the hype and favourable draws in the world couldn't help.

Yet despite all that, it was one of my favourite MF songs this year. I still have fond memories of this stompy dancey schlager anthem which I played a lot after the contest and still do. LG of course are now down to a three-piece following the departure of Mikaela, and are making a further attempt at conquering Swedish hearts when MF kicks off in a few weeks' time.