1998 EUROVISION SONG CONTEST - BIRMINGHAM
This is the place where you can indulge yourself in the highly sought-after opinions of Daniel Viles regarding the songs of the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest held in Birmingham on May 9, 1998 and won by Dana International of Israel. The standard of this contest was decidedly lower than that of the previous three contests. The hosting of the show by Terry Wogan and Ulrika Jonsson was a little patronising overall, and the staging was simply far too bright to create any kind of atmosphere for the darker songs.
1. CROATIA - Neka Mi Ne Svane - Danijela ****
While the 1998 contest was a noticeable drop in standards, there was no faulting the opening. This anthem-like tune contains no real musical surprises; it simply builds up throughout the song to a powerful final chorus. The real treat is Danijela's voice. It's a voice that you wish would be used in musicals instead of the crass offerings we are usually served up. Danijela's voice is powerful and subdued in all of the right places and brings emotion over and above what is deserved by the composition. Allow yourself to enjoy this wonderful performance.
2. GREECE - Mia Krifi Evaisthissia - Thalassa **
Oh, it's all right, I guess. I find this up-tempo rock song a little frustrating because it loses power in a place in the chorus where it really should be soaring along. The lead vocal is weak for this type of song but it carries it well enough. The chorus has an interesting character created by a series of chopped guitar chords that leaves plenty of space between the instruments and the vocals. This entry has a bit of charm but it won't change your life.
3. FRANCE - Oů Aller - Marie-Line ***
It's a bit of an Angelique Kidjo rip-off but overall, I quite like the feel of this song. The song is an Afro-dance beat with a twist of reggae supplemented with Parisian underground dance club vocals, performed with style by Marie-Line. I find the song a little disjointed in that the song drops away very suddenly when moving from the chorus to the verse and then makes an equally sudden return when returning to the chorus. As a result, the flow is interrupted and you just can't do that with a dance song. But, not a bad effort.
4. SPAIN - żQué Voy a Hacer Sin Ti? - Mikel Herzog *
There is a strange disease that effects bad Eurovision songs called 'overharmonisatia' in which nations interpret the rule that states that a maximum of six performers can appear on stage as meaning that six performers must appear on stage. The result of this is that supporting the one lead vocal part are five backing singers who tend to bury the melody with unnecessary crush notes, flattened thirteenth chords and such. This song shows the classic symptoms of 'overharmonisatia' although it's doubtful that this slow ballad would benefit from any cure. The song is dull and the performance is worse.
5. SWITZERLAND - Lass Ihn - Gunvor **
It's just a pop song. Just a slow rock ballad. It does nothing, it goes nowhere, and the vocals are good but nothing more. Listen to it once just in case anyone who likes it tells you to listen to it and you need an excuse not to.
6. SLOVAKIA - Modlitba - Katerína Hasprová (composition ****; vocal performance *)
Let me tell you the bad news first. I'd like to give Katerina the benefit of the doubt and say she had a cold on performance night because her crass, tuneless, raucous 'singing' almost renders this song unlistenable. The composition is a waltz that begins gently and slowly crescendos to a marvellous climax. The phonetics of the lyrics give the song a strong feel and the instrumental arrangement gives great power to the song. The decision not to use backing vocalists was a good one as it gave the piece the space it needed. All it needed was a singer.
7. POLAND - To Takie Proste - Sixteen ****
This is a fairly standard pop song, embellished by an electric violin solo during the instrumental break and some well-created vocal counterpoint in the final chorus. This song possibly suffers from 'underharmonisatia' as the lead vocals struggle to fill out the enormous space left in the song by the absence of backing vocalists, which is what makes the final chorus featuring the violinist on backing vocals so good to listen to. This is a very likeable song but a little under-produced, although, calling a song under-produced in Eurovision is a veritable compliment.
8. ISRAEL - Diva - Dana International ***
If you want to enjoy this song, forget, for a moment, that it won the contest. The song is not good enough to handle that kind of pressure. However, this disco number has a few bright moments and is worth listening to a few times. Dana's voice is weak but the vocal harmonies are well arranged and manage to hide her vocal deficiencies. The mid-song tempo change adds a nice variety to the song and sets it apart from your average dance number. You'll probably sing 'Diva' around the house for a few days before forgetting it entirely.
This is great fun. Apparently, Guildo is a bit of a legend in German music and I'm glad he was given the chance to sing in German to an international audience. This is a rather dated seventies glam rock song (think Gary Glitter) but it is performed with great energy, unbelievable personality an addictive sense of fun. Full marks to Guildo for having the guts to perform a cowbell solo in the middle of the song, too. His voice is also powerful when required and his skilful musicianship shouldn't be ignored.
10. MALTA - The One That I Love - Chiara ***
The schmaltzy lyrics that didn't always make sense made me greatly fear what would happen when the language restrictions were removed for the 1999 ESC (it turns out that my fears were more than justified). Nevertheless, this slow love song is quite pretty and Chiara's voice is angelic. The lyrics have a teenage innocence to them and Chiara (who, by no means, passes for a teenager) is able to sing powerfully without sacrificing quality. There's plenty to like here.
11. HUNGARY - A Holnap Már Nem Lesz Szomorú - Charlie ***
This song is the closest that the Eurovision will get to Joe Cocker, unless, of course, the contest is held in Sheffield. Charlie's 'oh so blue' raspy voice gives this bluesy piano bar number, which comes complete with harmonica solo, great sincerity and character. If I could speak Hungarian, I'd believe every word this man says! It's a pity that it was deemed necessary to use the orchestra because this song would have been better in stripped back three-piece blues band mode. Still, this song has a great feel.
12. SLOVENIA - Naj Bogovi Sliijo - Vili Resnik *
Once again, Slovenia persist with these slow anthem-like tunes that sound like they come from bad musicals. When will they learn? Vili shouts his way through this song pretending to sing and the backing vocals are even less tuneful. Don't bother with this one, even if you like this sort of song.
13. IRELAND - Is Always Over Now? - Dawn ***
This is not the worst Irish Eurovision entry by any standards. The song is another standard pop ballad and Dawn's vocals, while not always smooth, show good strength and give the song power without making it sound too happy, which is what was required here. It was always going to score worse than it deserved because of the backlash against the recent Irish domination of the contest, but that is no reason why you and I can't enjoy this performance a few times.
14. PORTUGAL - Se Eu Te Pudesse Abraçar - Alma Lusa ***
I think that this song would have worked better as an instrumental track as some of the instrumental passages in this rather Portuguese-sounding mid-tempo folk tune are quite brilliant. Alma's vocals are not good, nor are they appropriate, but my point is that any vocals at all would probably spoil this song. Listen to this song to enjoy the instrumental introduction, and then patiently endure the singing until the next instrumental passage.
15. ROMANIA - Eu Cred - Malina Olinescu *
This song owes a little to 'Mahogany', but that doesn't mean it's any good. It's yet another slow ballad, so, once again, it's OK if you like that sort of thing. The worst feature of the song, however, is Malina's piss-weak voice. It just has no power or quality whatsoever. I think that even those of you who are enjoying these slow ballads I keep rubbishing will find this disappointing.
16. UNITED KINGDOM - Where are You? - Imaani **
I still don't get the fuss over this song. It is a very dull dance song sung by a very dull voice. There's nothing I can see in this song to endear it to anybody, unless you just want a beat you can dance to. There are no surprises in this song and nothing interesting either.
17. CYPRUS - Genesis - Michalis Hadjiyiannis ***
I dare say that the writer of this song has 'The Lion King' soundtrack on constant repeat in his home, as this song owes a fair bit to "Circle of Life", beginning with the panflute in the introduction. Following the lead of Constantinos in 1996, Cyprus has again gone for the cute-young-male-singer, except that Michalis can actually sing quite well. He never loses strength and his mild crooners' vibrato adds some desperately needed character to this song. Give this a listen for the voice alone.
18. NETHERLANDS - Hemel en Aarde - Edsilia **
One of the exciting parts of the build-up to the '98 Eurovision was seeing whether music in Holland had reached the eighties yet. This song reeks of 1979 so they're getting mighty close. It's quite a funky number and Edsilia's deep voice is a good choice for this type of song, so if you're into that late seventies black American funk-pop sound, you may well enjoy this. It's just too dated for me, I'm afraid.
19. SWEDEN - Kärleken Är - Jill Johnson **
The Swedes resisted the temptation to perform another standard nineties power ballad. Instead, they decided to perform a standard seventies power ballad. The chorus to this song actually has some quite enjoyable moments, and Jill's alto voice is strong and rich, but the crashes of brass at the conclusion of each chorus sound quite ridiculous and only succeed in giving the song that 4KQ 'easy listening' feel. Again, if you like that sort of thing...
20. BELGIUM - Dis Oui - Mélanie Cohl ****
This is a delightful pop song performed by a 16-year-old who was actually one of the more confident stage performers on the night. The band forms a tight pop ensemble and easily handle the shuffle beat that many bands struggle to get right. Melanie's voice manages to sound mature and naive at the same time and is a delight to listen to. The boppy feel of this song had me grooving from the first listen and hasn't stopped yet.
21. FINLAND - Aava - Edea ***
No, it's not Yanni's music as used in the British Airways commercial, it's Edea's music as performed in the '98 Eurovision. There is quite an ethereal, airy mood created by this song (it's fantastic to see the air-jug make a return as a Eurovision instrument) and the lead vocals float almost effortlessly over the song (dare I say, also reminiscent of Yanni's 'Aria'). This is the closest the Eurovision will get to relaxation music, and, although it can get boring after a while, this song is lovely for a long time.
22. NORWAY - Aaltid Sommer - Lars A. Fredriksen ***
This song could possibly be categorised as 'new Motown'. It's got that real bright, cheery, feelgood, summery mood about it that gets you grooving along to it. Lars' voice is nothing special, but the song doesn't really require any vocal gymnastics, just someone who can make his singing sound fun. I've made several criticisms of weak voices on this page, but it's usually to do with songs that require strong voices. This one doesn't, and, as a result, it works fine.
23. ESTONIA - Mere Lapsed - Koit Toome ***
Hands up all those who remember Bruce Hornsby, king of the tinkling piano during the eighties. He wasn't just an artist; he was a genre! Koit obviously remembers Bruce, or at least picked up his piano style from somewhere. Of course, Bruce was in possession of a soulful baritone voice, whereas Koit has a rather weak high tenor voice, but, nonetheless, the vocal harmonies work quite well in this slow piano ballad and the end product is quite pretty. A great song to relax to.
24. TURKEY - Unutamazsin - Tüzmen **
The arrangement of orchestra and piano here makes this song sound rather like a Gershwin show tune. Don't get too excited, though, it's just another dull ballad. I find that whole Broadway style of singing, as demonstrated by Tuzmen here, quite nauseating, but if highly dramatic show ballads are your idea of a good time, then you may enjoy this.
25. F.Y.R. MACEDONIA - Ne Zori, Zoro - Vlado Janevski *****
Finally, a song that has some character to it! There's more than a touch of Bryan Ferry in Vlado's soulful voice and impeccable dress sense. This up-tempo pop song has great atmosphere created by Vlado's mysterious-sounding vocals and the dense orchestral arrangement augmented with contrapuntal oboe. There are a few symptoms of 'overharmonisatia' here as Vlado is a little swamped by the vocal harmonies in parts of the choruses, but overall, this is a wonderful song that may just bring a small chill to the spine.
In summary, this was not as good a contest as the previous two years. The sheer number of power ballads featuring one lead vocalist and five backing singers singing terrible harmonies rather spoilt the night for me. The standout songs for me were from Germany and FYR Macedonia with Belgium just behind them. The next group included Croatia, France, Poland, Hungary and Finland with Estonia and Slovakia filling out the point scorers. The dud of the night? Well, there are so many to choose from! The Slovenian song was the most boring, the Spanish song was the most embarrassing and the Romanian song featured the worst singing. Slovenia wins by a nose.
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