Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Cross-Europe Chart Challenge of Death: BELGIUM

Right. It's been a while, so I shall remind you of the "rules". Fifteen European countries have their top 10 evaluated. Ballots are sent out to people. In theory, they'd be experts in pop, but in practice they're also people I know or read.

These people have never submitted ballots before:

AG is Alyson Guard of the unstoppably mardy CFB Goes Pop.
IM is Ian Mathers from Stylus and also Fractionals.
MJ is Max Jones from Lots of Co, who is the panel's token US citizen.
MA is Mike Atkinson, better known as Troubled Diva, the most popular panelist around.

Back from "the olden days" are me (EO), Kate Gladman (KG), Andries P (AP), Scott Nash (SN) and Jessica Popper (JP).

Their scores and comments are recorded. Rather than giving a straight average, I scale it slightly, as songs simply don't average less than 1.5 or more than 8.5 very often, so the final score is usually slightly higher than the average. And any song that gets zero or ten from half of the panel gets that score no matter what. This feature pretty much picks up exactly where it left off six months ago... so here we go...

EO: 5, AG: 2, IM: 8, KG: 2, AP: 3, MJ: 2, SN: 8, JP: 6, MA: 5. ADJUSTED SCORE: 5

Not having bothered to research the subject, I think I can safely presume that this features the finalists of the Belgian version of the musical TV talent show which we in the UK know as Fame Academy.
IM: Well, it’s “Fame”, and you can’t fuck up “Fame”, especially when it’s being sung by a whole crowd of unknowns with decent voices. Except for the way “the” is sometimes pronounced “deh”, I don’t know if I could have told you this wasn’t from America.
SN: Hi-NRG beats! Disco strings! Key changes! Hair metal electric guitar! Unnecessarily complex keyboard lines! No-I-can-sound-more-impassioned-than-you vocal performances!
AG: No one has ever questioned "Fame" have they? I'm gonna live forever? People will see me and cry? I'm gonna learn how to fly? What kind of super zombie killer flying mutants does this song want on earth? Shame on YOU Star Academy for promoting this super race of tear causing people who look at people, make them sad and fly away!
MJ: Too many different voices and too much reliance on the horrible squealing guitar key on the synthesizer.
AP: This kind of cheap karaoke cover is two steps back for Flemish reality TV spin-offs, and by extension, mankind.
JP: Look at it this way: if they have to do a song together, chances are anything original they're given to perform is not going to be anywhere near as good as Fame.
SN: This song is just one big exclamation mark, isn't it! I'm going to go and stare at something sparkly now! Yay!
IM: A perfectly good rendition of a great song.
JP: It will the please the fans and that's its whole purpose.
MA: Let's just say that in order to appreciate this competent but anonymous straight-down-the-line cover version, you probably had to be there. Still, their mothers must be proud
AP: Minus marks because my pet hate entrant, the prissy roly-poly Michael, fails to pronounce the ‘th’ in his line.

2. LAURA LYNN - Je Hebt Me 1000 Maal Belogen
EO: 9, AG: 9, IM: 6, KG: 7, AP: 7, MJ: 8, SN: 7, JP: 9, MA: 9. ADJUSTED SCORE: 9

A Google for Laura-Lynn would lead you to think that she is in fact a country singer from Nashville, but as you can probably guess from the song title you would be very wrong. The other thing I have learned from this song is that Belgians don't just speak French and Flemish, they also speak Dutch, the language which this song is in. I suppose I should also mention the small matter of it being entirely fantastic!
AP: I know that by all applicable laws issued and enforced by the Taste Police I should hate this, but I just can’t bring myself to it.
EO: Best use of the "popcorn" noise in pop in a very, very, long time, buried stabs and a lovely bubblegum melody. A fantastic collection of SOUNDS if nothing else, but a strong tune too. Oh oh oh, reminds me a bit of the title track of Spray's excellent "Living In Neon" elpee. If you're interested, the original was by Andrea Berg, and was titled "Du Hast Mich Tausendmal Belogen" - take THAT to your preferred file sharing application.
MJ: Sounds enough like ABBA (okay, Agnetha solo) to make me smile!
MA: Honestly, this is fantastic: Schlager pop with a muted 80s Italo-disco beat, heavy on the echo chambers, and overlain with pleasingly scrunchy vocals. Nice to see that "Jenseits Von Eden" orchestrated synth stab making a comeback, as well.
IM: The backgrounds are intricate and ornate in a way that my ears instantly identify as European, but North America could learn a lesson in maximalism from this sort of thing.
AG: It's Eurovision tastic! You can put your hands in the air like you just don't care! I'm concerned she wants A THOUSAND Maal Belogens (hog!) and if you do a google image search for Laura Lynn, there's a guy with a hula hoop through his nose! WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE! Magic.
IM: My poor, unilingual ears could swear she’s singing “you have to die sometimes” during the chorus, but the part I really love is the part that sounds like heavily digitally smooted out musical explosions in the background every so often.
AP: Is it the ‘trailer park’ side of my musical pallet, the one which also cherishes Portuguese Eurovision entries and the second Vengaboys album? Is it a premature sense of nostalgia, harking back to the days when more Flemish chart hits sounded like this, somewhere around 1990? Or is it just the fact it’s a darn catchy tune, if pretty much identical to the German original save for the vocals and language? Questions, questions!
KG: This sounds like a Christmas song, and a bloody good one, too. (And the great thing for me is that Laura Lynn comes just before Lara Fabian in my iTunes library, so at least it leads up to something great, i.e. a wailing rendition of “Je T’aime” by yours truly.)
MA: Now, I might not know much Flemish, but I'm fairly certain that this translates as "You have lied to me 1000 times." In which case, I find myself suddenly wanting to enrol in Flemish night classes, just so that I can join in with this at chucking out time at one of those tiny little sing-song bars (you know, the ones with tartan upholstery and copper pots hanging from the ceiling), drunkenly wagging my finger along with the massed ranks of betrayed housewives in a shared moment of "see yer in court, yer bash-tard!" solidarity.

3. WILL SMITH - Switch
EO: 1, AG: 4, KG: 4, AP: 5, MJ: 3, SN: 7, JP: 3, MA: 4. ADJUSTED SCORE: 4

To quote my Mum: "35 year old multimillionaires shouldn't wear baseball caps and slap the booty"
AP: I preferred “Yo Home To Bel Air”. It oozed about as much street cred too.
JP: My sister loves this song but when I asked her why so I could write it here she just ignored me. Will Smith makes your sister ignore you - don't buy his music!

4. 50 CENT - Candy Shop
EO: 0, AG: 0, KG: 2, AP: 1, MJ: 7, SN: 0, JP: 0, MA: 2. ADJUSTED SCORE: 0 (half-panel rule)

I’m sure the only way Fiddy could find his way to the Candy Shop is if Eminem was holding his hand.
MA: "Hoopla!" says young Armand, looking smart in his straw boater and sailor suit. "Hoopla for Monsieur Cinquante Cents, and his jolie chanson about les bon-bons! J'aime bien les bon-bons! Maman, donne-moi cinq Euros pour le CD single!" Mothers of Belgium: for the sake of the children, I urge you to educate yourselves, toot sweet.
AP: FACT: this ‘song’ is up to 24% more bearable if you imagine ‘Fiddy’ singing rapping half-mumbling it dressed in Shirley Temple gear with ribbons, shiny shoes and a big lollipop, in lieu of his usual ‘bling bling’ attire. Go on, give it a try.

EO: 5, AG: 1, IM: 7, KG: 3, AP: 7, MJ: 3, SN: 9, JP: 7, MA: 1. ADJUSTED SCORE: 5

Daniel Powter is really David Gray under a pseudonym, right? He's not? Oh--well that would have at least made the backstory here interesting.
EO: I was going to say that someone needs to give Daniel a shag, as he sounds so miserable, but he'd probably just do another whining song about it. Lovely piano, though.
MA: If I were being charitable, then I would liken this piano-led, expansively arranged, lighters-in-the-air ballad to something Robbie Williams might have put out around 1998. But as that would be to dignify this wretched piece of garbage by association, I shall refrain. Robbie deserves better.
AP: Now then, this seems to be lauded left, right and centre in the music press as some sort of modern singer/songwriter classic, while I tend to see it as more of an ‘05 equivalent of Meja’s “All ‘Bout the Money”, i.e. pleasant enough, inoffensive radio fodder that is omnipresent for a bit, upon which the singer most probably fucks back off into anonymity forever more (except to randomly feature on Ricky Martin duets, which comes down to the same basically).
KG: I had a bad four minutes listening to this song. And I’ll never get those four minutes back. And they were long minutes.
AG: Daniel imagines he's Robbie Williams fronting Train, he sees himself in the video clip wearing faded denim in a field, or wandering around a moody train station clenching his fist earnestly. Meanwhile me, as his manager, is stage side yelling "WHAT ABOUT OUR GIMMICK WHERE YOU DO NOTHING BUT POUT POWTER! STOP LOOKING EARNEST! NO SMILING! JUST POUT!" – alas, our mutual ideas are unlikely to ever meet in the middle.
JP: I've been listening to Daniel Powter's album this morning and it seems that Bad Day is rather deceptive. Although it seems to be quite popular, it's nothing special and rather predictable, and this comes from me as a fan of this type of music in general. However, the album really is very good. He sounds like a mixture of Christian Walz and Gavin Degraw which is a winning combination and extremely high praise from me.
IM: This reminds me of someone, and I have a feeling it’s someone I don’t like as much as I like “Bad Day”, nonsensical lyrics aside (“the camera don’t lie”? I’d like one of these spooky emotion-sensing camera, please!).
SN: Now, I know what you're thinking: this sounds JUST like something Ronan Keating or Brian McFadden or someone else equally noxious would sing. But it MOST CERTAINLY CAN'T BE, because I actually like (well, love) this song, what with its slow swing and comfortingly inane lyrics. And buddy, I don't listen to crap music. Now excuse me, I'm going to put on some Phil Collins.
AP: The jury’s not out on Mr Powter’s appearance though: the bare-headed shots of him in the video make me go all ‘Oooooooh’, but once the woolly hat comes on, it’s all of a sudden: ‘TWAT!!’

6. ZORNIK - Scared Of Yourself
EO: 7, AG: 7, IM: 3, KG: 5, AP: 8, MJ: 7, SN: 4, JP: 6, MA: 1. ADJUSTED SCORE: 5

: Sweet baby Jesus, that's one fucking horrendous set of pipes that Master Zornik has got on him: a coarse, flat, toneless, graceless bellow, that wouldn't disgrace a water buffalo.
AG: It's Duran Duran as remixed by Fragma in a top secret laboratory, and it's got the spare vocoder from Cher's Believe - it's more a montage song than a solid gold dancefloor song, but it's going to soundtrack a lot of pashing in the clubs of Lierse, and that's a very good thing!
EO: It's weird, I like the remix of this song except for the vocals, which seem fine on the original version.
AP: Last year’s original sounds a bit like Placebo after completing a ‘Pop Hook Songwriting 2.0’ masterclass, with extra toppings of cheese. The Peter Luts remix takes the Thin White Duke mix of Starsailor’s “Four to the Floor” and expands, well, very little on the concept.
SN: Once again, a perfectly decent song has the tune and charm remixed, nay, obliterated out of it by some dickhead who should have known better.
MA: Musically, this lumberingly reduces Euro-dance down to its basest building-block elements, rather as Oasis's "Lyla" has managed to do for classic rock. It's barely musical. It's quite shockingly bad. Never again will I complain about the state of the UK Top 40. I never knew we had it so good.
MJ: Growing on me--even the original incarnation was quite nice to listen to. I prefer the remix, though, because it moves it into full Darren Hayes territory with the fusion of the beats and the melancholy. Darren's voice totally destroys this guy, thugh. Is this Zornik fellow also a coyly self-denying homosexual?
IM: I love those grainy particulate synths that underlie this track (and a million others), but the vocals are badly melodramatic. Maybe if he didn’t stretch out that third word in every line to infinity this would be more tolerable, but as it is this pop trance at its worst.
KG: With a name like Zornik I was expecting some sort of hamster-eating death metal outfit, but they look quite nice. I notice, however, that they played a gig on Saturday 21st of May, so they clearly didn't have any plans to watch the Eurovision.

7. MARIO - Let ME Love You
EO: 5, AG: 1, KG: 5, AP: 9, MJ: 3, SN: 0, JP: 8, MA: 6. ADJUSTED SCORE: 5

Oh, has there ever been a bigger discrepancy between how a song sounds like on paper (i.e. wannabe Usher warbles blatantly manufactured ‘soul’ ditty that attempts just that little too hard to be “Sexual Healing”), and how it actually sounds (i.e. still quite endearing, after all those radio and video plays)?
SN: To call this mediocre would be a disservice to every Jennifer Lopez movie ever made.
JP: I'm not a fan of r'n'b music and it's usually the big hits that annoy me most, but I inexplicably love this one. I'm not even slightly bored of it yet! Perhaps I need to see a doctor.
MA: Why does the presence of this ubiquitous internaional mega-hit not surprise me? I shall now go and stare wistfully through a window-pane, whilst pondering this further.

8. ANOUK - Lost
EO: 5, AG: 2, IM: 4, KG: 7, AP: 6, MJ: 0, SN: 5, JP: 8, MA: 2. ADJUSTED SCORE: 4

Look, this isn't my cup of blood, considering it's pretty much Toni Childs backed by a local chamber orchestra, but I can imagine people would find it pleasant, I just think it's missing a heart. Presumably, that's whats lost.
MA: Ooh, acoustic arpeggiated triplets! How "classic"!
MJ: Total shit--literally painful to listen to. Everything--the phrasing, the arrangement, the lyrics--smacks of a sub-par Shakira ballad. Truly awful. Killing-a-dead-cat-slowly awful.
AP: In one of my previous anoraky Flemish chart write-ups on, I wrote that this is “set to be another firm favourite with legions of teenage girls and gay men all over Holland and Flanders”. Now, heaven knows my taste has scarily much in common with said particular demographics, but this drama-queeny campfire ballad does very little for me for some reason or other. Nor do Anouk’s ever-inflating boobs in her videos.
SN: This is a lazy song, lazily sung, with lazy lyrics and a lazy structure (build and fade...yep, that's about it), so I'm going to make a lazy comparison: pleasant enough in a meandering Toni Childs/Tori Amos kind of way.
MA: And then there's that whole business with the dreadful extended free-form worldless moaning session towards the end, which aims for the searing intensity of something like Pink Floyd's "Great Gig In The Sky", but ends up sounding like a spoilt two year-old grizzling on because her mother wouldn't buy her an ice-cream. Woeful stuff indeed.
IM: It’s weird that she sings “your voice makes my skin crawl” like it’s a compliment, but I’m more than willing to attribute both that and the seemingly extreme level of drama in “Lost” to the fact that my sensibilities are not yet calibrated to the wider world of pop.
JP: I'm a huge Anouk fan but this is not her best. Listen to "Girl" for Anouk at her upbeat, feisty best. However, you must find the video for this - I won't spoil it for you but it's quite interesting!
KG: Anouk combines her gorgeous Beth Orton-esque vocals with a few surprisingly well-done clichés, such as your standard guitar arpeggios and lines like ‘If roses are meant to be red and violets to be blue, why isn’t my heart meant for you?’; an eternal question indeed.
EO: Being felt is often necessary, but not sufficient.
KG: I thought that the gloriously synthetic string section could have been better utilized by the introduction of a key change, but one can’t have it all.

9. GWEN STEFANI - Rich Girl
EO: 8, AG: 8, KG: 4, AP: 8, MJ: 2, SN: 5, JP: 10. MA: 7. ADJUSTED SCORE: 7

The rest of No Doubt would like to announce they are available for weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs etc...
MJ: I'll never forgive her for not releasing "The Real Thing" as a single.

10. MILK INC. - Blind
EO: 8, AG: 10, IM: 7, KG: 6, AP: 7, MJ: 6, SN: 3, MA: 8. ADJUSTED SCORE: 7

: How reassuring to learn that over in the Benelux nations, a candle still burns for Ye Olde Euro-Trance. As such, this is a perfectly adequate example, which wouldn't have disgraced the pen of a Paul Van Dyk or an Ian Van Dahl.
EO: Gorgeous and pumping but ever so slightly dead inside, kind of like a kiss-off from a sexy newsreader.
AG: It's the perfect song to get into a car listening to, drive through some dark tunnels, enjoy the Mr T reference, weave through tunnels harassing old people who are driving too slow, and then arrive in time to see your honey winking at you at the club door. In other words - top of the pops.
IM: Coldly dismissive on the surface, possibly fighting back tears beneath, and much better for it. More of those incrementally propulsive synth treatments I love, more interesting lyrics and delivery than this sort of song normally gets, and I know this is the radio edit, but it’s nice to see them get their business done in under four minutes.
MA: "I'm just a mammary!", the singer declares movingly, accompanied by NOT one but TWO epic breakdowns in the course of the four minutes (now there's value for you), along with a sound effect which sounds rather like the faulty ignition engine on a 1970s Vauxhall Viva.
KG: My first reaction was ‘Ow! It hurts my brain! Make it stop!’. But then it made me dance around the kitchen, and we all like soft-core vocal trance now and then.
AP: Strays not one inch from the established Milk Inc. hit formula but then, does their core fanbase expect any different? Their fifteenth Top 10 hit over here, leaping over Britney’s 14, I’m not sure whether that is a case of pop justice or injustice.
SN: Not really a song that grabs your love and attention, is it? Mind you, if you're the sort to flail around to this while using chemicals that erode your frontal lobe, I expect that doesn't really matter.

Phew. How exhaustive. Belgium scores 51 points thanks to the most divided lot of comments ever, and Laura Lynn is the clear favourite of the round, and as such she gets posted. Eventually I will get around to updating the leaderboard and bringing all the old results forward...

Well done, Laura Lynn.


At 8:03 AM, Blogger mike said...

Ah. So Laura Lynn sings in Dutch, does she? Not Flemish after all?

Oh dear.

At 6:19 AM, Blogger Geoff said...

Flemish isn't a separate language. It's effectively just the Belgian Dialect of Dutch - the differences are relatively minor, and certainly no more than the difference between say the differences in English between London & Scotland, possibly even less so. Dutch is mainly described as Flemish in Belgium, partly for political reasons.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Andries said...

Thank you kindly Geoff, for explaining that so adequately (saves me having to hold my lengthy "what language do you speak then?" exposition for an umpteenth time).

In reply to "Is this Zornik fellow also a coyly self-denying homosexual?": well, he plays a self-loathing drag queen in the video and is only ever seen in public wearing make-up, but apparently he's straight as a string. Make of that what you will.

At 2:21 AM, Blogger mike said...

I had an interesting comment on my blog about the Belgian chart system, from someone who works in the biz over there:

"Interesting and fun reviews over at Umlauts although, I noticed a slight discrepency with the 'Belgian top 10'. True to form the Belgians have quite a different system when it comes to their 'Ultratop' Charts. Not one, not two but three charts. The two majors communities have their own charts and to bring them all together they have the 'National Charts'. The singles which were reviewed where only taken from the Flemish Top Ten and not the National Top Ten - ok ok I'm nit picking 80)"

At 4:58 AM, Blogger Edward O said...

Ah, yes I did know about the Belgian chart discrepancy, but I thought that since the one I used was the one on the slightly-dodgy it might be the right one. Plus, my resident Belgian expert (hi Andries) has never scolded me about this, so I assumed I was right on that score too. Oh well!

(The reason I left the Dutch AND Flemish comments in was that I didn't know who was right and didn't want to reveal my ignorance. Ho ho ho)

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Andries said...

Oh, I have long given up on trying to explain the various every-day intricacies of Belgian federalism to foreigners, when they will most likely have forgotten about it the next time anyway!

I'd be interested to know who that is that "works in the biz" though. *heads over to Mike's blog*


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