Eurovision 2012 Preview

1. Albania - Rona Nishliu - "Suus"
She's singing in Albanian and has quite a strong voice, with a ballad giving her some good opportunities to show it off. The problem will, of course, be that nobody much speaks Albanian, and there's much less of a chorus here than there should be, which could count against her as well. The fact that she's a Kosovar may be a political issue, too. Still, with a big presentation - which Albania often delivers - she may do well.

2. Austria - Trackshittaz - "Wocki mit deim Popo"
It's hip-hop. It's in a very distinctive dialect and it requires roughly 3 brain cells to appreciate. We know there's been a long tradition of dialect entries going nowhere (most of them being Austrian, too), but this is just so bad that it's almost good. Honestly, if you're not secretly singing along to the chorus, you're probably not really listening to it. Either one to watch or one to run from, and I haven't worked out which.

3. Azerbaijan - Sabina Babayeva - "When the Music Dies"
Another ballad, it appears, from the hosts, who do seem to have a tradition emerging in this style. I rate this as a better song than Albania's ballad, as it seems to have a stronger performance behind it. Still, it's not the kind of thing that would be overly remarkable were it not for the Contest being in Baku as it is. There are some very impressive moments, though, and it should get a good reaction.

4. Bosnia - Maya Sar - "Korake ti znam"
More Bosnian balladry, and I'm glad of that as they have a very strong ability in this vein. Maya's apparently backed everyone who's anyone in the region, including Dino and Toni (she was Dino's pianist last year). Her voice is warmer than Sabina and Rona, and it's more of a "traditional" ballad than either of the others so far. The song takes a little while to build, but when it does it's really very pretty. It can't hold a candle to Dino last year, but then very few things can.

5. Belgium - Iris - "Would You"
It's turning into the Balladvision Song Contest this year, I think, which is perhaps not surprising given what won last year. Iris is singing in English, and delivers a ballad with a sense of a relationship coming to an end. There's a touch of country in the upper registers, too, which makes a pleasant change. The song is best described as "pleasant", rather than anything else, but then that was roughly what I thought of Tom Dice a few years ago, and he turned Belgium's record on its head.

6. Bulgaria - Sofi Marinova - "Love Unlimited"
Apparently a bit of a gypsy-pop performer here, which is a nice inclusion. Despite the song title, she's singing in Bulgarian, although there are lyrics in multiple languages as the chorus builds up. Frankly, it sounds less gypsy and more like a strange hi-NRG song from the early 1990s, but that may not be such a bad thing. It certainly stands out on the CD at the very least, and the multilingual bit may help (or hinder unbelievably, not sure which...). I don't really want to like it as much as I seem to.

7. Belarus - Litesound - "We Are The Heroes"
After the sonic abortion that was last year's entry, we have something infinitely better than that. It's sort of electropop this year, with very inspirational lyrics. Catchy chorus, too, with lots of synth going on. If the vocalist can avoid the temptation to perform as if he's in the 1980s, this could do a lot better than many Belarussian entries of late. Rather a lot of fun, strangely enough.

8. Switzerland - Sinplus - "Unbreakable"
A Swiss duo who apparently perform "britpop" (remember the last time they tried that?). It ain't bad, but the vocals are rather too earnest, and the lyrics seem to have been cut-and-pasted from a variety of other sources. A good performance could save this from oblivion, but I'm not remotely sold on a first listen.

9. Cyprus - Ivi Adamou - "La La Love"
Up-tempo pop from a country that speaks Greek. Who would've guessed? Well, following last year, I guess it can be treated as a surprise. It's catchy as all hell and has a strong beat to it, so I'm hoping there'll be lots of movement and colour. To be fair, as often happens with songs like this, if there's too much of those things the song might get lost as it's not exactly too robust. Still, lots of fun, and it may well shine through if surrounded by all the ballads everyone seems intent on sending.

10. Germany - Roman Lob - "Standing Still"
The first person who isn't Lena to represent Germany since as far back as Moscow, so Roman's got some big shoes to fill. It's a male ballad, which is in itself distinctive so far, and has a strange kind of drum beat leading it along. I like his vocals, even though he sounds a little bit too sleepy to be a real singer. It's not the world's most exciting song, but given that we now know that two of the Big Five (Germany and Azerbaijan) are entering ballads, he may be able to pull something off. Not a winner, though, I don't think.

11. Denmark - Soluna Samay - "Should've Known Better"
A Guatemalan with German and Swiss ancestry representing Denmark. That sounds about right. Soluna's singing a female-vocal ballad, but with a lot of a country influence to it. This is the kind of song which is going to demand repeat listens, and is really growing on me even just over one listen. Will it necessarily have enough "punch" on a first or second hearing to do well? Hard to say. It's definitely a good track, though.

12. Estonia - Ott Lepland - "Kuula"
He's singing a ballad, which shouldn't surprise anyone, but it's in Estonian, which is a brave choice in this day and age. To be fair, the last time Estonia submitted a ballad in the local language was Moscow 2009 and "Rändajad" recorded their best result in years. "Kuula" reminds me a lot of its predecessor, frankly, in that it builds relatively slowly and then packs a powerful hit when you think it's not going to. There's not much I can pick wrong with it, and for that reason even if nothing else I'm going to have it as one of my favourites.

13. Spain - Pastora Soler - "Quedate Conmigo"
The third of the Big Five, and the one historically least likely to ballad it up, has given us a ballad as well. Unlike Azerbaijan with an RnB ballad, Spain's got something more traditional sounding, with a young girl with a big voice singing about love. Frankly, though, I'm not sold. That's not because it's another ballad, but rather because the song sounds too "safe". I get the distinct impression that Pastora wouldn't mind being able to really sing her heart out, and she doesn't get the chance until the key change.

14. Finland - Pernilla - "När jag blundar"
Finland singing in Swedish is an interesting choice, and this is quite an interesting song. For the first verse, I genuinely had no idea how to describe it, but I think "folk-pop" may come close. There's a certain cascading sense to the tune which is very enjoyable, and Pernilla's vocals are a bit off-kilter, which should stand out in a year where most vocalists are happy to belt out massive high notes. As with Denmark, I think this will benefit from repeated listens, but the Contest will only allow her to sing (at most) twice, which may count against her.

15. France - Anggun - "Echo (You and I)"
It's no secret that I've been waiting for this for a while. Anggun has one of the best voices in music, and her abilities in French are legend. This song, moreover, makes the best use of both - there's a gloriously smoky ambience to the whole thing, with some interesting up-tempo moments as well. The decision to have part of the chorus in English is sure to provoke commentary (especially since she's bound to do better than Sebastien Tellier in Belgrade), but I doubt the French could criticise this entry on any serious level. This song is, quite simply, brilliant. There is a real sense of possibility for a song like this in a year like this.

16. UK - Engelbert Humperdinck - "Love Will Set You Free"
If he were singing anything but a ballad, I'd have been stunned. Roughly 40 years ago, the UK would've been in with a shot with this. To be fair, given that every man and his dog is singing a ballad this year, perhaps they still would be given that the arch-balladeer is up on stage. Probably not, though, as it does seem to cross the line from good to tacky a bit too easily.

17. Georgia - Anri Jokhadze - "I'm A Joker"
With Armenia staying at home, this is the only other Caucasian entry this year aside from our hosts, and this is actually quite impressive. It starts off in cod-operatic territory, before Anri decides he wants to sing in a nightclub and takes his backing singers with him. It's a tad confusing exactly what he's trying to do here, but I'm rather reminded of Armenia's debut entry all those years ago (and can hear Terry Wogan's signature line of the "whiff of the souq"). A lot will depend on how this song is performed, as a good performance will probably help people forget that it doesn't really make sense. Of course, if Anri sounds the way he does on the CD, that may be irrelevant. For better or worse...

18. Greece - Eleftheria Eleftheriou - "Aphrodisiac"
Thankfully, Greece can be pretty much counted on to submit crazy up-tempo music most years, and this is no exception. There's more than a bit of "Secret Combination" going on here, and Eleftheria is actually a transplated Cypriot (must be something in the water this year). The usual comments about paper-thin lyrics and the need for a brilliant production can be made, but we've heard them all before about Hellas, and they never seem to matter. This is fun, and that's what matters.

19. Croatia - Nina Badric - "Nebo"
Another female Balkan ballad, which is on balance probably a good thing. Nina's voice is a bit husky, which seems to work well, and the chorus is quite big, which also works well. I'm not sure she really hits this song as hard as she could - or perhaps should - but it's definitely not bad. I suspect there'll be either backing singers or dancers with big sleeves here. Don't ask me why, it's just how these things are done.

20. Hungary - Compact Disco - "Sound of our Hearts"
Don't let the name fool you, this isn't some kind of crazy funk outfit (shame, really). What it is, is a sort of 80s electropop number, one of those near-ballads that were quite popular at the time. Vocally, I like it, and the lyrics are better than I'd initially thought. What doesn't work, though, is the keyboardist's constant desire to experiment with weird effects in what are meant to be the quiet moments. It doesn't quite have enough to hang your hat on, but it ain't far off.

21. Ireland - Jedward - "Waterline"
Last year, Ireland demonstrated that its long tradition in Eurovision didn't matter if it wanted to enter complete rubbish (and yes, despite what some have said, "Lipstick" even made "Love?" sound like Shakespeare). Jedward are back, and to be fair this song is a million times better than last year's. They are still Jedward, though, and are bound to perform in an obnxious way with lighting designed to cause epileptic fits. I guess you could almost call this a ballad, and given that it's got a bit of oomph to it, we may have to put up with them in the final again. At times like this, you wonder what you did in a past life to warrant it, though.

22. Israel - Izabo - "Time"
Now this is something very different. It's a group entry for Israel, which they haven't really tried since Teapacks. They're meant to be a bit psychedelic, and perhaps that's just shorthand these days for "weird", because there's a lot going on here. Unlike other Israeli entries where lots has been going on, I'm not sure much of this is really necessary. Perhaps most concerning, the chorus is entirely forgettable. Still, full marks for the uniqueness, and in a relatively uninspiring year so far, perhaps we may be looking at a bit of success for Israel.

23. Iceland - Greta Salome and Jonsi - "Never Forget"
I really wish Iceland didn't have to translate their entries all the time to have a chance, but in this case they really are onto something. Jonsi of course had that wonderful voice nearly a decade ago in Istanbul (was it really that long?) and the duet here - yes, it's a ballad - is bloody marvellous. There's a kind of folky sensibility to this, and it nearly sounds Irish, which perhaps says a lot for those plucky Vikings. Absolutely loving every second of this, and I'm excited to see how Iceland plays out this year.

24. Italy - Nina Zilli - "L'Amore E Femmina"
Nina, I'm told, is a big name in Italy, and we've got another bilingual entry from the newly resurgent Italians. It's got a bit of a jazzy feel to it, too, but in more of the Shirley Bassey way, as against last year's ragtime. This is a real contender, to be frank. Big voice, but restrained enough to make you want more, catchy melody with a big beat leading it, and surely a standout performance. Anggun's path to victory may not be quite so simple.

25. Lithuania - Donny Montell - "Love Is Blind"
Donatas Montvydas to his friends, Donny's going the male-ballad route, but don't let that fool you. He has the voice to back it up, which he'll need since the music starts off almost acapella. After the first chorus, he's able to relax a bit, since it's not the traditional ballad, and in fact has a fair touch of the disco to it. This shouldn't work, and generally speaking it never does, but Donny is the exception to this rule. There's a lot to like here.

26. Latvia - Anmary - "Beatiful Song"
Oh dear. She begins by hymning the praises of Mr Eurovision himself (Sir Johnny of Logan) and then goes on to sing about how wonderful life will be when she wins Eurovision. The problem here is not that it's not amusing - it is - but that it's being performed the wrong way. The way to do a song like this was demonstrated conclusively by LT United with "We Are The Winners", in that you don't let people argue with how utterly ridiculous you are. Because this is a ballad of sorts, Anmary's letting people contradict her, and I think they'll punish her for that.

27. Moldova - Pasha Parfeny - "Lautar"
Now you're talking. This is the gypsy pop I was hoping to hear somewhere this year, and it happens to be Moldova bringing it. The best way to describe this would be to take Zdob si Zdub and de-fang them a little bit, while keeping the brass section. It actually sounds better than that, and I suspect that there'll be a really good performance to back it up. As a song, it's also stupidly catchy, and again is very likely to stand out in a year of ballads.

28. Montenegro - Rambo Amadeus - "Euro Neuro"
Montenegro celebrates their return to the big dance with one of their leading musical exponents. In saying that, he's a leading musical exponent the way that Frank Zappa is of the USA, and this is one of the strangest things that's ever going to get onstage (a list which of course includes Rodolfo). This is unutterably weird, and I don't think it's going to go well. Still, it has a lot of charm in the sense of "what on earth are you thinking?"

29. Macedonia - Kaliopi - "Crno i belo"
Another female-vocal Balkan ballad, and performed by a real veteran of the scene. Kaliopi's voice is definitely a highlight, as there's a fragility and smokiness involved here, and I certainly wasn't expecting the rock elements to turn up when they did, and definitely not in the amount that they do. This is quite impressive, although it's by no means catchy, and that may end up counting as a negative.

30. Malta - Kurt Calleja - "This Is The Night"
After a serious disappointment last year, Malta turns up with a hi-NRG number (no real surprises there, as they do so roughly once every two years). Kurt is a pleasant enough vocalist, and the lyrics aren't overly demanding. As is often the case, in fact, this sounds like something that could easily have been Swedish given half a chance. I'd like to see this do well, and this may theoretically happen with a large number of slow songs on the cards. The performance will be the key here, as I'm reminded a little bit of Martin Vucic of Macedonia many years ago, who had a wonderful song but seemed to be glued to the stage.

31. The Netherlands - Joan Franka - "You And Me"
It's folk, it's a bit country, and Joan has a stereotypical Dutch accent (despite being of Turkish descent). I really can't stop thinking of the 1970s during this song, to the extent that I wouldn't be surprised if dear old Mouth or MacNeal had been involved here. This is much more fun than I'd feared. It's highly unlikely to win, but it should be one of the better Dutch entries of recent years, just purely because it's enjoyable and simple.

32. Norway - Tooji - "Stay"
Tooji hails from Norway by way of Iran, which definitely shows how multicultural Eurovision can be when it's staged somewhere odd, and this song got some big reviews when it was announced as an entry. There's more than just a bit of Eric Saade about him, and I mean that in the best possible way, as it's a genuine up-tempo number and should come complete with tricky choreography, something which is sorely lacking in this year's crop. The chorus is a big one, and that also boosts his standings. I'm going to put him into my top grouping, frankly.

33. Portugal - Filipa Sousa - "Vida Minha"
Portugal has achieved its best results in ages with the recent crop of female ballads with a folky influence, and Filipa does just that. It's not Flor-de-Lis, but I doubt anything ever will be again - we should probably be more grateful that it's not last year's hilarious weirdness. This is a lovely little ballad, with lots of Mediterranean feel to it, and Filipa could easily do well with it. There may be a case of the language barrier, but recent Portuguese results have shown that there doesn't have to be. Definitely one to watch.

34. Romania - Mandinga - "Zaleilah"
[There being no Poland, due to football-hosting commitments]. Romania can be just about always counted on to bring something wonderful to the stage, and this year is no exception, with a sort of Spanish-gypsy feel to the whole thing. It's the nearly traditional language-soup entry that Romania and Moldova love to do, and I suspect there'll be lots of movement and excitement onstage. If there is, there's no reason this won't do well.

35. Serbia - Zeljko Joksimovic - "Nije Ljubav Stvar"
He's back, ladies and gentlemen! While Sakis Rouvas wasn't able to pull off the feat of competitor-host-winner, the Great Zeljko (probably the best voice in the Balkans since we lost Tose too young) will try to go one better as competitor-host-composer-winner. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we have a Balkan Ballad to do it with, and being that it's performed by a master of the form, there's very little not to like. I'd make the usual comments that he needs to sell it in his performance and all, but there's no doubt that he will. This will do well, and the real question is whether he'll be challenging Anggun and Nina. I think he will.

36. Russia - Buranovskiye Babushki - "Party for Everybody"
The oldest competitors in history (beating Engelbert), and the second real novelty song of the year. It's ridiculous and stupid, of course, but full marks for singing in Udmurt (yes, really) and actually having the guts to do this. I can't wait to see what the old dears get up to on stage.

37. Sweden - Loreen - "Euphoria"
You know it's a bad sign when, after listening to the Melodifestivalen entries, I can't remember a note of the winner. Listening to it again, I can understand why, too. Loreen appears to have been given a Carola song to perform. She does it reasonably well, and it's no mean feat to be able to handle a song that goes from quiet to LOUD at a moment's notice. It's just that there's not much really happening here, and that's going to count against her.

38. Slovenia - Eva Boto - "Verjamem"
Would you believe me if I said this is another female-vocal Balkan ballad? Eva's voice is quite pleasant, and I have no objection to the song, but there's more than an element of "heard it before" in there, and with ballad after ballad being the theme of the show this year, I'm sure I won't be the only person thinking that. It's a middle-of-the-pack sort of thing, I'd say.

39. Slovakia - Max Jason Bai - "Don't Close Your Eyes"
OK, I wasn't expecting this. From a country that has submitted nothing but ballads since its debut, we have an honest balls-out rocker. Where the hell did THAT come from? More to the point, Max actually has some serious vocal chops (and has a band with quite decent musical ones, too). It's catchier than a lot of Eurovision-rockers, to boot. Dammit if this isn't one I'm going to get behind!

40. Valentina Monetta - "The Social Network Song"
Herr Meinunger should have known better - aside from the commercialism angle - than to write this absolute garbage. There's so much wrong with this, and the real shame is that I'm not sure it's a novelty entry. It's stupidly catchy, uses too many Facebook-related terms to sound remotely normal, and is generally just silly.

41. Turkey - Can Bonomo - "Love Me Back"
A Turk of Sephardic descent sounds interesting, and there's a hint of klezmer in the music, which I've never been able to say about a Eurovision entry before. Can's voice is really unusual, and I think that's going to be his strongest asset as the song itself doesn't quite seem to stand up too well. It's not the big dance number that Turkey often brings to the table (and it certainly isn't the rocker they've taken to lately). Possibly the best description is a sea shanty in places. Very interesting.

42. Ukraine - Gaitana - "Be My Guest"
Despite Poland pleading football, their co-hosts Ukraine have no objection to entering the more important show, which is nice. We begin the song with a sort of horn that sounds very Ruslana, then we move to a big disco number, being performed by - wait for this - an Afro-Ukrainian. I can't quite believe my ears, but this is disco-soul exactly as it should be done. Really impressive, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Ukraine continue its presence at the pointy end of the table. This is quite simply something very unexpected.

So, based on the 42 entries, I think the ones to watch are: France, Italy, Serbia, Norway, Estonia and Slovakia. If even hald of those get to where I think they should, that'll be a very interesting leaderboard.

In which I despair for English spelling

[It's been quiet recently due to computer issues, which may be sorted out soon enough]

In the last few weeks, two major news outlets and one of my colleagues at the bank have demonstrated that spelling is apparently no longer compulsory.

At the bank, we offer customers "keywords" to help the ID process over the phone. Best practice is, understandably, to get them to spell the word if it's one we couldn't catch or one which could be spelled differently. Thus, you can imagine my dismay when speaking with a very heavily-accented South African customer whose keyword was meant to be "Mandela" but had somehow been spelled as "Modella". Admittedly, the accent can be quite strong and that may have explained it, but I had to mark the correct keyword as wrong and then ID him another way. Thankfully, I could do that and then re-set the keyword.

Channel 9 recently ran a report about waiting times to see specialist doctors in Queensland. Specialist doctors always have very complicated job titles, and most of these were spelled correctly - apart from "ophthalmologist", which was both spelled and pronounced as "opthamologist" in the report. Given what I know about the reporter in question, perhaps this isn't too surprising.

Channel 7 ran a report just yesterday about a "grissly find", presumably meaning a dead body or something. If this were the case, the find is in fact "grisly". In the unlikely case that the find was covered in or made up of gristle from meat, it would have been "gristly".

For the benefit of my international readers

I was going to write about the fun of the secondment (which is seriously the best thing to happen at work in a very long time), but with the floods I should probably let everyone know that Krista and I are entirely OK and should continue to be even after the big peaks tomorrow.

They got us to leave the CBD yesterday - Tuesday - morning with work to take home. The plan was that today would be the worst of it and then we could return on Thursday, but things with floods have a tendency to develop quickly, and the peak of the flood should be at about 4AM tomorrow (Thursday) morning, with another one roughly 12hrs later.

First things first. The floods are serious. Several major roads are flooded, as are places like the CBD and the UQ campus at St Lucia. The river has burst its banks all over the place and apparently most of the ferry/CityCat pontoons are underwater. The expectation is that it will take a lot of work to get the ferries etc working again. Dad lives in the CBD, and he and his wife have evacuated because their building was going to lose power. The CBD overall has no power, in fact.
As for our area, we're safe as I said earlier. We live near a creek, so there have been some concerns, but everything's worked out the way I hoped it would so far. We have no Foxtel for the moment, but power and phones and the like are fine.

As a bit of geography for those who haven't been here, we live on a T-Junction. Our street is the horizontal bar of the T and is slightly higher than the vertical bar, which is the one backing onto the creek.
The other street has flooded and has been mainly evacuated. Even with the peaks tomorrow being another metre or so of water, our best estimates are that we'll be entirely dry. Despite that, we've taken some things from our garage and moved them to Mum's place, which is nowhere near the floods.

Tomorrow does promise to be an interesting experience, though. Any streets towards the creek will be at least covered in water, so we'll need to be careful getting around the place. Beyond that, though, we're going to be all good.