Saturday, 27 February 2016

Eurovision: You Decide (2016)

Written 27th February 2016.

It's that time of year again, folks - time for us to choose our Eurovision entry. The last time we actually did that was a whole six years ago - and, as it happens, I discussed that car-crash of a show then, too. As with all of Nostalgia Filter's up-to-the-minute breaking news, I've decided to discuss the program, half to carry on the proud tradition I kind-of began all those years ago and half to vent about the current state of the UK's position in the content and the BBC's misguided attempts to put us back on the right track.

Dulcima - "When You Go"

Posh hippy bohemians with a full band of folksy instrumentalists, Dulcima were a duo composed of singers Dulcima and Thomas, the latter of whom wrote the song. The actual song was fairly upbeat and catchy, with the central melody still stuck in my head afterwards, even if the words disappeared into the sort of slurring high-pitched chirping employed by the likes of the Lumineers. The song ends with a nice little anthemic bit which would probably go down very well in the hall in Stockholm - but folksy acts play all the time at Eurovision, and not a single one has ever won. There's definitely an image problem that the two bring to the table - Macedonia can get away with presenting their local flavour, but if we do it looks a bit like we don't really care. 6/10.

Matthew James - "A Better Man"

My instant least favourite of the six songs, A Better Man is by Matthew James, former lead singer of "Bad Boys Inc", a boyband who broke the UK Top Ten once in their whirlwind two-year existence in the mid-Nineties. Because of this, James' vocal style sounds very much like pre-breakup Take That and feels like an instant throwback of the kind that sank the UK's chances in 2007 and 2010. Employed with creating a bastion of positivity (something which happened in 2010 as well, unfortunately), the judges tried to make out how "intimate" and "well-crafted" the song was - even as it was obvious (thanks to several repetitions during the voting recaps) that James was consistently out of tune throughout the song. 4/10.

Darline - "Until Tomorrow"

"Until Tomorrow" is a folksy pop song by young duo Darline, two girls with beaming smiles, the slight air of charming amateurism and acoustic guitars. There were some countryish vibes, which always go down well at Eurovision (well, recently anyway), and a great deal of quite good harmonization from the pair. It feels like a Eurovision song, and it felt like a song that would give the UK credibility in the way that Molly did in 2014. Darline was the act I voted for, and I was really, really worried that they wouldn't do well - but most of the feedback from the judges, at least, was fairly positive, with former winner Katrina noting that, "this is the kind of song that Europe would vote for." 9/10.

Karl William Lund - "Miracle"

Karl was a minor YouTube celebrity five years ago, and his song "Miracle" is about his brother's battle with cancer. I think some of the vocals are a bit shakey, but it is catchy (I'm writing this a day later and it's the main one stuck in my head) and I can imagine it representing us in Stockholm. Miracle seemed to get the biggest reaction last night, and the fact that Lund doesn't need much work doing on his look meant that it kinda felt like we had a pre-built package to send to Sweden. It wasn't my favourite song of the night, but I wouldn't have been sad if it had won. 8/10.

Bianca - "Shine a Little Light"

Quite possibly the bookie's favourite, Bianca, like Matthew James, was a member of a girl group, but that group disbanded last year rather than twenty-one years ago. Bianca has a contemporary sound with elements of light reggae and vocals that are very evocative of one the song's writers, Leona Lewis. Shine a Little Light is a classic Eurovision power-ballad, and yet another song which would have gone down a storm in Stockholm. Bianca's strange red gown with train needed a little bit of fashion advice, but even that was a sign that she was the correct choice to send to Eurovision. I chose Darline because I personally enjoyed their performance more, but like Karl William Lund, I still would have been pretty chuffed if Bianca had been elected. 9/10.

Joe and Jake - "You're Not Alone"

And finally, the first song of this sextet that was released last Monday on the Ken Bruce BBC Radio 2 morning show. Joe and Jake are "musicians" who became "famous" by both being on the 2015 series of The Voice UK, something true of one-half of last year's outfit Electro Velvet (with the qualifier that these guys actually got through into some stages while she was rejected completely.) You're Not Alone is not a bad song - it has a... let's say "modern" sound and it doesn't sound completely out of place at Eurovision. The two lads are enthusiastic about their song, but their live performance left a bitterly amateur taste in the air, and their "singing in the pub on the corner" aesthetic meant that I really wasn't impressed. It's a mediocre combination of stuff - I've heard several different descriptions of the two lads - I especially love the Telegraph's "Two fifths of an alternate universe One Direction." 5/10.

The Show Itself

It did feel like the producers of this show were taking things more seriously, even if there were some good jokes in their from mel Giedroyc. The whole show was plagued by technical issues throughout, which did worry me slightly, with the ghostly voice of Scott Mills occasionally announcing Mel's presence on stage half-way through her monologues and the amazing moment when Katrina's microphone distorted into some satanic-sounding blur. The interval acts during the voting and the voting tally were a tribute to the late Terry Wogan, a performance of "Love Shine a Light" from Katrina's winning 1997 contest and, bizarrely, a montage of the best moments from the BBC's 60th Anniversary Eurovision tribute broadcast in April last year.
      One thing I wish they'd scrap is the whole endless positivity crap, because other European countries who do these types of shows don't do that. Why? Because it produces crappy songs. This was one of the few times where endless positivity-producer Carrie Grant, vocal coach and former Eurovision singer, actually tried to produce some constructive criticism, but was so booed by the crowd that she didn't really get a chance.

Final Result

In 2015, we sent an amateur singer and a primary-school music teacher to Eurovision. In terms of points, they achieved the United Kingdom's worst score since nul points in 2003. The British public voted, and decided this year to send a PE Teacher and a former Garden Centre employee. Joe and Jake, two amateur singers who happened to be on The Voice, are going to be our representatives in Stockholm. I can't say I'm not disappointed, but I guess that's what happens. Let's just look forward to Stockholm and hope that Europe like our lads.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

Review: Voyager 4.2: The Gift

Kes says one final goodbye (Shush, Fury isn't, like, a thing.)
Star Trek Voyager - Season Four, Episode Two - The Gift
Written between 30th January and 8th February 2016.

Seven of Nine and Kes share a surprising number of attributes. They're both attractive blond women from very alien cultures who help serve as an audience avatar when the rest of the crew explain things to them. They occupy the same spot in the credits and they both have unique abilities which help the show's writers make stories more interesting. But there's a very key difference between them - Kes was a background character who rarely ended up having a huge effect on the show, while Seven of Nine practically takes over the show for the rest of its run. The Gift is the meeting of two worlds - Kes' definite goodbye and Seven's incredible hello.
     Janeway and crew are trying to help Seven adapt to being disconnected from the Borg, something which the drone greatly resents. As they attempt to treat her, her body now beginning to reject the Borg implants, Kes begins displaying greater telepathic and telekinetic powers. Seemingly brought on by the recent encounter with the telepathic Species 8472, she begins to be able to wield her powers in much greater magnitudes. She uses her mental powers to save Seven's life, and Tuvok begins attempting to train her again like he did in Cold Fire. Janeway tries to have Seven help to remove the Borg technology fused to the ship, but in a moment of opportunity she knocks out Harry and attempts to contact her people. Kes begins to turn incorporeal and to save the ship and herself, she leaves Voyager on a shuttle. As a last gift to the crew who gave her so much, she launches Voyager 10,000ly forward - taking 10 years off of their journey home, and taking them far out of Borg Space. Seven is finally convinced to come round, and The Doctor fits her with a catsuit and a bionic eye.
   Harry Kim couldn't go, but the show couldn't afford to keep him and another actor, so the writers decided to get rid of Kes. As irritated as I am by how much Kes' development felt a little stunted and misdirected over the course of the first three seasons, her departure is at least the culmination of a character arc, with her slowly becoming more independent and headstrong as time went on. The way that it was tied into the examination of Ocampan abilities from Caretaker and Cold Fire felt like a very neat tie back to the show's beginnings, and helped to blend Kes' story with Seven's in a way which felt both tragic and necessary. I really don't see why they couldn't have removed Neelix instead - he was hated by the fans at the time, and the fact he was often coupled with Kes was one of his few saving graces. (Although, as I've said in some of my other reviews, Neelix can be a good character if he tries.)
From one unique female character onto the next.
     The episode's main moral quandary was one that was very much tied into the entire concept of The Borg - the nature of individuality, and of individual freedom. The Federation purports to be the ultimate in individual freedom - there is no money, so everything you do is towards making yourself better, and the galaxy better in general. Want to become a starship pilot? Go ahead, we'll train you up, give you a ship, off you go. Want to be a cook? Go on, enjoy yourself scamp. The Borg, on the other hand, is the most exaggerated nightmare of statism and communism - every being a drone with no individual thought, every action done for the good of the collective. The question that this episode asked was thus: by how much does having been a Borg remove one's ability to hold individual thought once they are disconnected. The answer seems to be, entirely. Seven, now separated from the collective, demands to be reunited with it, but Janeway tells her that, ironically, she no longer has the right to make that choice. I know they had to make this work to keep the character in the show, but it does make Janeway sound a little controlling and hypocritical - especially due to the fact she doesn't even have a long consideration about it.
      Kes' departure from the show and Seven's integration into the cast set forth a new era for the show. It didn't exactly reinvent itself in the way that DS9 managed to do two years earlier, but it did manage to take a show that was spiralling in mediocrity and provide its best season and some of the show's best episodes. The Gift feels a little disparate from the first two parts of this trilogy of story, but I think that's kind of the point - Kes' departure is important, and her decision to leave and launch the crew forward 10,000ly begins the point in the show where Voyager's attempts to find shortcuts home actually work. It's a great departure for Kes, a great development piece for Seven of Nine, and it showed the bright new direction the show was headed in.


NEXT WEEK: We finally bring the Tom/B'Elanna romance to a head with the B'Elanna-centric Day of Honor.