For the first (and possibly last) in our series of guest posts, Twin Monarch invited musical misanthrope Fergal Stockton to give his thoughts on Ireland’s entry for Eurovision 2017.
I have two things to declare before I dive into my analysis of what is arguably Ireland’s most bizarre Eurovision entry since Sheeba’s 1981 anti-astrology diatribe ‘Horoscopes’ (sample lyric: “Don’t let the planets take control of our lives, Believe in the truth and not celestial lies”).
Firstly, I have no issues with the singer, Brendan. His voice is different, it’s unique, and it’s about all the song has going for it. Plus, by all accounts, he’s a nice guy. This article is purely about the songwriting, so you’ll find no petty insults here.
Secondly, I submitted a track into the song contest that ultimately chose ‘Dying To Try’, so the following points are all drawn from the bitter pool of rejection that stagnates at the bottom of my heart.
1. What is up with the structure?
The strangest thing about ‘Dying To Try’ is its structure. It is, to put it mildly, ‘unconventional’. I had to listen to the song multiple times before I got a sense of where the various sections began and ended. Call me old fashioned but I like it when a pop song starts with a verse, followed by a chorus, then another verse, another chorus, maybe a middle 8, then a final chorus or two. From what I can tell, the structure (with timings) of ‘Dying To Try’ is as follows.
Live-Blogging ‘Dying To Try’:
0:00 – First verse. Decent opening. Simple but atmospheric balladry.
0:47 – Pre-Chorus. Hey, this is a nice section! I look forward to hearing it again later in the song!
1:04 – Over a minute in and we finally reach the chorus. It’s not exactly a belter, but I imagine he’ll throw in some impassioned vocal stylings the next time the chorus comes around.
1:46 – The first chorus ends. Hmm…that seemed a bit long. We’re already halfway through the song – I wonder how he’ll fit in another verse and pre-chorus.
1:47 – Wait, what? Is this the chorus starting again? Bit soon, isn’t it?
2:06 – Hang on, so that was just a ‘half chorus’, and now we have the full chorus starting again (again)? This time with bonus key change!
2:42 – Oh, he’s repeating the last line of the chorus. This is the pop equivalent of a victory lap at the end of a race. I guess I won’t be hearing that nice pre-chorus again after all.
2:53 – Oh well, at least we get to hear the first line of the verse again at the end. At least I think that’s what it is, because by now I have forgotten what the verse sounded like.
“Hey Brendan, does this song have a key change?”
2. Why on earth is the structure so weird?
Those of you who have seen Zack Snyder’s superhero punch-up ‘Batman Versus Superman’ will know that it’s an incomprehensible mess. That’s largely because it was a 4-hour movie that was edited down to 2-and-a-half hours. Apparently, the studio demanded a shorter running time, so a lot of subplots, scenes of character development, etc, had to be cut out, rendering the movie an incoherent crock of nonsense.
I imagine that that’s what’s happened here with ‘Dying To Try’. Eurovision rules state that songs must be a maximum of 3 minutes. Most likely, the songwriters had a 4-minute song lying around, chopped it up and Frankensteined it back together again into something vaguely song-like. The second verse, and basically anything that wasn’t a chorus, got the chop. I could be wrong of course, but I still hope that one day I’ll get to hear the original 7 minute version complete with 6 verses and a sax solo.
3. With one simple tweak the lyrics could have been much more interesting
The song is basically a series of choruses, so there isn’t a huge amount of lyrics. Most are fine, with the only obvious clunker being the cringe-worthy “No one can promise that love will ever learn how to fly”. Overall though, the message is clear and simple, which is what you want in a Eurovision track.
However, I still believe that the writers missed a great opportunity to explore one of the more pressing legal issues of our time. Instead of ‘Dying To Try’, they should have called it ‘Trying To Die’: the poignant tale of a terminally ill Irishman fighting his nation’s strict right-to-die laws so he can attend a euthanasia clinic in Belgium.
4. Dynamics: It started out quiet, but now it’s REALLY LOUD!!!!!
Sometimes a producer or arranger is tasked with salvaging a substandard song. Usually, the only way they can polish that turd is by throwing in wild dynamic shifts (e.g. dramatically changing the loudness or intensity) to make the track sound more interesting than it actually is. And, it is one area where ‘Dying To Try’ is, unquestionably, a triumph. It has quiet bits, it has loud bits, it has a cappella choir bits. It has every classic pop dynamic imaginable, including the aftorementioned keychange. So, full marks for arrangement and production. It’s a polishing job Mr. Sheen would be proud of.
So ends my thoughts on ‘Dying To Try’, a song I’ve already forgotten, written by songwriters whose names I don’t have time to look up. In some ways the song is admirably unconventional; in other ways it is depressingly familiar. Nevertheless, best of luck to all involved, and I genuinely do hope Ireland gets through to the finals this year. If not, I will welcome the return of Sheeba in 2018, when they will hopefully perform a song debunking homeopathy.
– Fergal Stockton