First Listen Review attempts to capture my first impressions of the year’s Eurovision entries as and when they’re released. My opinion is liable to change as certain songs grow on me or get revamped, but based on the principle that most listeners will only hear each entry once (or twice) before voting, hopefully it’ll provide some insight.

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San Marino: Anita Simoncini & Michele Perniola – Chain of Lights

Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini - Chain of Lights | Eurovision 2015 San Marino

Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini have both represented San Marino in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Michele in 2013 and Anita last year as a member of The Peppermints.

Qualifying for the finals last year was a huge achievement for San Marino – as well as a great personal accomplishment for the tenacious Valentina Monetta. They may have wound up in 24th place, but they proved that a micro-nation could be competitive, and generated an enormous amount of goodwill from the fans in the process. The only question was – with Valentina declining a fourth spin of the wheel – what would they do for an encore?

It would be wonderful to be able to say that success had really galvanised San Marino, and the recruitment of Junior Eurovision stars Anita Simoncini and Michele Perniola was a promising start. As the youngest competitors in this year’s line-up, it was hoped that they might bring a next-generation energy to the contest. The High School Musical/Glee phenomena haven’t really seen much crossover at Eurovision so far, and following the faintly middle-aged ‘Maybe‘, with a peppy teen-pop duet could have been a canny change of pace.

Alas, it takes more than good intentions to craft a Eurovision entry, and for a small broadcaster like SMRTV, participation has historically been dependent on external sponsorship. Since 2012, this has come in the form of Eurovision songwriting legend Ralph Siegel, who not only bankrolls San Marino’s entries, he also composes them.

Siegel has been responsible for some of the all-time great Eurovision songs, including no fewer than fourteen of Germany’s entries between 1976 and 2003 – most notably Ein Bißchen Frieden and Dschinghis Khan. There’s no questioning his credentials, and there was an old-fashioned charm to Crisalide and Maybe that sat well with Valentina Monetta’s guileless performance style. But his style is a poor match for two teenagers, and Chain of Lights doesn’t bring out the best in anyone involved.

The first half of the song has a low-key theatricality that almost works. The brooding strings and hushed vocals are quite distinctive, and it feels like it might be building to something interesting. The last minute drops the ball badly though, lurching gracelessly into a cheesy If We All Give a Little style refrain that would (and did) sound dated a decade ago.

Perniola gives the better performance of the two singers – he has a strong voice and he commits to the middling material admirably. Simoncini’s lighter tones provide a pleasant contrast at first, but she’s edged out of the spotlight as the song shifts gears, reduced to mumbled ad-libs that distract from Perniola rather than complementing him.

It’s far from a complete write-off, as you’d expect from a writer with forty years of Eurovision experience, Siegel has a good understanding of how to craft a well-paced three minutes of music, and the chorus is catchy and well defined. But this is a song that could have been entered in 1985 and sounded little different, and it feels like a waste of two performers who could have really shone with a more up-to-date effort.

Valentina managed to beat the odds last year so I wouldn’t totally discount the possibility that Anita and Michele could do the same, but this feels much more likely to get lost in the shuffle than to qualify, let alone to obtain a significantly higher score than last year. A part of me will always root for the underdog nations, but I’m hoping San Marino has the opportunity to showcase something a little more ambitious in 2016.