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.
Malta: Amber – Warrior
The Maltese have always demonstrated a strong pop sensibility that’s helped the small island nation to consistently punch above their weight at the contest. They’re on a fairly strong run at the moment, with three consecutive qualifiers and a 2013 victory at Junior Eurovision. That win gave them the opportunity to host the 2014 junior contest, and they cannily took the opportunity to re-use the venue (a converted shipyard with capacity for up to 4,500 spectators) to host their national selection for this year’s main show.
This may sound like trivia, but the fact that Malta were able to dry-run their entry in a sizeable venue is significant for a country that normally hosts their national final in a fairly low-budget TV studio setting. On the night, Amber was a clear and obvious winner – her punchy empowerment anthem ‘Warrior’ filled a venue that saw many of her competitors getting lost.
Every element of this entry is straining to be epic, to the point where in places it sounds a little overstuffed. The backing track starts with the obligatory brooding piano before exploding into a cacophony of stabbing strings and crashing percussion, forcing Amber to sing at the very top of her range in order not to be drowned out. This creates a sense of urgency that elevates it above entries like Switzerland – which has a similar theme but feels a lot more underpowered – but it also runs the risk of coming across as shrill and off-putting.
There’s another problem with entries like this in that it’s surprisingly difficult to make an emotional connection to them. A triumph-over-adversity song needs to really draw the audience in, allowing them to relate it to something in their own lives. For me, Warrior never quite does that. It’s catchy, defiant and makes all the right moves, but something about it just doesn’t stir my soul.
Nevertheless, there’s a good package here. The gear shift in the final minute is well chosen, replacing the middling main chorus with a stronger and more accessible hook. We’ve already seen that the song comes across well on a big stage, and Malta generally know how to create a strong but simple visual. There’s no reason not to expect them to qualify – unless the vocals fall apart or one of her competitors manages to overshadow her.
I wouldn’t expect much from them beyond that though – despite their best efforts at creating a moment, this is an entry that could very easily get lost in the shuffle. If anything, a little more intimacy and a little less showboating could have done Malta the world of good here.