Norway’s position in the Eurovision win market has been far from silent. It rocketed to the top when Carl Espen’s song was first heard in full, in expectation he would win the national final.
The market shifted back and forth last Saturday when Carl had a closer shave than anticipated. On losing the first regional tally of televotes, Norway’s odds immediately started to lengthen on Betfair, only to come back in as ‘Silent Storm’ gradually reasserted itself.
Afterwards, punters have clearly been asking themselves: if Carl can’t win over Norway convincingly, is that a negative for his Eurovision chances? He’s been slowly drifting ever since, currently vying for second favouritism with Sweden’s Sanna Nielsen at around 5/1.
‘Silent Storm’ excited punters before it was performed because it’s a highly credible, heartfelt ballad. The first verse and chorus has Carl’s vocals joining some simple piano chords. The instrumentation builds from there. It’s a lovely, atmospheric song you’d happily listen to on the radio.
As for its faults, firstly I’d say it doesn’t really go anywhere. Secondly, it’s not ideal structurally – we only manage two verses and choruses (Ukraine’s ‘Tick-Tock’, at the other end of the musical spectrum, likewise). It thus feels like a four-minute effort shoehorned into three (Ben Cook made a similar point about Armenia’s more daring composition, now the clear market leader at best odds of 2/1).
As a live performance, my feelings are even more mixed. Carl’s lugubrious, bearish looks contrast nicely with the fragility of his voice, which suits the message of the song. But diffidence can be a hindrance if there’s not enough connection with the audience, and he spends far too much time with his eyes shut, especially in the first half.
Even more worrying, those fragile vocals got a little shaky, especially in the higher register. Nerves are clearly an issue – there were telltale signs in the Norwegian competition, such as the lip-licking and the fact all the blood appeared to have drained from his face.
Norway backers have to hope that this issue doesn’t worsen in the bigger contest. It can go either way: Ott Lepland was surprisingly nervous in the Estonian national final before owning the Eurovision stage in 2012; but Norway’s Didrik Solli-Tangen let the pressure get to him in the 2010 contest having previously appeared vocally confident. Amaury Vassili likewise in 2011.
Those two examples of vocal nerves were all the more damaging because the entries hinged on the male soloist, as indeed does this one. Like them, if Carl is only 70% convincing when it matters, he won’t just fail to win, he won’t finish in the top ten, despite a song that is clearly one of the classier efforts this year. On the other hand, if it’s performed well, ‘Silent Storm’ is obvious jury bait.
Was it nerves that were the main factor behind the narrower-than-expected victory in Norway? To be fair, it was a strong four-way superfinal against three charismatic performers, one of whom – Linnea Dale – had a marvellous song. Yet Carl’s winning margin relied heavily on a big vote in his western Norwegian homeland; he still narrowly won if this is taken out of the equation, but managed only 26.7% of the vote in the Oslo region, losing out to Linnea Dale there.
Perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about this. There are plenty of examples of songs narrowly winning a national final before going on to Eurovision success. In 1997, ‘Love Shine A Light’ was a far from clear winner of the UK selection before a landslide victory in the contest.
But it does nag at me for a few reasons. Firstly, we have recent templates from Norway. I wrote about these in last year’s analysis of ‘I Feed You My Love’. Carl’s victory in percentage terms was not only nothing compared to Alexander Rybak, at 34% it was the lowest in recent memory.
A further point of concern for Carl’s backers is that the balladeering male solo performer is something of a Norwegian standard, tapping into a tradition that includes the likes of Didrik and Jostein Hasselgard. ‘Silent Storm’ is not an effort that Norwegians are less likely to appreciate than the rest of Europe; you’d say the opposite is more likely.
It’s worth reiterating what a surprisingly strong superfinal it was. I don’t think it was bettered throughout the selection season. Overall though, I can’t help but be cautious about the chances of ‘Silent Storm’ in Copenhagen, despite the early hype that surrounded it. The uncertainty will last right up until his performance on the big night. That’s not something I’d recommend in a second favourite.
What do you think of Carl’s ‘Silent Storm’? Please keep your views coming below.