Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve heard that Englebert Humperdinck, 75-years old, career crooner, Vegas showman, and native Briton, is representing the UK at Eurovision. Though sorely tempted to speak our minds, we held our tongues on the announcement of Englebert Humperdinck for the UK a couple of weeks ago. The reason was simple: we wanted to hear the song before passing judgement. And finally, last delegation to the party, UK presents its song. Here’s Englebert Humperdinck with “Love Will Set You Free.”
“Love Will Set You Free” is a slow waltz full of melancholy themes about love and loss. It may have London-based songwriters (Martin Terefe and Sacha Skarbek), but in the hands of Englebert the song pays homage to country music ballads of the late ’60s and early ’70s–similar to Merle Haggard and Glen Campbell. Of course Eurovision is for a European audience, and the production opts for strings and acoustic guitar rather than steel guitar. It also has the requisite Eurovision key change.
This is from Englebert’s bio on his website, describing his style of music:
“Romance serves as the core of Engelbert Humperdinck’s music and lasting success. He knows how to pick songs with eternal themes of love and longing, and lovers always want to hear them sung.”
“Love will set you free” is entirely consistent with this. It’s a win-win for him to be sure. After Eurovision, he gets a new song that seamlessly fits into his act and an anecdote he can add to his patter. At this stage of his career, that’s worth its weight in gold.
Lyrically, the song is fine but I don’t think it holds up with vivid imagery of songs from its reference group. However, the song is emotional and melodic, and I have complete confidence that Englebert will be able to sell when it matters. The UK could have done worse, a lot worse.
So is all forgiven with the BBC? Absolutely not. Englebert Humperdinck’s style of music, “Love will set you free” included, is out of touch with pop music today. Most of his gigs these days are on the casino circuit to graying audiences. Moreover, they made the kitsch pick but then chose the sincere route. Comeback attempts from Andy Williams or Tony Bennett positioned them for a younger audience with gentle self-aware humor about what they were trying to do. Here, Englebert is playing it straight.
In picking Englebert Humperdinck I don’t think the BBC is trying to win. In all likelihood, they were simply trying to make a splash by picking up somebody famous. If that is their measure of success, then they succeeded. The fever pitch before his announcement was ridiculous, and the Beeb did a good job goading the Twitterati by having staff post to their personal Twitter accounts to add fuel to the fire. If generating ratings on May 26th is their measure of success, then it remains to be seen. I can’t see him being taken seriously with anyone under 50. Not with this song.