Alluring Arrogance

Sure, Mizrahi pop icon Dudu Aharon is conceited. But with good reason: His latest effort is one of the best mainstream Israeli albums of recent years.

Dudu Aharon is the face of the new Mediterranean pop. A few singers are more successful than him, a few are more famous, but Aharon is the face of the genre because he made it big just when the scene exploded. Even his contemporary Moshe Peretz dabbled in the field and came out with songs and an album before the Big Bang. Peretz released his first album in 2005, and only with his second album, which came out at the end of 2007 - the Big Bang's zero-hour - did he become a star. Aharon released his first album at the end of 2007 and became a star immediately.

Because Aharon's success was immediate, and because Mizrahi music's historic sense of deprivation was for him just a hilarious folk legend, he behaved the way young pop stars behave when they suddenly make it big. Unlike Peretz, Aharon evinced self-confidence that often bordered on conceit.

Doron Edut

He insisted on playing at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center immediately after he became famous, and later, once his competitors played at Nokia Stadium, he announced he would perform at Bloomfield Stadium in front of 20,000 people. (The show was switched to Nokia in the end. ) You felt like telling him to calm down, but Aharon didn't look like someone who would listen.

You could feel Aharon's arrogance and euphoria in his songs, too. The best example is "Tagidu La" ("Tell Her" ). It was Israel's biggest hit of 2010, for good reason. It reflected the current Israeli mentality.

The song was addressed to a girl who played with Aharon's feelings: "She knows she's addicting me, I can't get away from her / She tries to seduce me and succeeds, I think about her all day long." But the chorus made clear who was going to come out on top: "Tell her there's a guy who wants to be the man closest to her / Tell her that if she doesn't agree, I'm going to be the winner here."

That sentence "I'm going to be the winner here" - and in the context of a romantic relationship - was incredible. So was the way Aharon sang - with a huge smile on his face and in a rhythm that made you want to wave your hands in the air in a victory gesture.

In that relationship, Aharon was certain he would win, and he knew for sure the song would reap lots of Internet downloads. "Tell Her" captured the country because it was the face of the country, an aggressive and arrogant face.

In light of all this arrogance, I had my knives drawn even before I listened to Aharon's new album, "Ein Kmo Ahava" ("There's Nothing Like Love" ). And in the first moment of the first song, when Aharon trilled the du-du-du-du-du-du, I sharpened the blades. How arrogant does a singer have to be to trill his own name at the very opening sounds of an album?

But as I listened, it became clear I should put the knives away. Needless to say, if you can't stand the new Mediterranean pop, you'll hate this album. But if you listen to "There's Nothing Like Love" without preconceptions, even if you're not a big fan of the genre, you're likely to discover that not only are you occasionally enjoying the album, you're not so down on Aharon's personality.

Sure, Aharon's arrogance hasn't disappeared, but it seems to have toned down. One possible explanation is that it's the market that has changed, not him. Since Mizrahi pop feeds on excitement, it becomes more brazen every few months. If last year Aharon was the young and arrogant rooster, now Omer Adam is, making Aharon look like a librarian.

And even if Aharon is still arrogant, the new album makes it clear he has reason to be. In purely musical terms, "There's Nothing Like Love" is one of the most successful mainstream Israeli albums of recent times. Aharon could have invested more in his melodies, though the hooks in his choruses stick in your head.

The songs on this album run the gamut: hand-clapping hits harking back to the Mizrahi songbook of the 1970s, hand-clappers with a trance beat, ballads mixed with American pop, and ballads that sound more like Arabic music. There are no pop anthems here, but who says we need them?

And the production, though not particularly interesting, is sometimes delightful. Baglama, zurna, darbuka, violin, a few beats and loops, and boom, let 'er rip. In your car with the windows open it'll feel great, but even at home it does the trick.

The textual salvation of Mediterranean pop won't come from Dudu Aharon. Most of the lyrics on this album are banal, and all them are about her, him and the uninteresting thing that does or doesn't happen between them. For a moment, I thought the song "Rak Ani Yakhol" ("Only I Can" ), which includes the lines "I wanted to say I'm a more serious guy now / I went back to change everything because only I can," is influenced by the social protest movement ("I went back to change everything" ). But on second thought, I doubt it.

Still, sometimes the lyrics are a pleasant surprise, with Aharon's condescension working to his advantage. The texts of the new Mediterranean pop are divided into two main categories. The larger one contains the songs with which the singer worships his perfect beloved and showers her with rhyming cliches. The less common category consists of songs where the girl is a serial confuser of men. The two genres are equally off-putting.

Most of Aharon's songs belong to these genres, but his overweening arrogance changes the rules. In the case of the "perfect beloved", Aharon's conceit produces a refreshing breeze of an inability to commit. In the case of the girl who confuses men, Aharon's condescension provides an interesting possibility that he will tame her in the end, against all odds ("I'm going to be the winner here" ). In both cases the songs are superficial, but they work somehow.

Unfortunately, starting with the ninth song, "There's Nothing Like Love" deteriorates, as happens with many Mizrahi pop albums. After all, they weren't meant to be anything more than a collection of singles. In the second half of the album the melodies aren't as good, and the lyrics worsen for the simple reason that you don't want to hear for the 14th time about the girl's gorgeous eyes and the jewelry he's going to buy for her.

Then comes the final song ,"Lo Yafrid Beineinu" ("It Won't Separate Us" ), where Aharon returns to the heights of arrogance and shamelessness. In bad taste, the song begins with the classic keyboard line from "Don't Go" by Yazoo. When Aharon reaches the chorus, the deja vu dominates once again.

What does the chorus resemble? The chorus of "Ein Kamokh" ("There's Nobody Like You" ), Peretz's hit. Not exactly theft, but an unworthy use of a colleague's melodies and harmonies.

It's a shame Peretz didn't make a fuss over that. There could have been an amusing quarrel between the two princes of Mediterranean pop. Had the situation been reversed - if Peretz had been the one borrowing without permission - Aharon would have shown him what's what.