There is one image conjured up by “Sedakim” ("Cracks"), Aviv Geffen’s new album that went gold last week, that makes me perk up. It comes from the album’s opening track, “I Would Sing to You.” The lyrics are a kind of dialogue between a ground-breaking artist or leader and his beloved, who is concerned about him (“Nobody wants winners / People try to kill the king / It is a small sandbox and you are not alone in the game”); he is swept along by structured but stirring music.
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In the refrain – after Geffen sings the awful cliché, “I don’t want to be just another one in the photograph of this life” – he calms his beloved’s fears, singing: “Don’t worry; I’ll open parachutes of love before we crash below.”
“Parachutes of love.” Nice. I confess that I used Google to find out whether Geffen had borrowed that image from somebody else (Bono?). It turns out that he did not. It’s an original, his own. Bravo.
The use of the image of the parachute brings together not only the mood of lost youth, which may be the main theme of this album, but also the essence of art at its best – the kind that takes risks and jumps out of airplanes. The moment the parachute opens, the anxiety-filled seconds and adrenaline rush that precede it, and the happy descent afterward. The only thing more thrilling than watching this scene is to jump yourself. Is Israel’s most famous military non-enlistee doing that artistically in his new album?
Geffen jumps, but not in the proper way. The feeling is actually that instead of leaping out of the airplane with a backpack containing a folded-up parachute folded and praying that it will open, he jumps with the parachute open already – and to be on the safe side takes care to spread out a great big safety net on the ground.
At least, that is how it sounds. Most of the songs on the new album, including “I Would Sing to You,” are put together with professional skill but without ingenuity or adventure, wrapped in a thick blanket of strings and keyboards, and to be on the safe side make frequent use of cries of “Ohhhh” in the second refrain.
There are moments when the breeze of a good melody does blow, suddenly, and Geffen’s parachute, opened in advance, is a nice spectacle, but breathtaking it is not. You know exactly what you are going to see.
Geffen’s fans will certainly be happy to hear their favorite artist in fairly good form. The rest will be less enthusiastic.
Range of reactions
One of the characteristics that has made Geffen a superstar is his talent for drawing a whole range of reactions, from cringes to admiration. His new album also arouses a spectrum of thoughts and feelings, though less powerfully than in the past. Sometimes he provokes amazement, at others anger, confusion, admiration – or perhaps a combination of several emotions at the same time.
Amazement: What made Geffen put a song about a Holocaust survivor that he remembers from his childhood on this album? It is a decent enough song, but it comes out of nowhere, has nothing to do with anything, has no continuation in the following songs, and it seems that its main purpose is to induce heaviness and sorrow.
Amazement bordering on anger: His disrespectful treatment of Matti Caspi, whom he invited to sing in the duet “Mistovev” (“Turning Around”). Geffen admires Caspi, so why did he give him such a secondary place in the song? Geffen sings the first verse and the refrain. Caspi sings the second verse, and in the refrain they supposedly sing together, but Geffen’s voice is so overbearing that he seems to be singing solo. There is no dialogue between the voices, none at all. What’s the use?
Anger: About the blurring of art and reality in the song “Pain upon Pain” (which is destined for further elaboration in these pages), and mainly in connection to the phrase, “Without the drugs and without the nights and without the whores,” with all its foulness.
Confusion: The album contains quite a few lines that induce this sensation – mainly when cliché meets self-pity. “Every person has a door in his heart, and only mine stays shut” (“Mistovev”); “Your greatest enemy is you in the room” (“It Always Ends in Tears”); and of course the pathetic whining at the end of “Pain upon Pain”: “You named me Aviv [springtime], so why is it cold all the time?”
Admiration: Mostly when the talented composer within Geffen raises his head and comes out of the shallow and warm musical waters in which the album spends most of its time. This happens, for example, in the piano ballad “It’s Not That Simple,” mostly in its refrain, which sounds very good on the album and will sound excellent at Geffen's live performance in Caesarea. It also happens in the song “Cracks.” It seems to be no coincidence that the lyrics of both these songs are about making peace with the loss of youth while making no attempt to shout out some great truth, which Geffen usually manages to reduce to clichés.
The loveliest track of all is “Song for Amalia.” When one listens for the first time to its jazzy-cabaret-style sound, complete with dissonant chords in the style of David Bowie, one fears that Geffen has bitten off a good deal more than he can chew. But there is a logic to the foreign sound (Geffen is speaking of a woman living in New York), and the melody is gorgeous, soft and unexpected. Geffen’s uncharacteristic modesty here is just as beautiful and unexpected, as he takes the position of the observer from the sidelines.
On the other hand, this album also contains the song “It Always Ends in Tears,” which is one of the worst ones Geffen has ever written. With its banal text, pale melody and poor modulation, it makes us forget the beauty of “Song for Amalia.” It makes us think that something went awry in Geffen’s decision-making process, and that sometimes even a mentor needs a mentor to save him from his own mistakes.