Avraham Tal’s voice is an entity that cannot be denied. You can like it and be moved by it; you can disdain it or even develop allergic symptoms to it; you can feel ambivalent and be impressed by it from afar. But no matter what you may feel about Tal’s voice, you cannot ignore it. High-pitched, potent and powerful, his raucous sound has a physical presence. His voice possesses color and texture that you don’t hear in any other singer.
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That voice is the main reason for his success. It’s not a case of extraordinary charisma, brilliant marketing, or any music-related element. Tal made it big thanks to a distinctive voice, bolstered by songs suited to that voice, a sound that wraps it well and a certain beneficent innocence that jibes with the Israeli frame of mind. It was thanks to those qualities that Tal’s album “Orot” (“Lights”), which came out about five years ago, went platinum (more than 40,000 copies sold).
The story gets even better, because Tal’s voice isn’t necessarily a typical mainstream one. It doesn’t project the sensitive, melancholy, rough-hewn authenticity of our middle-of-the-road singers. There is something exaggerated, almost hysterical about it. Far from being a caressing voice, it jabs the brain. There’s a measure here of pop power of a kind that barely exists in the non-Mizrahi Israeli mainstream.
More accurately, there was a measure of pop power, for Tal’s new album, “Now Life,” contains hardly a trace of his raucously exaggerated singing. Tal posts his new message on the wall with softer means. Chewing gum, maybe. And we all know what happens when you stick something to the wall with chewing gum: in the end, it doesn’t hold.
It’s pretty clear why Tal doesn’t use his jabbing voice here – it doesn’t fit his present-day songs, his present life. The basic picture of Tal’s creative work has changed. In his breakthrough hits, from 2008 to 2010, Tal was part of the cosmos. He stood outside, in nature, cast his gaze upward and saw the lights shimmering. In that situation it was only logical to shout “Oro-o-o-o-t!” That was the only way to get the world to hear Tal’s voice.
But the Tal of 2016, now approaching 40, is not the Tal of 2010. Time leaves its mark, as he once sang. The Tal of the new album has entered an inward realm, within the home and the family, and in this situation the jabbing voice is a less applicable option. If he shouts too powerfully he’ll shatter the glass, and there are children in the house. So he sings more weakly, not as high-pitched, and his whole singularity dissolves. The color fades. All the pop viruses are deadened. That’s a problem. Mainstream without a pop virus is very boring.
Not chaos, life
Tal’s high-pitched singing always went hand in hand with a soft, shanti-type spirituality. In the new album, the singing descends from the heights and from the shanti approach, which contained at least an element of searching, however superficial. It now becomes happy-with-its-lot bourgeois. “The children are laughing in the living room, the house is a total mess, and you say: it’s not chaos, it’s life,” Tal sings on one cut. It’s another example of the unfortunate process in which the Israeli mainstream has given up trying to rise above the quotidian to the artistic level, and instead simply serves up life without any processing.
“So this is where the song ends and where the to be starts,” Tal says earlier in the album. So why does all this “to be” sound to me more like “not to be”?
Though life itself deals art a crushing blow in Tal’s new album, there are a few moments in which the music surges. “Veteran Fighter” successfully blends a sweeping melody in the chorus with an arrangement that at least tries to foment some sort of drama, and “Spirit” is a quiet, lovely acoustic meditation that takes place in a forest, not in the home, and talks about creating, not about life. “I close my eyes and am carried onward, a transition into time,” Tal sings. This is a small and refreshing flight of imagination at the end of a mind-dulling sprawl on the carpet of reality.