Israel’s Answer to Justin Timberlake

Nadav Guedj’s debut album reveals far better songs than his 2015 Eurovision entry ‘Golden Boy,’ and demonstrates that this 17-year-old is a rare pop talent

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Nadav Gued
Nadav GuedCredit: Courtesy
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev

When it comes to Nadav Guedj, it turns out everyone was talking about the wrong song. That song, of course, was “Golden Boy,” Israel’s entry at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. The golden boy received almost unprecedented airwave acclaim in comparison to most Eurovision songs, and even music lovers who don’t follow teen pop lent his song a sympathetic ear.

“Golden Boy” clearly had an angle: It was, in effect, Middle Eastern pop in the guise of an English-language Eurovision song. A neat trick. But the song itself, especially its Middle Eastern element, was utterly ridiculous. “Come here to enjoy / I’m the king of fun.” And then there was that grating melody. Did all those people who said “That kid’s song is a lot of fun; finally they’re doing some light and refreshing pop here” really enjoy it?

Maybe. But if so, we have to ask, “Hello? Where were you when Guedj’s next singles were released, especially the song ‘Jump’? Why didn’t we hear you say how crazy you were for that excellent song? You liked ‘Golden Boy’ but not this song, which is the closest thing to Justin-Timberlake-on-an-OK-day Israeli pop is capable of producing? To be honest, you’ve disappointed me. Again.”

Nadav Guedj's "Golden Boy," Israel's entry for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest.

One of the best parts of “Jump” is its short, rhythmic instrumental transition (or “drop” in the professional lingo), which propels the song onto the dance floor after some hovering nearby. It turns out this particular groove was written by Guedj himself. He had this musical idea in his head and was looking for a song to be woven around it. For that alone, the 17-year-old deserves more credit than older, well-established Israeli pop singers – who don’t have a single fresh musical idea, let alone a rhythmic one.

And while we’re talking about the difference between Guedj and most of our pop singers, it’s worth noting that, in contrast to most of them, he can actually sing. He has a vocal quality all his own and flexible vocal cords. That’s more than enough for now. Richness and depth of expression may come later.

Dancing the pain away

Back to “Jump.” Fortu–nately, Guedj’s refreshing idea was introduced to the right writer: Ruby Feier, a musician from Netanya (like Guedj), who is influenced by American pop and R & B, and has been operating under the radar in Israeli music. Feier tailored a lithe, dynamic song around the musical hook, with some parts that flow into each other naturally, and even swing. Like on “Golden Boy,” the lyrics tells of a brokenhearted guy who jumps onto the dance floor in order to forget his sadness. “I wannadance this pain away.”

Nadav Guedj - Jump

But in this case, and unlike on “Golden Boy,” the music makes the listener – yes, even this one – grab his dancing shoes. Right at the end of the song, after all the cards have seemingly been played, suddenly there’s a delightful “drop” in the style of Jamiroquai, which adds a nice twist.

Something similar also happens at the end of “Good Vibes,” Guedj and Feier’s second collaboration on the album. On the song’s final stretch – which is good-but-not-quite-”Jump” – a small and refreshing bass solo suddenly shows up, as if to say: Hey, we musicians are having fun, too. And when musicians are enjoying themselves, the listener usually enjoys himself, too.

I wish I could say I loved the entire album, but that’s not quite true. The album opens with “Jump,” meaning the CD peaks at the beginning and then continues on a lower level. Even so, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to enjoy elsewhere. At least three other tracks (“Good Vibes,” which we’ve already mentioned, “Hold the City” and “Make You Mine”) are decent efforts – the sort where even their shortcomings are kind of charming.

“Make You Mine,” for example, is a piano ballad with such a clichéd chord progression that there’s actually a parody of it on YouTube (the chord progression, not Guedj’s song). There’s also an amusing gap between wholesale declarations such as “Girl, I need you to save me” and the fact that Guedj only noticed the girl a few minutes earlier and doesn’t even know her name. Somehow, thanks to the youthful charm and musical skills of Guedj and his writers/producers, these minor transgressions are forgiven.

This is a short album. Eight songs in all (with “Golden Boy” as a bonus track). How can it be otherwise when the kid is only 17? The four songs I haven’t mentioned aren’t so good. Their most significant shortcoming – which is harder to overlook – is that one can feel the effort being made: to excite, to move, to impress. There’s nothing less elegant in pop than signs of effort (and while we’re talking about lack of elegance – that album cover). One of the songs that tries way too hard is a song in French, which also has a Latin touch. It’s called “Elle m’rend fou” (“She Drives Me Crazy”) and was recently released as a single. I can’t imagine it being a success – which means, of course, it will probably be huge.

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