Ninet: No Longer Israel's Musical Sweetheart

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Ninet. Credit: Ido Isaac

“Israel’s indie sweetheart” is the way the singer Ninet Tayeb is described, or describes herself, in the PR for her new album on Apple Music. Once she was known as “Israel’s sweetheart,” without the niche addition of “indie.” But that time has passed. Almost a decade has gone by since Ninet dropped the dubious “national sweetheart” epithet. Echoes of that controversial choice were still audible in her two previous albums, “Sympathetic Nervous System” (2012; in English) and “All the Animals Knew” (2013, in Hebrew). But her new album, “Paper Parachute,” is the first about which there is no need to consider – nor does anyone want to consider – Ninet as a resonant Israeli phenomenon, fraught with elements from the realms of sociology and the mass media. Great. We can talk about the music. Ninet will undoubtedly be the first to revel in this.

Too bad, then, that it’s not so interesting to talk about her new music, or to listen to it. The new album gives the impression that Ninet has not renewed or deepened herself or developed artistically in the five years since her last English-language album (and in the four since her last Hebrew-speaking CD). She is continuing to gamble distinctively on the expressive card of shouting and distortion; but her shouting, though it emanates from the depth of the soul and is launched with powerful cords, doesn’t sound original and doesn’t possess a personal stamp. The English musician P J Harvey, whose powerful influence on Ninet is hard to miss, has a masterly album called “Rid of Me” – and we seem to hear her telling Ninet just that: Get rid of me, this isn’t right for you.

‘Soup star’

In terms of sound and guitar tones, too, “Paper Parachute” is far from being an impressive album. To ground your music in basic and heavy riffs is to take a risk: In most cases, it will sound like the reproduction of a different and more original riff. That’s the case in most of the songs here. There may be brief moments of satisfaction in songs like “Superstar” (which Ninet, with her existential recoil from the superstar concept, pronounces “soup star”). But they are effaced by one of the dominant musical tendencies of the new album: a fusion of rock ’n’ roll dripping with grease and diverse oriental and Arab musical phrases. That’s very “Israeli” on the part of Ninet and her associates, and there may be a certain logic to it, as they are targeting primarily the global market. But to Israeli ears it will probably sound quite trite.

In light of the disappointment of the raucous rockiental expressiveness of the first five songs, it’s good to hear Ninet lift her foot from the distortion pedal and implement the minor-acoustic option in the next three songs. But here too she doesn’t soar. Only one song of the three succeeds in taking a block of emotion and sculpting musical beauty from it. Possibly it’s not by chance that it’s called “Temporary Satisfaction.”

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