Israeli Pop Star Sarit Hadad Sings Through an Alcoholic Haze in New Album

Sarit Hadad’s new album has a pretty silly title, but she does know how to belt out a tune.

Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
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Sarit Hadad.
Sarit Hadad.Credit: Daniel Kaminsky
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev

Alcohol is a potent presence in Sarit Hadad’s new album, “Sara Shara” (“Sara Sings”). The act of drinking, its causes and its impact on body and mind feature prominently in quite a few songs. That’s not exactly what one expects from a wholesome singer like Hadad, whose pregnancy is now also the talk of the country. But there you go. The alcohol angle is interesting and thought-provoking. In fact, it makes you feel like having a drink.

The album gets off to a calm start; the bottle isn’t opened until the seventh song. “Wai wai, I’m drinking so much, what about you, everything is spinning,” Hadad sings in one track. Her head spins some more in “Arab Movie,” a song set in the neighborhood bar: “How my head whirls a little, I don’t care what time it is.” Toward the end of the album, there’s a succession of alcohol-drenched songs. “Jet Lag,” like “Arab Movie,” is a gladsome party song with built-in shot glasses. “Tonight we’re here to party some, everyone’s drinking, everyone’s dancing,” and then – how could it be otherwise? – “My head is spinning a little, today’s turned into yesterday.”

In the next song, “Praying,” Hadad is drinking alone: “How I wanted you to be at my side with two glasses of wine; in the meantime there’s one, I’ve got used to ‘almost.’” The next song, too, paints a similar picture: “I want to fly far, a sweet semi-dry solves all my dreams.” It’s noteworthy that in the last two songs Hadad’s head is no longer spinning. That’s what steady drinking does for you.

Escaping from what?

The subject calls for some serious research, but in the past two or three years alcohol-driven songs seem to be multiplying in Israeli pop. Possibly it’s an unconscious expression of the growing collective need to escape from reality. We needn’t drag Hadad into that vague and generalizing conjecture, but in the private realm of her new album alcohol is manifestly a means of escape. But from what?

In the album’s poorer songs – those that tend toward cheap Mizrahi-style humor – escape is intertwined with the notion that men are a crappy lot: cheating, exploitative, childish and so on. In the better songs – those that genuinely try to express a slice of emotion – escape is from thoughts of loneliness, longing, love that slipped by, unfulfilled. These songs speak powerfully of the imagination. The object of the love and longing hasn’t been found, but Hadad paints them in her mind’s eye. A drink or two can do wonders at such moments. The pungency of the drink and the saltiness of the tears can generate a momentary sweetness.

Few of the songs on Hadad’s new album sustain that lovely and elusive feeling of hazy longing. Some of them approach it, and even if most of them have a light formulaic aftertaste, like an app for a Mizrahi ballad with a generic-algorithmic melody, the vocal X factor – Hadad’s singing – almost makes up for it and offsets the stock music and texts. “Sara Sings” (“Sara Shara”) is a pretty dumb name for an album, but Sara – Hadad’s real name – knows how to belt out a tune. The best moments are when she winds up her voice and hits the high notes, bursting into the chorus. I like that diversity in her voice, and what I like even more is that, unlike other singers, who fall into the bombastic-drama trap in these situations, Hadad always has both feet on the ground. She’s direct and unaffected.

The alcohol-fueled ballads of longing are embedded deep in the new album. Closer to the surface are songs of a different kind. The three singles from the album try to draw Hadad as close as possible to the new kingdom of Israeli pop, namely youth pop. But can the 23rd album of a 38-year-old singer compete with the singers of the young generation whose natural arena this is? Not necessarily. On the other hand, can a dyed-in-the-wool pop singer allow herself not to enter the arena in which current Israeli pop thrives? Apparently not.

The bottom line is that in practice, even with a little effort, it’s hard (for me) to enjoy these songs. There’s a nice contemporary shimmer in “You Were With Her,” but the rest of the songs pulsate without charm or groove. Still, Hadad doesn’t embarrass herself, and maybe that’s something, too.

The only exception – a place of embarrassment – is in the opening of the song “Praying.” It’s actually not a bad ballad that opens, “Fences of longing separate us, and again I think about where you are now.” But if “fence” is feminine in Hebrew, how can fences separate in the masculine (“gderot mafridim” instead of “gderot mafridot”)? Or is gader both feminine and masculine, like shemesh (sun) or sakin (knife)? No, it’s not. It can only be gderot mafridot. It’s not clear how the lyricist, Tamar Yahalomi, made such a basic mistake, or why no one in Hadad’s circle caught it. Too much alcohol?

What is clear is that, even if the album has already been launched irrevocably, that sentence should be rerecorded and the amended version uploaded to YouTube. Every artist wants their songs to create a frisson, but not one like this.

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