Music Review

Israeli Singer Dikla Says Goodbye to Solitude, but Loses Some of Her Charm

Dikla's new album, ‘Sippur Optimi,’ lacks the magnificent melodies of its predecessor.

Israeli singer Dikla.
Zohar Ron

“Melodies” is the key word in the creative and emotional lexicon of Dikla. Of course, it’s an important word for every musician and music lover. But for this particular Israeli singer, it has an especially strong meaning. Melody is a code word for everything that looms large in life and is larger than life: love, beauty, faith, art.

Six years ago, when Dikla sang “I don’t know, I don’t hear melodies” (on the song “Manginot,” from the album “Arlosoroff 38”), you could sense how this undermines her and robs her of her “emotional oxygen.” Still, that didn’t prevent the song’s melody — especially the line about the disappearance of melody — from being one of the most exciting she has written.

On her new album “Sippur Optimi” (“Optimistic Story”), the word “melodies” (or, if you prefer, “tunes”) has a dominant presence. “Melodies no longer make me cry, they don’t excite me,” she sings in “Maskara Shehora” (“Black Mascara”). Two songs later, in “L’azazel” (“To Hell with It”), Dikla turns to love, no less, and sings about “all the melodies I developed with your voice.”

But the most prominent mention of the word “melodies” arrives in the very first moment of the opening song, “Bediduti Hanehederet” (“My Wonderful Solitude”). Just as love can be a character in a Dikla song, so too can loneliness. Dikla addresses it at the beginning of the new album and sends it on its way, after many years of sharing her life with it.

“This is the time to part, to say shalom to you, my beloved / my wonderful solitude / How you were a friend to me when I would look at myself and put on makeup / for all the melodies that you used to hear at the end of a night.” Solitude, night, melodies: for a long time, they were the tools in Dikla’s creative laboratory. It was under these conditions that her songs came into being. Now she declares a plot twist: farewell to loneliness. But what about the melodies?

There’s something odd, overly familiar, about the music that accompanies her declaration of parting from loneliness in the opening song. It’s not the melody, but the harmony: It’s very similar, almost identical, to that of “Sheva Ba’erev” (“Seven in the Evening”), which was one of the most beautiful songs on Dikla’s last album, “Ve’im Parida” (2014). Is this an intentional nod to the listener? Does parting from the experience of loneliness deliberately include a citation from one of the very songs created under its protective and restrictive wings? Could be.

It’s also possible that Dikla simply loves this particular harmony and didn’t attribute any importance to its similarity to “Sheva Ba’erev.” Whatever the reason, even if on paper this repetition is slightly concerning, or at least surprising, Dikla’s voice quickly dissipates those fears. In “Ani Nikhna’at” (“I Surrender”) she sings toward the end of the song (that’s “surrender” in the best sense of the word). And the listener surrenders, too.

Well, they do if they’re an admirer of Dikla’s voice. Like every singer with a one-of-a-kind voice and style, her listeners are clearly divided between lovers and haters. I am a huge admirer. Very few contemporary Israeli singers have vocal cords like hers, which are capable of carrying the weight of emotion and personality. She’s one of those singers who can take a song that has nothing more than a pleasant melody and, with the power of her vocal expression, turn it into something of beauty and depth. There are several examples on the new album.

But what about songs that are wonderful to begin with and which her performance makes even more beautiful? Dikla knows how to write the lyrics and melodies for such songs. Her previous album, for example, included “Ein Od Ahava Kazot” (“There’s No Other Love Like That”), one of the most beautiful Israeli songs of recent years, as well as the aforementioned “Sheva Ba’erev.” In February 2015, several months after “Ve’im Parida” was released, I went to see Dikla perform in the amphitheater in the Negev town of Omer. It was mainly to hear those two songs (as well as her version of the Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again”) performed in a large and open performance space. That says something about the strong emotional bond I’d formed with them.

Are there songs like this on Dikla’s new album? Maybe, but I haven’t found them yet. “Tzipor al Gag” (“Bird on a Roof”) comes close, but doesn’t quite make it. Ditto “Bediduti Hanehederet,” but there’s that nagging repetition issue. “Kvishim Petuhim” (“Open Roads”) and “Sippur Optimi” simmer nicely but haven’t yet reached their musical boiling points. In short, this album doesn’t contain any songs that immediately caused my soul to soar. I’m definitely not traveling all the way to Omer for it.

Emotional source

Does the lack of magnificent melodies stem from the changes in Dikla’s creative laboratory since she bade farewell to loneliness? Perhaps, but that’s certainly not the main explanation. That parting is more of a declaration. “Sippur Optimi” has less of the sadness that inspired creativity in Dikla’s previous albums, but it still has a great deal of this key emotional source.

It’s possible that the biggest reason for the lack of great tunes is the haste with which the new album was assembled. Dikla is a musician who usually spends a lot of time on an album — three or four years. Her new album is being released less than two years after “Ve’im Parida.” Yes, it’s true that she has a supportive record company behind her now, one that enables her to create more (Helicon, whose head, Ronnie Braun, was the artistic director on the new album and one of its producers). But still, it may be that Dikla needs some downtime and a slow gathering of ideas, thoughts and melodies in order to extract the maximum from the songwriter inside her, and there was no such period here.

Though Dikla’s melodies don’t scale the heights in “Sippur Optimi,” her observational lyrics are her best yet. That may not be ample compensation for the absence of overwhelming tunes (in the best sense of the word), but it still counts for something. Until now, Dikla mainly delved into her own heart and soul. She still does that here, but also directs her gaze toward what’s happening outside — and her tales about what she sees are the basis for some of the album’s best songs.

In “Kvishim Petuhim,” she paints a living, breathing, Israeli panorama, which gets high and reaches out. In “Anashim” (“People”), she looks around her and sees people broken by life but also a boy with flowers. And the excellent title song seems to have been written through the eyes of Teapacks singer Kobi Oz, but with an LGBT twist: “I heard a story with an optimistic ending / About someone who grew up in Rehovot / Today he’s Miss Houston on a Lamborghini / Counting banknotes of disappointment.” Lamborghini, by the way, rhymes in the previous line with Fellini and, apropos another Italian masterpiece, it’s hard to decide if what we see on Dikla’s face in the cover photo is a smile.

“Sippur Optimi” by Dikla is out now on Helicon Records.