Spotlight on Ivri Lider

Ivri Lider is the biggest pop star in Israel, and when he came out of the closet in 2002, his popularity grew. His albums haven’t been released on CD in the US, but they are available as digital downloads on iTunes, eMusic and Amazon. Out magazine profiled Lider a while back, and I was intrigued by the idea of gay man being the top pop singer in a country smack dab in the middle of all that religious and political unrest.

But pop music overseas doesn’t have an immediate parallel with American pop music. Lider is not Israel’s answer to Kanye West. He’s not a funk soul brother trapped in a Jewish body. (That’s Ari Gold’s job, and he does that well enough for everyone.) Lider’s smooth but slightly burnished croon is usually set atop what radio executives might call "adult alternative rock". It’s rooted as much in the club music of Europe as it is in the alt-rock lite of America.

And yeah — he’s teh hawt.

So I spent a good portion of my eMusic quota over the span of four months to acquire his four albums. I’ve listened to them, and while he doesn’t really knock Utada Hikaru and Shiina Ringo off of the regular rotation, he’s not so nondescript as to be mediocre. That’s not to say his discography is unassailable either.

Melatef V’meshaker (Caress & Lies, 1997)

Between the synthesizer pads and the echo-y guitar effects, Lider’s debut album sounds somewhat dark. With the exception of "Meri Lanetzach" and "Yoter Midai Harbeh", the songs don’t rise to a very robust tempo. That’s not to say the album is introspective, but there is quite a bit of atmosphere. I spent the most time listening to this album to get familiar with Lider’s sound and songwriting. Despite that, the songs on this album are a lot stronger than the ones that would appear in the following two.

Yoter Tov Klum Me’kimat (Better Nothing Than Almost, 1999)

On this album, Lider indulges his rock side. Where Melatef V’meshaker was moody and synthetic, Yoter Tov Klum Me’kimat is live and human. Lider doesn’t unleash a firebrand the way Patty Griffin does on Flaming Red, but the songs on this album sound like they were catered for the stage. But in trying to sound more like a singer-songwriter, Lider also falls into the trap of blandness. The personality that came through on his debut is somehow lost on this album.

Ha’anashim Ha’chadashim (The New People, 2002)

Lider makes use of more electronics on this album, and he employs some jarring samples on two tracks. "Betay Café" mixes Japanese and Hebrew, while "Kartisay Ashrai" lays American commercials over a hip-hop beat. Those clever bits weren’t enough to make a lasting impression on me. Lider takes some real chances production-wise with Ha’anashim Ha’chadashim, but the material itself doesn’t have the strength to make those risks work.

Ze Lo Otto Davar (It’s Not the Same Thing, 2005)

This album finds Lider drawing back in, using spare arrangements and strings. Perhaps Lider sounds best when he pares down because this album made more of an impression than its immediate predecessors. Lider doesn’t totally drown in introspection on this album, throwing in a few faster songs with the more lush material. I’ll admit I haven’t spent as much time listening to this album as the others, but the fact it’s left a favorable impression after even a scant few listens bodes well.

Lider is currently working on his next Hebrew album, as well as his English-language debut, both expected in 2008. Given his pop star status, it’s not surprising his music doesn’t have the maverick quality of Shiina Ringo or Café Tacvba. But he’s not a prefabricated product either. Lider writes and produces his own music, and he’s willing to experiment. His sexuality is pretty much an afterthought, although his hotness is a nice bonus.