HAREL SKAAT Self-titled (Hed Arzi) Harel Skaat's debut album sold an impressive 20,000 copies in its first month on record store shelves. It's difficult to say whether the accomplishment can be attributed at all to the album's pleasant love songs, or whether the singer's popularity from the Star is Born TV contest is solely responsible. Though Skaat placed second to Harel Moyal in the smash singing competition, there was never any doubt that he was No. 1 in fan support. Love is the dominant theme on the 10 tracks that make up Skaat's debut. The crooner's handlers were clearly concerned about not missing an opportunity to capitalize on the young singer's pre-existing fan base, and recruited elite hitmakers including Keren Peles, Ohad Hitman, Peter Roth and Esther Shamir to help out. Skaat himself composed music for just one of the songs, "Afilu Shesrifot" (Even in Flames). Work on the album took nearly a year, and the outcome is almost too crisp. When Skaat's voice rises and dips, it does so in a carefully measured way; spontaneity is completely lacking here. In terms of production, most of the songs sound the same - a quality that only grows stronger after repeat listens. Still, there are better and worse selections on this album. With their Eurovision beats, "Kabli Oti" (Accept Me) and "Haruach Teshaneh Et Kivunah" (The Spirit Will Change Her) should never have been included on this album, undercutting the unique aspects of Skaat's talent. "Ve'at" (And You) has been the biggest hit off the album so far, with "Kama Od Efshar" (How Much More is Possible) and "Mashehu Mimeni" (Something from Me) also achieving serious airtime on the radio ("Mashehu Mimeni" is the album's most memorable piece). Although Skaat didn't write his own lyrics here, he makes the songs his own. Whether because of Peles's talent or his, Skaat seems to work best with words and music by the young hitmaker, who recently released her own popular debut. "Ve'at" is a triumph, as is another Peles creation, "Kol Hatziporim" (All the Birds). Despite its shortcomings, Skaat's debut confirms his talent and unusual ability to touch listeners with his voice. This debut, one hopes, is a prelude of what's still to come. NINETTE TAIB Kshe'ata Kan (Helicon) The first winner of A Star is Born has finally released her first single. Ninette Taib's debut album is scheduled for a September release, and in the three years it took her to release one single, other alumni of the TV contest have released albums - there have already been two from Shay Gabso and one each from Skaat, Moyal and Shiri Maimon. That Taib's single was immediately picked up and heavily played by radio rotations is no surprise - anything with Taib's stamp on it sells. But while Taib's fan base may be almost obsessively loyal, if this single is really just a preface to the album, we're in for a disappointment. Taib made her mark singing covers, and this song suggests that vocally, perhaps, that's all she's good for. "Kshe'ata Kan" (When You're Here) was written and composed by the talented Aviv Gefen, and its main problem is that the song sounds just like something he would perform - Taib adds nothing of her own. And while Gefen successfully penetrates the listener's emotions with his songs, Taib doesn't have that effect here. Taib's first single should have been more upbeat, something a bit peppy with an unforgettable beat. Instead, the singer let her handlers choose a piece that, in her hands, comes across as bland and unmemorable. "Kshe'ata Kan," simply put, lacks spice. It lacks melody. It offers a simple chorus, and one that becomes boring almost immediately. There's nothing wrong with being a cover artist, but if Taib wants us to believe she can sing original material, she'd better confirm it sooner rather than later.