Why oh why would dear Clay Aiken take three years to come up with an album full of, apart from four original or unreleased songs, schlock cover versions of some of the most dire big epic ballads and MOR anthems from the 1980s and early 1990s? I know, he had that Christmas album out back in 2004 but every artist and his grandmother have a Christmas album out every year so I’m not taking that album into account. Although, come to think of it, that Christmas album was pretty much an album of cover versions too, hmm.
I have made fun of Mr Aiken in the past but I do wish he’ll surprise me. He has, after all, a good voice. I’m not sure whether A Thousand Different Ways is the way to go in following up with an album that came out three years ago. Who is this album for? If he’s just content to make hay while the sun shines, as the existence of this album seems to suggest, won’t it make sense to record a CD of cover versions of songs from the 1960s to make those senior citizens bussed in to his concerts happy?
Anyway, about this album, it’s not even a very interesting concept album, I’m afraid. A part of me wonders whether it will be more interesting if Mr Aiken recorded, say, one-hit wonders from the 1980s as an ironic statement. Besides, after the splendid Invisible, won’t it make perfect sense for him to cover Chesney Hawkes’s The One and Only? It will be most amusing to see Clay cover, say, Robbie Neville’s Just Like You. There are many interesting choices of songs to cover, it’s just most unfortunate that he chooses the more predictable and therefore uninteresting MOR anthems to fill this particular CD.
The production values come off as pretty cheap, to say the least, and I’m pretty sure that an actual Casio is used somewhere in there, heh. However, the tracks are arranged so that they aren’t merely faithful regurgitation of the originals. Richard Marx’s Right Here Waiting, for example, is given a more uptempo update with the tinkly saccharine piano arrangement in the original having given way to the drum machine. Bryan Adams’s Everything I Do (I Do It for You) now has didgeridoos and tin whistles to give it some faux-Celtic ambiance. Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is is now a duet featuring Rock Star: INXS alumnus Suzy McNeil.
However, as much as the arrangements of these tracks try to deviate a little from the original versions, Clay Aiken’s singing leaves much to be desired. He’s like Mariah Carey in a way: he belts and hits the notes but there is no genuine passion in the singing. He’s just singing and it really shows. While such lifeless singing is okay in songs where the production values are more important than the vocals in creating an entertaining sound, it doesn’t work in ballads and MOR anthems where sometimes the vocalist is required to be unashamedly cheesy and melodramatic as possible.
If Foreigner’s lead singer Lou Gram is self-conscious about his own cheesiness, for example, the original I Want to Know What Love Is won’t be the grandfather of today’s faux-emo bands’ big ballads and power anthems. But Mr Aiken however is just… singing. Suzy McNeil blasts him away with just a few of her lines in that duet. On many tracks here, Mr Aiken often over-enunciates the words, singing as if he is recording an audio program to teach English to non-native speakers. In Right Here Waiting, he’s going pretty much “Oc.eans. a.part! Day. After. Day! And. I. Slowly. Slip. Away!”, overemphasizing each syllable equally as if it’s masterclass today on vowels and diphthongs and there’s a pop quiz on Friday. As a result, A Thousand Different Ways is more often than not Learning to Speak English via Karaoke.
The original songs are actually much more interesting than the mechanical cover versions in this CD, which suggests to me that an album of original MOR anthems would have been a better idea in the first place. I really like the sappy ballad Everything I Have and the Emo 101 Bon Jovi-penned These Open Arms (which has nothing to do with Journey’s Open Arms).
On the whole, A Thousand Different Ways is too guarded and impersonal. What is the point of this CD? Is it a collection of Clay Aiken’s favorite songs? If so, it’s a self-indulgent project that unfortunately doesn’t show much of his passion for those songs. Is this a quick souvenir CD for his fans and a way for him to make some quick buck to er, look for companions with better sense of discretion, I suppose? If so, bless him and may he be more careful around those webcam thingies.