Measure Of A Man
by Clay Aiken, pop (2003)
RCA, $18.97, ASIN B0000AGWEC

Time will tell if Clay Aiken's legions of fanatical fans can carry him past his fifteenth minute of fame. When fellow asexual heartthrobs like Gareth Gates and Justin Guarini are reenacting Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively on the charts, it remains to be see whether the first runner-up of American Idol 2 can survive the curse of the runners-up. All three so-called artists share several similar traits: their selling point is their appeal to straight teenaged girls and gay teen boys, and in Aiken's case, adult women that are hungry for another Barry Manilow while trying to sort out whether they want their daughters to marry Aiken or to screw that man silly themselves. Not exactly an ingredient to artistic credibility, and if Measure Of A Man is any indication, not exactly a recipe for longevity either.

Filled with trite ballads and midtempo music that are more at home being piped from the speakers of K-Mart rather than from any decent music player from people with taste, Aiken's exaggerated melodramatic bombastic vocals that he displayed on American Idol 2 are stripped down to reveal an awkwardly uneven tenor interspersed with shrill high notes when the chorus demands for a crescendo and Aiken obligingly shrieks on cue. Songs like I Will Carry You and No More Sad Songs are exactly the worst kind of music that propels Aiken to post-Idol probably-transitory fame. On midtempo songs, he often sounds like Nik Kershaw crossed with Barry Manilow and the result is just bizarre. On slower songs, the emotionless and insincere hollowness in his voice become even more evident.

The only halfway listenable song is the first single Invisible (wise choice), which sounds like a Nik Kershaw song ripped from the entrails of New Romantics hell, with Aiken being accompanied by what seems like some drunk female back-up singers Aiken's Cornball Bus picked up from Vegas on its way to the studio. This Is The Night, which sounds eeriely like an Erasure song, is very good when Aiken performed it live on the American Idol 2 finale, but the more polished version on this CD is flat and lifeless.

Subpar productions that include some of the truly horrific background vocalists ever (see Invisible) suggest that this CD is a rushed job pushed out as soon as possible to skin the fat cash cow that are the army of fanatical Clay fans. I also get a snicker from the Clay fans' claims, before this CD is released, about how "hundreds of hot producers" are fighting to play a part on our supposedly hot hot hot artist here. Er, the only names recognizable and relevant to current music are Enrique Iglesias (he co-wrote that wretched The Way), Desmond Child, Steve Morales and Rick Nowels. Hardly the parade of luminary icons of hipness that the Clay fans with purportedly "insider" knowledge claims to be.

If one visits the Clay fanboards, one would have this impression that Clay Aiken is the brilliant musical prodigy that will revolutionize music and teach us to embrace the glory of schmaltz. However, listening to this poorly-produced CD filled with bland and nondescript songs that will even humiliate a third-rate sing-for-booze Vegas crooner, it is more likely that RCA is hoping to make hay while the sun is still shining - for now. If Aiken doesn't come up with halfway decent music soon to justify the American Idol hype, the sun will probably move on to the next heartthrob. American Idol 3 is just around the corner, and without any good music to sell to people whose musical allegiance doesn't just rely on who makes their prepubescent hearts go a-flutter, Aiken will soon find himself sharing tables with Rick Astley and exchanging sad stories about the cruel fickleness of teenaged fans. It is a lesson that Justin Guarini and Gareth Gates are learning the painful way and one Aiken will also learn firsthand if he doesn't insist on singing more palatable music in his follow-up CD.

Rating: 53

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