Measure Of A Man
RCA Records, 2003
REVIEW BY: JB
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/07/2005
Everyone hates American Idol and so do I.
I won't go into the homophobia, racism and sheer mediocrity that surrounds it; that's another whole editorial. Simply put, the boring show doesn't quite do what it's supposed to do; that is, show how real life can be more thrilling than fiction.
There is one exception. Nobody would suspend disbelief if Clay Aiken's story was a movie. A former teacher to autistic children, the nerdy, nobody-ish Aiken visibly shocked the judges in auditions with his voice, became a finalist, was voted off, was brought back on as the wild card, went to the finals and lost to some forgotten guy who Aiken creamed on the Billboard charts. This is what reality TV was supposed to be and was, for a single glorious season on a single show.
The almost-as-dramatic Measure Of A Man tackles familiar themes in pop music, which may not be as familiar as you think... when was the last time you heard a power ballad that worked? By a man, no less. "I Will Carry You" and "Run to Me" are cinematically evocative, and illuminating to compare with the failed "This is the Night" or "Invisible," which are themselves decent songs that either sound better live or need snazzier production. Aiken's success goes to show that singers who can pull off the drama without making millions of listeners cringe are actually pretty rare despite the many that try (again, witness American Idol, which is essentially an audition for power balladeers, no matter what they claim to be).
The album is seriously marred by its demo-quality instrumental arrangements (PEOPLE.... STOP USING DRUM MACHINES IF YOU WORK IN R&B!) and some of the songs don't work: "Shine" and "Touch" are unnecessary attempts to update the sound of the album by throwing in some white rock chords, "No More Sad Songs" isn't nearly as convincing as "I Survived You" (which is even more convincing than Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone"). And I would've appreciated more songs like "The Way" that shows he's not just a belter; this is a voice that can tell stories and it's frustrating not to hear it used to that potential (apparently he's on some kind of cover songs tour... yikes!). But these are inevitable clunkers and criticisms in a debut album that contains twelve songs. If the more than fairly consistent Aiken was stock, I'd still invest, a little.
Measure Of A Man sounds like a rushed album, but it's still a solid, understated showcase for a promising singer. It's just so much better than the other Idol crud they've saddled poor consumer exploitation-ignorant young listeners with. Idol, a show successful only in ratings, will have to do better than one good singer to get any kind of immortal validation it aspires to through its title.