Album Review: Clay Aiken, “A Thousand Different Ways” (2006)

I’ll admit that I used to be a fanatical Clay Aiken fan. I made sure to watch every episode of American Idol that he was on, taped every interview he did, bought all his albums (even the singles) and waited with bated breath for the day that he would perform a concert in my town.

However, when his second studio album, A Thousand Different Ways, was released this September, my attitude was a bit indifferent. Aiken’s debut CD didn’t do much to impress me, and somehow I was sure an album full of covers of love songs wouldn’t do much better. I waited a whole two weeks before even purchasing the album (which was a big deal for me- I bought his debut and Christmas CDs the day they were released!), and my premonitions proved to be right; after the first listen I hated the CD.

Though my loathing has subsided a bit since then, I still hold to the fact that A Thousand Different Ways isn’t a good album. For one thing, the entire CD is filled with mid-tempo and slow ballads, and though Aiken does have a great voice, it’s done no justice by the poor production and cheesy sounding backing tracks/vocalists. There are four original tunes that are decent, but they don’t make up for the amount of horribly done covers.

The album begins with one of the many aforementioned cover tracks, Right Here Waiting. I’m not a big fan of the original song (by Richard Marx) and Aiken’s version is pretty similar. Aiken provides plenty of soaring vocals, but the song starts the album off on a pretty dull note, and I’m sure if he ever performed this on American Idol the judges would berate him for not “making the song [his] own”.

Lonely No More is the first of the original tracks, and was co-written by Aiken (well, along with three other writers) himself. The song starts off quietly with piano, and then fades into Aiken’s vocals. This song isn’t too bad; the lyrics aren’t anything too remarkable (“I don’t want to be lonely no more/I don’t want to feel empty no more/Only you could unbreak this heartache I’ve carried around”) but the simple composition makes the song nicer to listen to than some of the other tracks on the album.

Without You was released as the first single, and I guess you can say that my bad feelings about the album began when I first heard the track. First of all, this is probably one of the most done songs in history- everyone from Air Supply to Heart has covered the song, though the most popular rendition was by Mariah Carey. Aiken’s cover is ambitious, but doesn’t hold a candle to Carey’s offering. Again, overproduction seems to be the nail in the coffin here; the few times that Aiken’s vocals shine through, the orchestra overpowers him and bad synthesized music plays throughout the track, eventually causing a headache.

Finally, things start to look up with Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word. Originally performed by Elton John, the song has a simple beauty to it that hasn’t been shown yet on this album. Aiken delivers the song earnestly; for once breathing some sort of new life into one of the cover tracks, and it seems as though he truly is a regretful lover as he sings “What have I got to do to make you love me?/What have I got to do to make you care?”

Aiken also covers Celine Dion’s classic, Because You Loved Me. Again, the song isn’t anything too drastic from the original, and despite the fact that I hate the original song; Aiken seems to do a decent job during his rendition. When I See You Smile, is innocuous, and it’s a wonder why anyone felt the need to re-record a song that wasn’t so great in the first place. Similarly, Aiken’s version of Every Time You Go Away is terribly boring, but at least it’s not bad.

But speaking of truly bad covers, we have I Want To Know What Love Is. I loathe this song so much that I’ve only listened to it twice all the way through. First of all, I don’t believe in doing a remake of a song unless you’re going to improve on it. Foreigner’s version was the best, and even more importantly, this is a song that belongs in the 80’s and should stay there. Suzie Mcneil, who was a contestant onRock Star: INXS, provides her vocals for this duet. Their voices don’t seem to compliment each other at all, and the campy backing synth returns, making the whole song into one big train wreck.

Clay Aiken

Then we have Everything I Do (I Do It For You). My second rule for covers is if the original song was outplayed, don’t bother doing it again. I remember hearing this song everywhere when it was released, and it’s hard for me to listen to the Bryan Adams or version to this day. While Adams’ version was sung with emotion, Aiken’s sings the song as though he’s singing about his pet rock, and not about someone he loves. It’s amazing to see such a great song (albeit overplayed) turned to this crap. Why, Clay?

The rest of the original songs still don’t make up for those disastrous covers. A Thousand Days is another mid-tempo ballad, and though the production isn’t as bad, the lyrics make me cringe a bit (“Through my eyes/I have seen the world start spinning like a ball/Stars light up and then fall for you.”). These Open Arms is a bit more interesting musically, but again, Aiken’s delivery is lifeless and it actually seems as though all of his emotion has been sucked out of him. Here You Come Again is better both lyrically and musically (this time the song is about someone coming back in your life right as you’ve gotten over them), and despite being a bit repetitious after the first verse is actually quite a sweet song.

The album comes to an end with Broken Wings, the biggest atrocity of all. Most people are familiar with this 80’s hit, originally done by Mr. Mister (Aiken also did a cover of their hit Kyrie during one of his tours, and I actually wish that song was included instead of this mess!), but Aiken slows the tempo down and turns the upbeat song into yet another ballad. As if the arrangement isn’t strange enough, the female vocalist who provides the backing vocals does a horrible job, and during parts of the song, a woman (Erin Taylor) can be heard reciting poetry in the background. Yes, poetry. I don’t know what she’s mumbling about, nor do I care; the song is horrible. Aiken starts off the track by himself, and that part of the song is actually okay, but between the backing vocals and the poetry, the song becomes a disaster. Again, this is a song that should’ve stayed in the 80’s, or at least done so that it doesn’t come off sounding cheesier than any of the worst 80’s songs combined.

Maybe I’ve been harsh, but I feel like a disappointed mother watching her son perform poorly in school. I know Clay can do better; he has the talent in him to make quality albums, yet I haven’t seen one yet (save his Christmas disc). This is probably not entirely his fault, but I wish he would at least wise up and find a new label and/or management before making another album. I wanted to like A Thousand Different Ways, really, I did, but it looks like I’ll be shelving my Claymate card until Clay manages to impress me again.

Rating: 2_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Right Here Waiting
2. Lonely No More
3. Without You
4. Every Time You Go Away
5. Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
6. When I See You Smile
7. A Thousand Days
8.(Everything I Do) I Do It For You
9. Because You Loved Me
10. I Want To Know What Love Is
11. These Open Arms
12. Here You Come Again
13. Everything I Have
14. Broken Wings

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