There are gems here, but this album is unlikely to hold the attention of the casual listener all the way through. Clay Aiken fans will find much to like here, but he needs to start thinking about how to reach toward a broader audience and catch their attention. A number of ingredients for long-term pop stardom are evident, but A Thousand Different Ways is merely a holding pattern on the pathway there.
Playing It Too Safe - The Perils of a Covers Album
Putting together an album that is primarily covers of songs popularized by other artists is often a perilous enterprise for a mainstream pop musician. The songs can be interpreted in ways that range far enough from the original that they anger those who treasure the classic version, or they may be interpreted in a way so close to the original that it renders the new recording superfluous. The rare occurrence is striking a middle ground that pleases everyone.
Unfortunately for Clay Aiken, on his album A Thousand Different Ways, he frequently falls in the latter camp playing things so safe on a number of songs that a listener wonders why we really need his version as well. "Right Here Waiting," "Everytime You Go Away," and "When I See You Smile" are all competent performances, but they add little that is revelatory.
Clay Aiken's Impressive Voice
As it has been since American audiences were first introduced to him auditioning for American Idol, Clay Aiken's voice remains a marvelous instrument. His most successful tunes here resist temptations to over-emote and simply allow the song to shine through with his clear, resonant voice. Without the bombast of Celine Dion's performance, Diane Warren's "Because You Loved Me" reveals itself as an irresistibly romantic pop classic. A stripped down and reduced tempo version of "Here You Come Again," originally a top 10 pop hit for Dolly Parton, reveals a melody that instantly sticks in the mind sounding like it was written for Clay Aiken.
Top Tracks on 'A Thousand Different Ways'
- Because You Loved Me
- Here You Come Again
- A Thousand Days
- Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
- Without You
The Future Is an Open Book for Clay Aiken
There is nothing painful to listen to here, although I would have nixed the ill-advised voiceovers on "Broken Wings." Unfortunately, there is too little that is truly memorable either. What we are left with is Clay Aiken treading water and still looking at a career without a specific direction in the pop music realm. Beyond the covers, the original songs here, outside of the power ballad "A Thousand Days," also fail to stick.
Clay Aiken seems in need of connecting with a key songwriter and/or producer with whom he can collaborate to formulate a project that defines him as a performer (the synergy between Christina Aguilera and Linda Perry is one model which comes to mind). Without this definition, it will be increasingly difficult for Clay Aiken to move beyond the status of a treasured national talent show competitor to widespread recognition as a gifted pop artist.