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Aiken makes sappy songs tolerable

‘American Idol’ runner-up releases his first album

“Measure of a Man,” Clay Aiken’s collection of utterly forgettable love songs, should be packaged along with a copy of Lisa Simpson’s favorite magazine, “Non-Threatening Boys.”

THE “AMERICAN IDOL” runner-up underwent the makeover that’s de rigueur for serious contenders on the singing competition, but it’s still a stretch to accept him as a sex symbol. Despite the stylish new wardrobe and the blond highlights on the tips of his purposely messy hair, he still looks like the love child of k.d. lang and Howdy Doody.

Aiken’s handlers couldn’t wash off the Raleigh, N.C., native’s freshly scrubbed image — and, thankfully, they also didn’t tinker with the disarming strength of his voice. The sappy songs on his debut album (on RCA), which came out this week, are more tolerable than they should be, simply because he’s singing them.

I never thought I’d want to listen more than once to “This Is the Night,” the soaring, occasionally bombastic ballad Aiken first belted out during the “American Idol” finals. Turns out it’s the best song on the album.

Aiken should have included his cover of Jeffrey Osborne’s “On the Wings of Love,” one of his best songs during the competition. (If you’re dying to hear it, check out the “American Idol” love songs compilation disc.)

Instead, we have the bouncy but insipid lead track “Invisible,” which you could easily imagine on the soundtrack of some cookie-cutter romantic comedy.

“I Will Carry You” strives to be inspirational, but doesn’t tell you anything you haven’t heard before: “When your world breaks down, And the voices tell you turn around, When your dreams give out, I will carry you.”

After a while, it all blends into one long power ballad; the piano-heavy “Shine” and “I Survived You” are essentially interchangeable.

Then comes the highly religious title track, which is ostensibly a love song but could easily be a contemporary Christian hit: “Would he walk on water? Would he run through fire? Would he stand before you when it’s down to the wire?” (Aiken, a devout Christian, thanks God at the beginning of his liner notes and Jesus Christ at the end.)

Some (including our music writer, Nekesa Mumbi Moody) have suggested that Aiken is the Barry Manilow of our generation. I like to think Barry Manilow is still the Barry Manilow of our generation — but I’d also like to hear Aiken sing “Mandy” or “Weekend in New England,” or anything else besides the songs here.© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.