Pop-cult pundits from around the dial have been outdoing themselves in the search for the canniest use of ’80s soft-rock references to describe sleepy-eyed American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken’s debut, Measure of a Man.
“He’s like Peter Cetera giving Barry Manilow a back rub while Air Supply double-team Carole Bayer Sager,” I think I might’ve read somewhere last week. But rest easy, Rob Sheffield, Joel Stein, and pervy mustached guy from Access Hollywood, for Aiken’s true tradition is the “rock” “opera”—not its embrace of concept (though Man does float a gender crisis too finely shaded for prime time), but its cute misapprehension of that trio of rock signifiers: volume, thrust, and melody.
Every time he needs to mean it, Aiken reminds us of his vocal curriculum and unfurls his careful Broadway-baby boom. Guitars sparkle and fade yet delay abandon till the third act (which never comes); choruses arrive with stage directions attached; lyrics tell a story, only very badly. He chews scenery that doesn’t exist, not singing about himself but not singing about not singing about himself: “just a shadow passing through.” If Clay promises to grow a goatee, will someone please cast him as the worrywart filmmaker in Rent?