Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Thousand Different Ways: Different Voices & Impressions Part I

The ConCLAYve is made up of a number of different voices - drawn together because of our admiration and appreciation of Clay Aiken. If we could be sitting around a virtual table, drinking wine and sharing stories . . . one topic would surely be Clay's new album, A Thousand Different Ways. But of course, we're all so chatty - this will have to be Part I. Why not listen while reading? You can stream on AOL Music and please add your comments. It's fun to join in the conversation and the more voices - the merrier.

Pink Armchair:
My boss (who has a casual interest in Clay) made an interesting remark to me about him this week. She watched the GMA interview, The View, and some of the entertainment show coverage. One of them showed footage of a CD release party, and in watching it she observed, “It must be something about his voice -- it seems to have affected you all so strongly, and in so many different ways.”

Could that be... “a thousand different ways?”

I know, for me, the very first time I heard it, it hit me right in the solar plexus. I remember thinking that it was impossible to ignore, and that it was such a force of nature, it couldn’t be denied. I wasn’t worried for Clay during American Idol, because I knew that THAT VOICE wasn’t going away. It couldn’t. Once you’ve heard it, it gets into your psyche. And stays there.

So I find myself unable to pick a favorite track on this new CD. There are some I like better than others, but every time I listen to it, different things strike me, and certain nuances come to the fore that I hadn’t noticed before. The main thing is: no matter what you think of the song choices, no matter how you feel about how the album came about or what you hoped it could have been...the VOICE is still undeniable.

His crystalline sense of pitch, his perfect intonation, his unselfish interpretations -- respect for the composer: what a concept! -- his choice to sustain (very difficult) straight tones (listen to “Every Time You Go Away” and “Here You Come Again” for prime examples of that) instead of copping out to the tedious melisma so many singers today use to hide their lack of vocal power and technique. (This is assuming, of course, that they’re actually singing. And these days, that is certainly not a given.)

And the idea that he actually contributed to writing some of these tracks gives me great confidence in his future -- it shows me that he’s not JUST a singer (albeit one of the best ever to pick up a microphone). Go over to iTunes and download “Lover All Alone” if you don’t believe that.

Maybe Clay’s style isn’t in vogue right now. All I can say is that I think it’s timeless. And long after today’s “flavor of the month” is relegated to the discount bin, Clay’s recordings will endure, and hold a prominent place on my CD rack. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Out of all the wonderful contributors to this blog, I’m pretty sure I am the one with the least sophisticated musical knowledge/taste. I’m a disco babe from the late 70’s/early 80’s. I don’t listen to “indie music”, I have no idea who Leonard Cohen or Rufus Wainwright are and a classic, to me, is Brick House (only kidding a little bit). So, other than the fact that I don’t think this should have been a “covers of love songs” CD from the git-go, I didn’t have a problem when the track list was released. I loved the originals of these songs (except Everything I Do --- HATED IT). I even dragged my big 80’s hair and acid washed jeans to see Richard Marx in concert with Wilson Phillips.

Even though I probably wouldn’t have been disappointed anyway, this CD has been a real surprise to me. I knew I would like it, had no idea I would LOVE IT. It’s been almost a week now and my favorite keeps changing. Today it’s “When I See You Smile”. Clay just seems so joyful and passionate while singing this song. I am dying to see him sing this one live. “Here You Come Again”, “Right Here Waiting” and “Sorry Seems…..” are simply amazing and take my breath away. As for “Everything I Do…”, Bryan Adams’ version made my ears bleed. Gargle with broken glass much, Bryan? I was not looking forward to this on ATDW, but I can’t stop listening to it. It is gorgeous. This is how a love song should be sung.

I don’t want this to become an epic novel, so I’ll move on to the original songs. There are no words for “Lover All Alone”. The world needs to hear this song. I’ve loved “A Thousand Days” since last summer and only love it more after seeing Clay perform it live on GMA. It’s the first song I listen to in the car every morning. “Lonely No More” is a great song and my 2nd favorite at the moment. “Everything I Have” and “These Open Arms” – also great. These 5 songs, plus “Tears Run Dry”, plus 1 or 2 more originals, plus Clive’s covers, would have made a more well-balanced CD.

All in all, even though this isn’t the CD I wanted, I am more than pleased. Clay and Jaymes took lemons and made lemonade (how corny is that!). While I wait for Clay’s next effort, I will play ATDW over and over and over and love every minute of it!!

'A Thousand Different Ways' by Clay Aiken. His third CD since October, 2003, if you include his Christmas album, 'Merry Christmas, With Love'. I anticipated this CD with baited breath for over a year. I yearned to hear new music from Clay, yearnd to hear that glorious voice wrap itself around new songs and new lyrics. Hearing his four new songs on last summer's Jukebox Tour only whetted my appetite for more. I wanted to hear Clay on my radio, blasting out my car speakers. I thought, with 'Back for More', I'd get that.

I was wrong.

What Clive Davis and RCA Records choose to release was an album of covers with only four new songs thrown in the mix. Maybe RCA thought that they'd cash in on the cover craze started by Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow but they failed to understand that those CD's were recorded by artists over age 50 with a repetoire of respected work behind them. Clay is 27 years old.

The album, 'A Thousand Different Ways' is a vocal masterpiece. The following was written by Claymaniac in PA the other day:

I'm sorry more people don't get it, but that doesn't diminish my deep appreciation for what Clay and Jaymes (and all the others) have done with this album. It doesn't matter to me whether these songs are songs I would typically like, or whether it's a genre I would typically like--it's the musicality, the thoughtfulness and beauty of the arrangements (despite the fact that the strings are overdone), the elegance of the vocals, the many small details that indicate care and attention that make me love this album. A thousand bad reviews, a thousand unhappy or dissatisfied fans cannot make me love it any less.

While I agree with her about the musicality and totality of the concept CD, I just don't love this CD. I love the arrangements, I absolutely love Clay's voice and the things he did with it, I love how he's experimenting with vocal nuances and using his different voices to convey emotion. I only wish he would or could have choosen a more diverse representation of love songs, songs that were not so well-known, songs that would have challenged his emotions and voice even more. And let me be blunt. I wanted rock songs on the CD, the kind of songs you blast out your car speakers while rolling down the highway. Fist-pumping, get-up-on-your-feet, dance-in-the-aisle songs. I know Clay is capable of them, I know he can do them, because I've seen it. I've seen it at more than 25 concerts. I've seen the audience fist-pump and I've seen Clay rock out so an album of covers with not much difference in the tempo is perplexing to me.

It's not Clay that I don't like, it's not Clay's voice that I don't like, it's the covers on the CD that I don't particularly care for. That he sings his ass off on them is undeniable, but this writer is looking forward to the next CD, hopefully one full of original songs like the itunes download that reportedly Clay wrote, "Lover All Alone', a stark, contemporary song about a man trying to find a home for his heart. It's brilliant in its simplicity and Clay is finally writing. If this is the kind of song that is in his soul, I want more of that, please.

Trying to get my thoughts down about Clay Aiken’s new cd gets my head spinning in A Thousand Different Ways.

Some of the critics that have reviewed this cd so far would have me believe that this is merely a cd of cover music, unoriginal and uninspired where everything sounds the same and beneath what any “real” music lover should want.

Uninspired? Unoriginal.

Not so much.

Luckily , I make up my own mind. I don’t need a critic to tell me what I want to listen too. That is an advantage of being “older”. Ironically a lot of “reviews” come from people that obviously haven’t even listened to the cd.. I don’t say “obviously didn’t listen to it” because their opinion differs from mine, but because they make inane inaccurate comments and half of them think there is a title track.

So, I am not really that interested in what they have to say about this cd but instead what it says to me.

Isn’t that really what music is all about anyway?

I won’t go through a whole list song by song. I have just started to really “experience” this cd and the journey is to be savored. It is actually a bit of a revelation if a person really wants to “listen” and not just “hear” what is being sung.

For example, I can’t see how anyone can listen to Clay’s version of Broken Wings and say it is “unoriginal”. They can say they don’t like it, it doesn’t work for them, they prefer Mr. Mister’s version but it is NOT a carbon copy of that group’s original.

Perhaps because I am in a melancholy point in my life, the haunting quality of the background singer voice intertwining with Clay’s makes me really listen to the song and take more from it somehow. I have always loved the Mr. Mister’s version but I don’t know if I really “listened” to it fully. I think the spoken word, while distracting to some, ties it all together. The last line of that poem, which is the last thing you hear on the cd is “A thousand different ways”. I actually think that is clever and makes the cd seem even more cohesive.

Lonely No More is an original song co-written by Clay. It is one of my favorites on the cd. Clay also co-wrote (and rumor has it is the major contributor) Lover All Alone which is only available when downloading the cd from Itunes. Some have said it has a Five for Fighting or a James Blunt vibe but for me it conjures of the pure, unrestrained voice up Art Garfunkle. Oh, I suppose he isn’t cool either and that dates me but I don’t listen to music to be cool. I listen to music to feel, to somehow connect to the lyrics and music whether they are fun and irreverent or make my heart break a little.

My heart breaks a lot hearing Lover All Alone. How many of us have felt lonely even when there are others around us? Most people just want to love and be loved. That concept is achingly communicated with this gem of a song.

Although it isn't what I envisioned for a second mainstream release, Clay took great care and took risks in this cd whether people can see it or not. There are so many nuances and different “voices”. I know it has me listening to songs I thought I “knew” with a completely different perspective.

Any cd that can do that is special. I am grateful for Clay Aiken and what he made out of A Thousand Different Ways.
Clay gives an exquisite performance of Without You on The View - Enjoy!

And join us in a couple of days for Part II!

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CB said...

I love this blog because even though the writing styles were so different, it still flowed wonderfully.

And I want to know how come there are no pictures of Theresa with her 80's hair.

atina l said...

I love your reflections on the CD and Michi, there are two of your points I'd like to agree with. I too, thought of Art Garfunkel when I heard Clay on Lover All Alone. Also, I thought the ending of Broken Wings with the last line of ATDW made for a cohesive ending to the CD. Eventually, when I get all 16 songs on one CD, I still want it to end with Broken Wings. I look forward to reading more here in a couple of days

Shadylil said...

This is one of the best blogs on the internet. I am honored to be included. You guys have done a fantastic job.

Luminous Dream said...

It's been quite an emotional week, hasn't it?! Thank you for your blog!

The ConCLAYve-Nan said...

I love hearing Pink's impressions - coming from a singer - your perspective is so special. And Shady . . . I know exactly where your heart is and I also know that there is much of what you want to see coming down the road. Thank you for your honesty. Michi - " I listen to music to feel, to somehow connect to the lyrics and music whether they are fun and irreverent or make my heart break a little" sums it up for me beautifully.

The ConCLAYve-Nan said...

Hee - Theresa - I saw you on TV from the back bopping along to ATD on GMA - I can so picture you in your big hair in the 80s - I love that you love with such exhuberance!