Measure of a Man

Clay Aiken's "Measure of a Man" is the best pop album of 2003. Every song, every note is brimming with ambition and glory.

Clay Aiken's "Measure of a Man" is the best pop album of 2003. Every song, every note is brimming with ambition and glory. Thanks to the bull's-eye A&R talents of RCA chief Clive Davis and a cast of grade-A songwriters—including Cathy Dennis, Desmond Child, Kara DioGuardi, Gary Burr, Steve Morales, Andreas Carlsson—the "American Idol" hero's debut album perfectly matches his radiantly melodramatic voice with good, old-fashioned power ballads aimed straight for the gods. Throughout, the timeless production focuses squarely on Aiken's immense talent. "Run to Me" is arguably the sweet spot, the quintessential tear-jerker, along with show-stoppers "No More Sad Songs," "I Survived You" and the title track. In another radio era, this album could be the "Thriller" of the day, spawning hit after hit. In any case, fans have plenty to celebrate. "Measure of a Man" is an utter triumph of art and commerce.—CT