I rooted for Clay during the second season of American Idol, but I never counted on buying his album or—God forbid—liking it. Modern pop music is overwhelmingly crap, and I expected an overproduced, hyped, electronically enhanced, new-age “R&B” influenced pop crap album like that put out by first-season Idol winner Kelly Clarkson or like Britney Spears’s two most recent albums.

That’s not what I got.

There is no denying that Clay Aiken’s debut album, Measure of a Man, is a pop album, but it’s not much like other pop albums today. It has tunes. The tracks can be accurately called songs. There are no electronica effects, obviously adjusted vocals, or rap-style dance beats. It’s clearly put together with pop production values, but it’s put together cleanly and in a listenable form.

Measure of a Man hearkens back to the 1970s, when pop was actually music and you could enjoy listening to an entire album’s worth of it. Not every song is flawless, but I listened to all 12 without cringing once. That’s more than I can say for most albums produced in the last three or four years.

This is not high-class, brain twisting, deep music—but Measure of a Man is a strong debut for the talented Clay Aiken and a good collection of songs that you can just put on and enjoy. Compared to the vacuous, sexual, artificial tripe that has been put out by pop artists lately, I can say that this album is a breath of fresh air in the genre.

4 out of 5 stars.