In Brief: Let me fix that misspelled band name for you: It should be GREED. ‘Cause I can’t see any other logical reason for this reunion.
You know a band isn’t that great when they break up seemingly prematurely, and a guy like me who once considered a fan of the band is so ambivalent about it that the breakup seems strangely appropriate to him. Then, years later, when rumors of a reunion begin to swirl about, he hopes those rumors are unfounded, and lists off several reasons why it would be a horrible idea for the band to get together. Despite hoping that cooler heads will prevail, when that band does inevitably reunite, this former fan suddenly sounds as vitriolic as the people who have hated the band all along, almost praying for them to crash and burn and disintegrate once again, never to be heard from under the name that once made them famous. Look at this guy’s past opinions of the band, and you’ll find a seemingly inconsistent story, once defending the group against accusations he now willingly levels against them. This, friends, is my story with the band Creed.
Maybe things were just different for me in the year 1999, when I first heard the band. Here I was, this kid fresh out of college, raised on Christian rock, never having heard any of Pearl Jam‘s earlier stuff outside of a radio being played in earshot when I wasn’t paying attention, and wishing I could find something in mainstream rock that actually sounded like it had some hope. Enter a relatively young, eager-faced band with an uplifting song called “Higher”, and a follow-up ballad called “With Arms Wide Open” about the lead singer’s son. It worked for me on an emotional level, so I was affable. I checked out Human Clay, and despite knowing the criticism that the band got even then, I related, even to some of their angry stuff. Sure, it could be turgid and repetitive at times. But it bridged a gap for me that I’d seen few bands successfully bridge. I was too naive to understand the backlash, and I was prepared to defend the band against their critics as best I could until Scott Stapp got a little too obsessive about doing that on his own by way of his song lyrics. That bad habit severely marred Weathered, an album placed in the unfortunate position of having to follow a massive commercial breakthrough, on which the band tried way too hard they could prove to be all things to all people. I still enjoy the songs I considered highlights from that record back in the day (as I do with all of their albums), but Weathered in particular suffered from a slew of poorly thought-out ideas that made it an extremely rough ride to get through. One minute they were harshly denouncing critics, the next trying to sound socially conscious, and a bit too much of an attempt at sentimentality marred its back half. This was a band that played doppleganger based on what they thought they needed to prove to people they could do, rather than ever really carving out their own identity. I wasn’t particularly clamoring to hear where they’d go next.
The answer to that question, of course, was nowhere. As Stapp’s personal life began to spiral out of control, he took the band with him, leading to an eventual breakup in 2004. For a time, I pointed the finger and jeered at his idiocy. That might not have been fair. But it was clear that his time in the limelight wasn’t doing him many favors (as evidenced by his further descent into embarrassingly self-defensive songwriting on his ill-conceived solo debut The Great Divide), so it seemed that if Stapp would just go away already, the results would be as favorable for him as they would for us. The remaining members of Creed wasted no time in getting on about their business without Stapp around, as guitarist Mark Tremonti and drummer Scott Phillips re-hired Creed’s former bassist Brian Marshall and found a new, more dynamic, and far less overbearing lead singer in Myles Kennedy. I didn’t catch on to the resulting band Alter Bridge, right away, feeling like it was just a retread of Creed with better guitar work and a better singer at first, but the band’s second album, Blackbird, really grabbed my attention. It wasn’t a work of genius, but Tremonti, Kennedy, and company showed a lot of musical growth away from post-grunge and back toward some of their old-school metal influences, and it was a lot of fun, even inspirational at times, in ways that Creed only attained on the rare song that overcame its blustering cliches. Wind-Up Records pressured the guys to mend fences with Stapp and reunite Creed, which was clearly all for the money (and led to Alter Bridge leaving the label), and I was proud of Tremonti for saying, “Hell no.” Whatever it was that changed between Blackbird‘s release in 2007 and the apparent “Hell yes” that led to Creed’s dreaded reunion in 2009, I can’t say. But I’ll be honest, I felt a little betrayed, like these guys were slumming it by making music with Stapp again. Hey, if broken friendships can be fixed, I’m cool with that, but that doesn’t mean we need a forced attempt to recapture glory days that weren’t really that glorious in the first place. Were that many fans really rallying for this?
Of course, morbid curiosity got the best of me, so I ended up giving Creed’s much-ballyhooed “comeback” album, Full Circle, a few spins. And at first, I had a lot of thoughts that began with the phrase “To be fair”. For example, to be fair, a lot of Tremonti’s guitar work on this album is pretty kick-@$$. Whether it was Stapp’s ego holding him back in the old days when lackadaisical power chords meant more to the climate of popular music than shredding solos, or just Tremonti having a reputation that previously outstripped his actual abilities, the two men seem to have worked out an agreeable arrangement where neither holds anything back. This is good for Tremonti, even if it brings the worst out of Stapp. And to be fair to Stapp, as much as I may despise his ragged bellowing, his voice seems to have improved since that God-awful solo album. He’s still overbearing as all get-out, and his songwriting is more cloying than all of Creed’s past work combined, but pair him up with Tremonti’s backing vocals for a solid chorus, and I can usually live with the results. The songwriting is the part where “to be fair” ends, though, because yeesh, this album is even more all over the map then Weathered in the department of “things we have to prove to the audience”. Want more vicious comebacks aimed at the band’s critics? No? Too bad, ’cause you got ’em. Want a couple breezy pop singles and “thoughtful”, apologetic love ballads? Hate to break it to you, but that’s what you’re getting anyway. The band leaves no cliche unturned, echoing the worst of their imitators (and there have been so many in Creed’s absence that we never truly had the chance to miss them!), just with better guitar work and a decent rhythm section in most places. I can’t fault Tremonti and the other guys. They try their darndest to make this as lively and dynamic a record as the work they’ve done with Alter Bridge. Musically, this might be Creed’s most appealing record. But the hackneyed lyrics make it impossible for me to recommend more than a small handful of songs, culminating in an absolutely wretched stretch through most of the middle of the album that will leave the listener praying against all odds for a lyric that they can’t predict ahead of time (or find a reason to laugh at once the line arrives that’s worse than what they anticipated). Yeah, it’s that bad. The worst part is that Stapp seems to think he owes the listener an apology for all of his personal mishaps over the last, oh I don’t know, ten years or so. He doesn’t owe me an apology for that stuff any more than Tiger Woods owes me an apology for cheating on his wife. (An apology to the folks he actually hurt would suffice – and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that this has already happened.) All he owes the general public an apology for is screeching laughably bad rhymes at us and expecting us to care.
But that’s what we’re gonna get from Creed, for as long as this second iteration of the band lasts before their inevitable second implosion. Decent-to-good post-grunge-hinting-at-hard-rock that gets wasted on amateur hour songwriting. Which makes Full Circle a wince-inducing listen, but gives me an incredibly fun review to write.
As the first mean guitar riffs come lurching out of the gate, Stapp seeks to set the record straight with all those meanie critics and bloggers and whoever else who gave him a hard time. I could be making that up, but when a band is so hell-bent on decrying vague adversity in so many of their songs, you kind of have to fill in the blanks on your own. There are parts of this song that I can bang my head and pump my fist along to, when isolated lyrics are taken on their own – I think the line “I’ll be damned fighting you, you’re impossible” is a pretty apt description of a mocking audience that just won’t let him win, for example. But when the song as a whole is so heavy on stuff like, “Now it’s my turn to speak, it’s my turn to expose and release what’s been killing me”, it suddenly feels like he’s the guest on a very special episode of Oprah or something. I’m not bothered by the vocal performance here the shouting and the overall gruffness of it fits in nicely with guitar riffs that are more old metal than nu-metal (thankfully), but when you devote the chorus of the first song on your reunion album to telling us “I’m entitled to overcome”, that really just adds fuel to the fire for those who think acting like you were entitled to something was what got you into so much trouble in the first place.
2. Bread of Shame
I’m going to do something uncharacteristic here and actually give Creed a compliment for this song. I like it. It seems positively harsh on the ears at first with its dissonant riffing and its bludgeoning stops and starts, and it might easily be mistaken for more of Scott’s bellyaching about a public that doesn’t understand him. But I see some growth in the lyrics here – they haven’t completely dodged the awkward landmines inherent in Stapp’s songwriting process, but there’s a central idea to the song that I think shows some insight. Blasting forth from the speakers with a melody that intentionally grates against the grind of the rhythm guitar, along comes a confession of sorts that seems to suggest Stapp is owning up to the part he played in the making of his own scandal. It’s something we’ve seen many times before, or at least those of us who watch reality TV (I dabble), where celebrities who know they’re not well liked capitalize on how well hated they are and plaster their mugs anywhere they can because bad publicity beats no publicity. I think this is the “bread of shame” that Stapp speaks of – taking whatever crumbs you can get at the expense of your own self-esteem. Recognizing it hopefully means that chapter’s behind him. Even if it’s all B.S., it’s Creed’s most hard-hitting song since “Bullets”. (It’s also not nearly as pretentious as “Bullets”.)
3. A Thousand Faces
I would love to be able to flip a switch and just turn the lyrics off on this one. Musically speaking, it’s a beautifully executed piece, with an ominous acoustic guitar intro and a full-throated blast of a chorus that makes me notice what I took for granted on Alter Bridge’s records – Mark Tremonti can provide some pretty sweet backing vocals when they’re needed. It might the combination of those two things that caused me to initially put this song on my short “It doesn’t suck!” list, or it might be the unexpected melodic turns that the bridge takes – this one tries harder composition-wise than your average Creed song. But then I notice Scott Stapp’s moaning about a lying liar who lied to him and who wears “a thousand faces” and he doesn’t know which one’s the real person. It’s an analogy with about as much subtlety to it as a gang rape. So my feelings on this song are mixed. It’s probably a good live highlight (not that I would pay money to see this band live. I mean, not again.)
Uh-oh, looks like I’m running out of compliments. I want to like this one when it gets off to a chugging start with one of Tremonti’s tried-and-true arpeggios, but it all goes down the crapper as soon as Stapp starts singing. He won goodwill with me by being confessional in “Bread of Shame”, but that trick doesn’t work nearly as well here when I feel like I’m being beat to death by a personal pep talk. “Own up to the sin you bury within.” UGH! The biggest moment when I’m tempted to retch comes in the absolutely dreadful chorus, in which Stapp feels the need to repeat the word “Suddenly” so many times that I have to wonder, how could a thing happen suddenly that many times in a row? Check this brilliant bit of penmanship: “Suddenly my world is falling apart. So suddenly, so suddenly…” wait for it… “Suddenly!” Things that are sudden are supposed to be surprising, aren’t they?
Creed coasts through this one in full-on pop radio pandering mode, with an easygoing acoustic guitar strum, placeholder lyrics about rain bringing new life so that we can look forward to the sunshine ahead or some crap, and basically no hint that this is the work of what’s supposed to be a “hard rock” band. Hey, I’m all for diversity, and it’s not like Creed hasn’t grabbed my attention in a positive way with the occasional mellow song in the past. But this feels like it’s trying way too hard to get by on poppy parlor tricks without the benefit of having anything truly inspiring to say. It’s the same “WB Drama” fodder that I’d expect from one of Lifehouse‘s weaker albums. (What’s that? It’s called “The CW” now? Guess a lot’s changed since your last album, guys.)
6. Away in Silence
Aw, isn’t that acoustic intro pretty? Apparently, this is the kind of song a multi-platinum rock singer with a beauty pageant-winning wife writes after he gets really jacked up and comes home and tries to beat the crap out of her. Touching, isn’t it? Seriously, just take a few seconds to read each line of this so-called apology. “I’m not the man I used to be, I’ve changed”. “Don’t give up on us, don’t give up on love.” “We can rebuild and forever we can go on.” You know how celebrities release written apologies for stuff they got caught doing and it feels totally fake? Yeah, this is kind of like that, on account of the fact that he could be bothered to take more than about five minutes to cut and paste lines from the leftover cards on the discount rack at Hallmark. (It’s also worth noting that, right after he says that she walked away in silence, he notes that she turned around to say goodbye. Apparently she knows sign language.) Sadly, this song has another one of those sweet compositional moments where it turns from schlocky ballad in 3/4 time to something heavier and more inventive in the melody department during the bridge, but it’s all wasted on Stapp’s half-@$$ed attempt to prove to the world that he’s a sensitive guy. I don’t mean to make light of domestic violence. But this song is about as pleasant as an empty liquor bottle thrown at my face.
After a couple of misfired anthemy ballad-type songs, we’re back to rocking out. Or, at least, Tremonti’s back to shredding the best he can with the material he’s given, which seems routine by Creed standards at this point – a little livelier than the heyday of Human Clay, but still a bit monochromatic. But what’s this – they’re trying to be socially conscious or something now? Man, that’s awesome. First a name-drop of “The Cradle of Civilization”, so I figure this is a song about war, but then there are all these ominous warnings about the change being permanent, and… is this about climate change? The two could be related, since much of the conflict in the Middle East is rumored to be about oil, but with lyrics this vague, it could be about another one of Stapp’s bar fights, for all I know. In any event, the rest of the song could be positively awesome (don’t worry, it’s not) and the whole thing would still crash and burn when it arrives at the hilariously awful chorus, in which Stapp intones: “Listen to me when I tell you, feel the passion in my breath.” I’m not so sure it’s passionthat I’m feeling, Scott. Maybe a strong hint of alcohol. And man, you really oughta lay off the onions.
8. On My Sleeve
Hey, what’s with the electronic violin thingy in the intro? Is this an Evanescence song or something? Oh wait, never mind. It’s another quintessential Creed ballad, and by that, I mean it’s completely unremarkable and those first few seconds have no bearing on the rest of it. “The eyes around me are so cold”, go the opening lines. “With every chance they steal my soul.” Don’t you only have one soul? How many times can it be stolen, anyway? I think Stapp wants us to know that he’s really real and he’s gonna share his feelings and he’s going through some really painfully painful stuff, man. I hadn’t already gathered that from the rest of the album, so this is helpful! I actually do kind of feel sorry for the guy listening to this, knowing that he’s just trying to be honest and it’s only going to lead to more ridicule. But man, if you’re gonna resort to stuff like “My heart is tattoed on my sleeve” and “It only hurts to breathe” and other lines you’ve no doubt cribbed from a million other songs on the subject, maybe it’s better to just talk about it off the cuff in interviews and leave the songwriting to someone else. Aside from the whole being a jerk in public thing, people are really only ragging on you for writing crappy songs like this one, so cut it out, and we’ll cut it out too.
9. Full Circle
Ooh, slide guitar! I’m not joking around when I say that the possibilities of southern twang and hard rock mixed together are pretty tantalizing to my ears. Unfortunately, Creed’s particular swampy blend of the two doesn’t really go anywhere once the novelty wears off and the song begins to wear on. The fact that you know where it’s going from the title (which is pretty much around and around in circles, once again beating a cliched idea to death) is a bad omen from the start. Stapp actually gets a bit preachy on us, asking in just about the most cliche-ridden way possible (outside of Christian music proper) if we’re prepared to account for our wasted lives when facing eternity. If that wasn’t enough to turn my reaction from a smile to “P.U.!”, then certainly the chorus will do it, as it trots out the most aggravatingly obvious rhyme in the books: “It’s funny how times can change, rearrange.” Things that change in pop music almost always rearrange too, don’t they? Funny. But the real piece de resistance is saved for the chorus, in which Stapp tells us: “I looked at God, he winked at me. I might just mess myself.” Wow, first Skillet makes a passing nod to the stuff hitting the fan and now this? What’s with the God-fearing singers referencing excrement these days?
More pretty balladeering, 3/4-style. There’s less of note here as far as the music is concerned than there was in the similar “Away in Silence” – this one feels like a faceless 12 Stones filler track, truth be told. When the dust settles, Tremonti does offer some nice harmonic accents on the old acoustic – but the intro and outro in which we hear this is just the bread of an excrement sandwich. Stapp pontificates on “The difference that makes us so different” in the opening lines, and if that weren’t painful enough, he goes on to accuse someone, “You left me when I had no one at all.” (Wait, so if you had no one, then how was there somebody there to leave you?) The icing on the cake is once again the chorus, which finds Stapp boldly declaring, “It’s about time that I speak my mind.” (Wow, REALLY? Man, I bet that would be FASCINATING!!! So what were you doing before?) This is all just a bunch of generic mourning for stupid mistakes made and bridges burned, and once again, I’m generally sorry life didn’t go this guy’s way, but WRITE BETTER SONGS.
11. Good Fight
Creed hits rock bottom here with what might be their worst song yet – it’s on par with Stapp’s solo album (“The Fight Song” comes to mind) and some of Kutless‘s most misguided attempts to emulate the band. This one trudges along as if it were still 2001 and we were still clamoring for a rabble-rousing follow-up to “What If” (wait, we never were? Oops), demonstrating little musical growth, with the sole exception of a halfway-decent Tremonti solo that just manages to p!ss me off that much more because of the abysmal song that it’s wasted on. The lyrics are about perseverance and fighting the good fight. Since I’m not sure that a man who is so easily provoked into fisticuffs actually knows the difference between a good fight and a bad one, the reasons why this song belongs on the scrap heap should be self-evident. Stapp’s gnarled barking after the song is supposed to be done just makes him sound like a hyperactive mutt mix between a pit bull and a chihuahua nipping at someone’s heels.
12. The Song You Sing
Remember “Inside Us All”, the cheesy closing track from Human Clay? This song aims to outdo that one in the “bald-faced platitudes” department, having the audacity to ask us, “Does the song you sing have enough meaning? Inspire us to sing along.” Can I turn those statements back around on your song, guys? In that case, the responses are “No”, and “You didn’t”. Once again, throwing in a bit of guitar solo pyrotechnics isn’t enough to do distract me as the album stumbles painfully towards its end. I can’t even come up with much of anything funny to point out about the lyrics here – it’s just wall-to-wall stock phrases that sound like they came from the journal of a high school freshman who suddenly realized it was really clever to write a song about writing songs.
Usually, I’ll finish off a review with closing thoughts about my hopes for an artist’s next album and what they might want to try if they want to make it an improvement. In Creed’s case, the obvious approach is to STOP MAKING THEM. Just set the time machine back to that wonderful period of about five years during which you guys did not exist as a band, let Tremonti and co. get back to their other gig, and let Stapp continue on as the crazy man trapped only in our memories. (Or, if you want, you can go back further and prevent Creed from forming. It might have an interesting butterfly effect on popular music in general.)
WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
Bread of Shame $1.50
A Thousand Faces $1
Away in Silence $0
On My Sleeve -$.50
Full Circle $.50
Good Fight -$1
The Song You Sing -$.50
Scott Stapp: Lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Mark Tremonti: Lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Scott Phillips: Drums, percussion, keyboards
Brian Marshall: Bass
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:
Originally published on Epinions.com.