Creed Is Good
Scott Stapp's nu-grunge foursome was seriously underrated.
Listening to Creed today, it's hard to reconcile the animus against the band with the music. (The animus against the group's satiny tunics and slithery facial hair was always perfectly understandable.) In his lyrics, Stapp is a well-meaning, Bible-fluent doofus, easy to chuckle at but difficult to imagine hating. "The world is heading for mutiny, when all we want is unity," he sings on "One." The trouble wasn't that he was a blustery, would-be messiah (that didn't stop Bono's canonization) so much as the unrepentant hamminess he brought to the role: ample baritone quaking and churning, arms outstretched atop mountains and hovering, Christlike, above crowds in music videos. On stage, Stapp was Charlton Heston in leather pants, humping the stone tablets. His brand of fist-pumping, hair-tossing, pelvis-swiveling rocksmanship was hardly without precedent; it just seemed obnoxiously anachronistic. An audacious throwback to the preening hair-metal era (and, even further, to Robert Plant's roosterish sashay), Stapp audaciously reinflated rock's hot-air balloon less than a decade after Kurt Cobain was thought to have punctured it for good.
And it's not that the band didn't deliver. To the contrary, Creed seemed to irritate people precisely because its music was so unabashedly calibrated towards pleasure: Every surging riff, skyscraping chorus, and cathartic chord progression telegraphed the band's intention to rock us, wow us, move us. Tremonti was a brutally effective guitarist, and by 2001's "Weathered," he'd even added subtlety—or the hard-rock version of it, anyway—to his arsenal. Creed was formulaic, but that's only an insult if the formula doesn't work. One of the surprises involved in returning to Creed with a fresh pair of ears is how rocking, exciting, and, yes, moving, the songs can be. "Higher" might turn out to be the nu-grunge "Don't Stop Believing": dismissed by cognoscenti on arrival as bludgeoning and gauche but destined for rehabilitation down the road as a triumphant slab of ersatz inspirationalism.
There's never any such thing as listening in a vacuum—see this recent New York Times Magazine story on the fascinating, ultimately paradoxical attempts of the music Web site Pandora to wean musical taste away from the sullying effects of "cultural information"—and it's a lot easier to give Creed a sympathetic spin now that they aren't so ubiquitous or so ubiquitously loathed. In fact, when you listen to the band's third album, Weathered, with Stapp's period of self-ruin in mind, its emotional heft is amplified. "Bullets" is a furious blast of metal and one of the most galvanizing persecution anthems ever penned: "At least look at me when you shoot a bullet through my head! Through my head! Through my head!" he howls, presumably at the band's haters. At the other end of the spectrum is "One Last Breath," a wounded ballad featuring one of Stapp's most affecting vocals and a lovely refrain that foreshadows his suicide attempt: "Hold me now, I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking, maybe six feet ain't so far down." He vaults up an octave on the first "six," cracking his voice a little in a heartstrings-tugging flourish.
The album's biggest hit was "My Sacrifice," a cornball barnstormer on par with "Higher." It ends with a repeated plea: "I just want to say hello again." Creed's previous album, Human Clay, had gone platinum 11 times over, and Weathered was destined to ship 6 million copies, but Stapp already sounded like an underdog. Seven years later, it finally feels OK to start rooting for him.
Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.
Photograph of Creed by Robert Laberge/Getty Images.