In 1997, an unknown Florida hard-rock group called Creed spent $6,000 to make its debut album, My Own Prison. Talk about a good investment: An independent label, Wind-Up, signed the group, got Sony to provide distribution, and Creed became, for four years or so, one of America's hugest bands. Its 1999 single, "Higher," topped the modern-rock chart for 17 straight weeks. "With Arms Wide Open," released the following year, reached the top of the pop charts, and won the Grammy for best rock song. Between 1997 and 2002, the band grossed more than $70 million touring. To date, it has sold 26 million records in the United States.
It was the perfect setup for a Behind the Music-style implosion, and Creed delivered. By late 2002, singer Scott Stapp was on a near-daily regimen of alcohol and Percocet—prescribed after a car crash—and he would soon add OxyContin and the steroid Prednisone to the list. In December of that year, Stapp stepped onto a Chicago stage visibly intoxicated, slurring his lyrics and performing one song while lying on his back. (Fans sued, unsuccessfully, for refunds.) It was the last show of a nationwide tour, and Stapp's band mates didn't speak to him for months. The next year, at home in Orlando, Stapp put two guns to his head, intent on blowing out his brains. Recounting this near-suicide, he has explained that he decided to put down the weapons after spotting a photograph of his infant son, about whom he'd written "With Arms Wide Open." In 2004, Creed broke up, and as this recent New York Times piece shows, there is no disagreement within the band that it died for Stapp's sins.
Today, Stapp has shaved his head, cleaned up his act, and Creed has reunited for a tour and a new album, out at the end of this month—the first single, "Overcome," is a wailing survivor's anthem. (ThisDetails story is a fine chronicle of the band's dissolution and return.) Stapp's lyrics have always been full of sweaty redemption narratives and howled prayers for second chances, so we could have seen this comeback bid coming a mile away. That is, if we'd had any reason to think about Creed at all. From the start, critical gatekeepers dismissed the band as derivative blowhards with a self-righteous Christian agenda, a consensus that did nothing to slow sales but that cemented in the popular imagination and took its own toll. In the Times article, guitarist Mark Tremonti said that he greeted the breakup with a degree of relief: "No matter how many records you sell, when you're up there with a target on your head every day it's not fun." Along with Limp Bizkit (who made fun of Creed, too), Stapp and Co. are remembered today as poster boys for a turn-of-the-century musical nightmare we're happily past.
There's no telling whether Creed will make good on its second chance, but the band deserves a second listen. If your impulse on hearing that it has reunited is to groan, stifle it long enough to locate a copy of Creed's 2004 Greatest Hits collection. It's a fantastic baker's dozen of first-rate schlock-rock, courtesy of one of the most underrated and unfairly maligned groups in pop history.
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