Friday, May 18, 2012
Creed -- Human Clay
Don't act like you didn't own this. Unlike you, I don't throw stuff away, so miraculously, though gaining dust, I still own Creed's Human Clay. But why did a seventeen-year old, late 90's, loner kid whose musical interests lay (lie? Why is English impossible? You get a degree in it, and it still doesn't make any sense) in Portishead, Deftones, The Dismemberment Plan, U2, and Echo and the Bunnymen spend the "personal money" part of his paycheck on a Creed CD at the very Wal-Mart at which he disgruntledly worked? How could he do it with a straight face and not even hide the compact disc case as it sat atop his Discman?...in public! You have to understand, 1999 was a very different time. Someone could like weird things, but un-ironically purchase a popular rock album and enjoy it. This probably ended somewhere around Linkin Park's first album, P.O.D.'s Satellite, and 9/11. Creed wasn't hugely popular coming into 1999, anyway. They actually started off as an underground act who only grew due to word of mouth. I didn't like their first album because all the kids at my school that I didn't like listened to it. People I did like listened to it, too, but it was too mopey, angsty, and goofily guilt-ridden for me. It wasn't until KLSU, the local college station (and my future place of employment) started blasting Creed's "Higher" from the then upcoming Human Clay that I got interested. That station only played cool stuff that other stations didn't, so that was enough cred for me. With a paycheck burning a whole in my pocket (or with the tiny allowance for entertainment I derived from my paycheck burning a whole in my pocket), and the now newly released Human Clay sitting in my face all day (I worked in the electronics department), that was enough for me. It wasn't until a year later that KLSU suddenly became too cool for Creed, even creating a station I.D. that essentially said, "KLSU. No Creed allowed." This was after the over-saturation of "Arms Wide Open." But I haven't even gotten to this album's content yet, so why not do that (Because I like rambling on and on about myself, actually. That would be the reason. That would definitely be the reason.)?
It takes a certain amount of either earnestness or pomposity to name the first song on your album "Are You Ready?". There's a period at the end of that sentence because that question mark is part of the song title. The song starts off with a guitar playing an interesting middle-eastern scale. Suddenly the band bangs in, and then it happens--the reason people say Creed suck. The first twenty-seconds of this song are okay. The guitar intro is cool, and when the whole band comes in and things get heavy, it's still not bad. If the song were only an instrumental, surely the bridge should also receive note. The un-distorted guitar playing another light middle-eastern scale with the band playing softly along is quite enjoyable. These guys can actually play their instruments. If you compare this stuff to what it spawned--Nickleback, Hinder, all other post-grunge acolytes, Creed instrumentally sound like masters of their craft, at least on this one album by them that I own. They might hit one too many mid-tempo grooves, but at least the rhythm keeps your head-nodding. The whole point of this ramble is: while Creed don't do anything much original or particularly noteworthy instrumentally, they are solid enough, and they throw in just enough curve-balls to keep things interesting. They don't make the kind of music that can spawn hate...but their singer does!
27-seconds into "Are You Ready?," Scott Stapp ham-sandwiches his first note, just like he ham-sandwiches every single note he sings after it. This is something you can get used to after a while. He isn't singing off key or anything, he just sounds really, really serious. Kind of like a post-grunge Michael Bolton. The difference is, Michael Bolton has done this, which proves he has a sense of humor about himself. Stapp just sounds really, really into what he is singing, and really, really into the person singing it.
Unfortunately, Stapp is that guy who always tries to use big words to sound smart, but picks the wrong one. For instance, his misuse of "decadence" in "Wash Away Those Years" unwittedly turns a rape victim into something else. He sounds like he read the Bible when he was a kid, and he wants to quote it, but he can't quite remember what it says, so he just throws some random lines out. With the combination of his over-the-top delivery and his sensitive but dumb-jock poetry, he just comes off as extremely self-involved, even though the gist of his lyrics aren't selfish. He's that kid in the locker room who always blows up, then forces everyone to listen to his apology later, somehow making everyone's time center around him, even when he's not being a jerk. I once told a guy who turned out to be a classical narcissist (and far less intelligent than I was giving him credit for) that I thought Scott Stapp had a Messiah Complex. "I think he's very close to him," the guy said.
Still, there is something to be said for a guy like Stapp, and when you are a teenager, even a rebellious one, a guy on a stage belting truisms can be like a beacon. He stands for some strange thing that everyone in their life needs for a moment: a sure person. However oversung and misstated Stapp's lyrics are, everything he says is actually fine: prepare for the future, watch what you say, look past appearances, stay young at heart, look toward the future with optimism, be a friend of peace. I don't see what's wrong with that, and if you compare this to the lyrics of the bands in Creeds wake, Creed DO look like saints. There's nothing about taking pleasure in cheating on your girlfriend with someone with the lips of an angel or being a a big rock star with a drug-dealer on speed dial. So while Creed are kind of like the self-obsessed, dumb jocks (and since I played every sport but baseball, I am just going to consider myself a smart jock(also, sorry for all the similes, but I don't know any other fitting way to praise with faint damming (yes, that phrasing was intentional (ERROR YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR MAX ALLOTMENT FOR PARENTHETICALS))) at your school who started a band, they are at least the dumb jocks who were nice to you when you ended up having to have any kind of interaction with them.
So while you'd rather hang out with your friends, hanging out with these guys isn't the worst thing on Earth...until you have to hear the radio-version of "Arms Wide Open" for the 5,000th time.
I am convinced that Creed would have simply gone down as the Coldplay to Pearl Jam's Radiohead (and I in no way think Pearl Jam is as good a band as Radiohead), were it not for the ubiquitous nature of Creed's breakout song. Stapp wrote the lyrics to "Arms Wide Open" after he received the news of his first child's conception. On Human Clay, it's completely harmless, a softer, optimistic song to bridge the darkness of "Never Die" (Nice weird ambient sounds on that song, by the way, Creed. I mean that) with the riffy-euphoria of "Higher." Human Clay's version of "Arms Wide Open" contains none of the syrupy string arrangements of the later mixed radio-cut that might as well have had its own radio-station dedicated to it during the latter half of 2000. I got so sick of that song that I've only listened to Human Clay four or five times since, including the three listens for this review. Maybe I should rephrase that:
I've only listened to Creed four or five times since, including the three listens for this review. The band and Stapp gave me just what I needed during a few short weeks near the end of a century. I don't hate them, and I don't think they are the worst band ever--I just don't really care to listen to them.
Jeez, it's sounds like I had an affair or something.
1. Are You Ready? 4:45
2. What If 5:18
3. Beautiful 4:19
4. Say I 5:15
5. Wrong Way 4:19
6. Faceless Man 5:58
7. Never Die 4:51
8. With Arms Wide Open 4:34
9. Higher 5:16
10. Wash Away Those Years 6:04
11. Inside Us All 5:39