A week ago, while I was driving to Storrs for the start of college, I had set my iPhone’s music library on shuffle to keep me company. All of a sudden, as I am pulling over to a rest stop, I hear corny D Major chords and I suddenly feel queasy. As I park my car, I look at the dashboard and notice my worst fear – the song’s artist is Creed, the song being their infamous “Higher.”
I felt mixed feelings about this. What was Creed, a blended pseudo-Christian rock, post-grunge, heavy metal, alternative and formulaic Southern radio-rock band from the late-’90s/early-’00s still doing on my phone? How did I not immediately delete these incredibly cheesy songs upon entering high school, when I realized they were practically a trailblazer to critically panned bands like Nickelback?
Yet, like a masochist with nothing better to do, I had no choice but to revisit my childhood idols and see if they held up over time.
Their first album, “My Own Prison” had the oddly religious vibe throughout its entirety, as seen through songs like “Unforgiven,” “What’s This Life For” and even “My Own Prison,” having their singer Scott Stapp belch his way through them with a deep, twangy and unintentionally hilarious imitation of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder’s voice. However, each song still had its own identity in terms of the instrumentals – “Unforgiven” and “Illusion” in particular have fairly solid guitar riffs that bring back memories of bands like Incubus, the Toadies and even Tool in their polyrhythmic qualities.
Honestly, once you get used to listening to a singer sound like he’s sitting on the toilet, their first album is actually fairly solid. Mark Tremonti, having been taught by guitar legend Michael Angelo Batio, clearly has the ability to play highly technical guitar solos and is a successful musician on his own, having achieved success in his solo career and with alternative band Alter Bridge.
Drummer Scott Phillips and former bassist Brian Marshall add a dimension of steady rhythm, bass and drums in the back as well to complement the guitar-heavy tunes. Yet as the band continued to progress, listeners heard less of the interesting nu-grunge qualities of Creed that made them remotely listenable and more of the clumsily preachy and formulaic aspects that made them a mainstay on radio for several years and had them voted by Rolling Stone readers as the worst band of the 1990s.
Their second release, “Human Clay,” adds a little bit more heavy metal into the mix, with songs like “Beautiful,” “What If?,” “Never Die” and “Wrong Way” adding more of a crunch and edge to their music, but it’s practically useless to listen through because of how much worse the singer gets. Stapp’s “butt-rock” vocals on already eye-roll-worthy songs “With Arms Wide Open,” “Higher” and “Faceless Man” contribute to a cringeworthy mess.
Creed’s third album, “Weathered,” only gets worse in this area, though it is interesting to note that the first two songs in “Bullets” and “Freedom Fighter” are actually pretty solid metal-esque instrumentals. Other than the album’s self-titled track, which is its own feel-good and decently written song about redemption and perseverance, literally every other song on the album has the same song structure, along almost to-the-note replications of each other.
The worst song on “Weathered” may be “Don’t Stop Dancing,” which manages to have one of the most insipid guitar solos of all times, along with awful lyrics like “Children, don’t stop dancing / Believe you can fly away.” It sounds unbelievable – it is.
So what made this band so popular? For one, it was probably how memorable their repetitive song structure was and recognizable their sound was. Creed was an amalgam of all the traits that rock in the late-’90s/early-’00s had. Think of all the “ample baritone quaking and surging riff, skyscraping chorus, and cathartic chord [progressions],” described by Slate columnist Jonah Weiner in a piece, where he insisted Creed had became underrated.
In a way, his points on their own were correct – everything about this band was telegraphed from other rock bands to move people. It clearly worked, as seen by their multi-million dollar sales over the last century. Even their fourth album, “Full Circle,” despite mixed reviews still garnered a No. 2 spot on the Billboard Top 200 chart within its first week of release. In a weird way, Creed was so unoriginal and oddly formulaic that no other band could claim this as their identity.
One thing for sure, I am kind of embarrassed that I know this much about a washed up band and took the time to write an entire article about listening to their material several years later. Just take my word for it when I say that sometimes, memories about Creed should just stay memories.