There are some things you can never have enough of: leather pants, hair grease, and Jesus poses, to name a few. Like any good twenty-something, I feel a particular sense of nostalgia for the good ol’ days, when any upstanding young man could bellow throaty ambiguities at the edge of a cliff, unwashed, unshaven, and backed by a magical band of flannel clad axe-wielders with frosted tips. These were legendary men and women, modern-day musical warriors unafraid to wear their existential naseau on their sleeves. For a few months in sixth grade, I worshipped at their alter, and in their grungy pantheon, Scott Stapp was my Odin, my Zeus, my god of gods. There was a reason Creed faced off against the very fury of nature in their music videos—thunder, floods, sandstorms, Armageddon—these were not mere mortals.
Fast forward to present day: Creed is, well, Creed. In the celestial hierarchy of all music ever made, they rank somewhere above Limp Bizkit and just slightly below the mysterious beeping coming from my refrigerator. In the most literary of terms, they sound like shit. So, why do I find myself belting out the soaring melodies to “Higher” in my very best impression of a fork in a garburater? Why do I know guitarist Mark Tremonti was selected “Guitarist of the Year” by “Guitar World” magazine three years in a row? (Well deserved, by the way.) Why do I, nearly a decade after the heyday of my Creed worship, feel the need to defend the indefensible? These are the type of questions that keep me up at night.
Let’s be clear: Creed sucks. They built a massive fanbase on the unholy trinity of arena cheese, ham-handed theology, and that ever-loveable brand of pit-stained testosterone. They managed to sound more artificial than everything Fred Durst has ever done (an impressive feat). Scott Stapp developed a habit of drinking heavily and rolling around onstage in a “symbolic personal gesture.” So… yeah, Creed.
The recipe for a potent Creed brew is simple: Tremonti diddles around on guitar for a bit while Stapp wails about some vague emotions that could either apply to Jesus or his lover. The confusion can be unsettling. Anyways, the band kicks it up a notch, pumping out a chugging pre-chorus. It gets a little louder. Then comes the chorus, which is louder than the verse. Stapp sounds triumphant. There are some crash cymbals. Then it gets quiet for a little bit. Then it gets louder again. Then really quiet. Then reeaalllllyyyy loud. Grammy. Done.
There’s nothing revolutionary about the songcraft. Hell, there’s nothing interesting about the songcraft. So, back to the question at hand: Why on earth would I return to Creed’s moronic thrashing? I’d be hard-pressed to think that, over the course of their career, Creed never had to come face to face with their own theological machismo: there’s a nearly infinite number of snarky Christigau acolytes out there for that. It’s the fact that, despite the bounteous hate–or maybe in spite of it–Scott and the boys just don’t seem to give a fuck. Of all the music I’m bumping when I’m not listening to Creed, most of it is characterized by the opposite of Creed’s unabashed, testosterone-fueled decadence: it’s all whiny white boys, who, instead of letting it all loose, define themselves by their reserve. Normally, it’s the obtuse, the wordy, the intricate, the promise of meaning just below the surface, that gets to me.
Creed says, “Fuck that,” punches you in your thick-rimmed glasses, and then proceeds to take you higher. With Creed, everything’s on the table. There’s no winking, no secrets–just unabashed cheese. Scott Stapp has no idea how ridiculous he sounds, and it’s magical. He thinks he’s the awesome prophet of rock n’ roll reborn, a beefy bearer of the mantle of Jim Morrison. The band chugs along, providing just enough fire and brimstone to match the machismo. It’s power balladry that doesn’t think power balladry is stupid.