Originally published January 9. 2021
My first post on Cosas Totum deals with Creed. Not the movie, the band. I know – Creed has stagnated in irrelevancy for 15 years, and they rival only Nickelback for the number of times music aficionados and comedians use them as a punchline. Hearing Scott Stapp gently inform us that he “just heard the news today” is just as cringeworthy as the opening E chord reminding us to “look at this photograph.”
I honestly don’t know anyone today that sincerely likes Creed, or Nickelback for that matter. But I mentioned “today”…. (cue intro to “My Sacrifice”)
I used to like Creed. There, I said it! Yep, I bought their CDs in the 90s and learned Mark Tremonti’s riffs on the guitar. Difficult to admit, but it is true. Many 90s bands actually fall into the same “hate to admit I liked them” category, some of which are mentioned below. But today we focus on Creed – the first and last time I will utter those words.
I thought it would be ironic, interesting, and dare I say “fun” to reminisce about the release of Creed’s breakthrough 1997 album, My Own Prison. Considering nobody likes Creed today, why did I like them? What was happening in my life in 1997 that enabled this behavior? After addressing these questions, I will listen to My Own Prison again, cover-to-cover, and provide my retrospective thoughts. As I anticipate the re-listen, the following questions come to mind: Why did I like this song or that song? Is it really that bad? Does Scott Stapp still sound like Scott Stapp? We shall see.
The 90s Context
I graduated high school in 1999, so 90s music played – and continues to play – a significant role in my life. In high school, music from the 90s inundated the uncomfortably small cabin of my 1987 Nissan Pulsar, which featured a T-top and those flip-up headlights.
If a song was on the radio, I usually spent the day’s lawn-mowing earnings on the respective album at CD Warehouse/Blockbuster Music.
An avid radio listener in the 90s, I was the proud owner of CDs from Creed, Godsmack, Staind, Limp Bizkit (still spelled with a “z”), and Kid Rock. I simply didn’t know any better. Radio was all I knew. I certainly listened to grunge, R&B, and rap, but Silverchair, Tevin Campbell, and Bone Thugs & Harmony still hold my attention. Creed does not. Until now, I guess.
It wasn’t until college that I discovered and eventually fell in love with the “underground” music scene, to be detailed in a future post. Until that first semester of college, though, Creed could be found in one of the trays of my gigantic rotating 3-CD stereo. Invariably, one of the CDs would get stuck as they rotated, and I would have to open the plastic lid to put The Chronic back in tray 2.
As the subsequent years saw CD rotators transition to Napster and iTunes, my musical taste changed as well. The maturation of my musical pallet between the Creed days and now was driven by personal discoveries of genres like emo, scream-o, hardcore, punk, metal (Slayer and Gojira metal, not Disturbed metal), and American singer/songwriters. In widening the breadth of my music library, my definitions of good songwriting, meaningful lyrics, deft guitar playing, and amazing drum fills have changed dramatically. I also have evolved in terms of what I listen for in songs. For example, lyrics really matter to me now. Yet in the late 90s, I could care less if you were putting your tender heart in a blender or if you were just a bachelor looking for a partner.
I am just trying to say that I don’t like Creed anymore.
Although Creed no longer holds my attention, I still have a subjective love of 90s music – all of it. I make fun of the bands and songs, but hearing and talking about that decade of music elicits so many great and very specific memories. Creed’s My Own Prison is no different.
My Introduction to Creed
“My Own Prison,” the title track off the album, was the first big single and it dominated airwaves. I vividly remember the first time I heard the song…..
I was riding with a few friends to the city-wide Young Life gathering at a church just down the street from Olive Garden. Although Young Life was a religious-based organization, I only cared about being in a room full of girls I would never talk to. While gazing across the vast sea of flirtatious high schoolers, one was inevitably consumed by the acoustic guitar-wielding Young Life instructors leading a sing along of “Free Falling” followed by “If I Had $1,000,000.” Then there was a milk gallon challenge where volunteers from the crowd chugged a gallon of milk. And then we sang Eagle Eye Cherry and went home. There is an entire dissertation out there to be written on the social and cultural dynamics of Young Life.
Anyways, back to the lecture at hand – there were a few of us in a “jacked-up” maroon suburban (probably a late 80s model) that reeked of Drakkar and Abercrombie. The driver put the Creed CD in his Alpine (with a removable face, of course), and skipped directly to “My Own Prison.” I was unfamiliar with both the song and the band. Yet the entire car was immediately hooked. We played the song 3 times in a row, just long enough to travel from our end of town to the final destination. You know, the church by Olive Garden.
Shortly after that memorable car-ride, I ventured to Blockbuster Music and bought the album after mowing Ms. Maxie’s lawn. Even as an immature teenager, I listened to entire albums. I bought seemingly hundreds of CDs for one song (see Spacehog), but I always listened to the entire album. I purchased The Colour and the Shape from Foo Fighters for “Monkey Wrench,” and ended up listening to what still stands as one of my favorite albums ever.
Lesson 1, kids – listen to the entire album!! You never know what you will uncover.
Besides the hit “My Own Prison,” I rocked out to ”One,” “Torn” (not the Natalie Imbruglia song), “Pity for a Dime” and “What’s This Life For” on first listen. The other songs weren’t as great to me, but I still loved the album. After all, My Own Prison was and still is a defining 90s album, no matter how much you like or dislike Creed. It sold 6 million copies and launched, again whether we like it or not, one of the most successful (in terms of record sales) bands of the late 90s and early 00s.
Seriously, their success yielded this beautiful moment in 2001. We can’t hate their ascent TOO much!! I imagine the conversation leading up to this event going something like this:
Jerry Jones: Hey Scott, we’d like you to lip sync and wear a personalized Cowboys jersey.
Scott Stapp: no problem, anything else I need to know?
Jerry Jones: yes, we’d like you to tuck the jersey into wind-pants. Also, make sure that guitar player of yours keeps that thin landing strip on his chin. That’ll really bring in the donations for the Salvation Army.
Scott Stapp: ok, but can we please have people flying around on curtains while we pretend to play “Higher”?
Jerry Jones: deal!
The Salvation Army undoubtedly received record donations on this day.
My Thoughts on the Album
Alright, here we go. Let’s listen to this again….
First thing that comes to mind is that the entire album checks all the boxes for so many local bands from about 1998-2004:
- PRS guitar
- Bad 90s distortion
- Clean guitar with some kind of chorus effect
- Awkward facial hair – not a sound, but you get it
- Overly dramatic voice
- Drumset with too many toms and the obnoxious utilization of a splash cymbal
- Bass that sounds like an actual bass
- Singer raises fist in the air from waste to face, then opens hand towards the audience like he is grasping for something in the distance, visually matching his meandering lyrics that are grasping for sense – again, not a sound, but you get it
Yet as I write sarcastic, but still true bullet-points, these are the exact characteristics that defined the music I enjoyed in the 90s.
I don’t know if it’s my headphones or the actual recording (probably the latter), but the bass guitar overwhelms the other instruments during the quieter moments. I mean, come on, the bass that sounds like a bass is undermining the majesty of Mark Tremonti’s clean guitar tone. Let’s leave that kind of mix to the likes of Les Claypool from Primus and Fieldy from Korn.
The drummer appears to have one drum fill in his entire arsenal.
“Ode,” “In America,” and “Illusion” in particular sound like songs I wrote in my room when I was 16 on my 8-inch Crate amplifier. However, if I take myself back to 1997, these songs blended so effortlessly with the relatively “catchier” songs on the album. Intermixed with the entire album, these songs probably didn’t sound too bad in 1997. In isolation today, though, I just can’t do it.
The guitar riffs on these songs are just too cheesy. They remind me of first learning the guitar. I would show off the newest riffs I had learned to anyone who would listen. My audience of anywhere between 1 – 3 would then fall victim to the incoherent progression of out-of-tune chords blaring from my treble-heavy amp. In other words, I was a bad guitar player and songwriter in 1997 and I didn’t like the Creed album upon second listen.
From what I can tell, the lyrics center on Scott Stapp wrestling with his spiritual place in the world? (question mark intentional) Sure, sounds good to me. I honestly can’t focus on the lyrics because I am so fixated on the overly dramatic tone of Stapp’s voice.
His voice remains one of the infamous trademarks of Creed. It is such an easy target for the band’s many critics. There are times when he groans at the end of a word. There are times when he appears to completely surrender to articulating an entire word. It’s “arms wide open” not “arms wide opuuuuhhh.” It sounds like someone who is unintentionally humorous during their imitation of another singer during karaoke. Apparently, even his own kids make fun of his voice. His voice perfectly matches the music.
Although My Own Prison is not on my party playlist, here is the thing: I will always have an appreciation for musicians that write their own music and lyrics, play their own instruments, and build a following from the ground-up. Creed was a relatively unknown band when they recorded this album for $6,000. In an industry that spends hundreds of thousands on fancy recordings, which Creed eventually benefitted from, $6,000 is nothing within this context.
Beyond the mix and sound of the record, it is challenging to write music and lyrics and then publicly display your feelings – and voice – to the world. In addition, playing shows in front of 3 people night after night as a start-up band can be a soul-crushing experience. But staying so dedicated to a vision that it takes you to places with golden streets, and places where blind men see?….that is an entirely new level of respect.
Who Needs to Listen to this Album?
I am not recommending this album to anyone searching for new music to enjoy. However, I am recommending this album to anyone unfamiliar with 90s music and Creed. For those unfamiliar, when you randomly hear that distinctive voice one day in Dillard’s, I want you to know its roots.
At the end of the day, this is what defines Creed for me. Take it as some inspiration for life, in general. You’re welcome.