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Meals To Feed your Need for Creed
CDs: My Own Prison; Human Clay; Weathered
Bruce L. Thiessen, Ph.D., a.k.a. Dr. B. L. T.
My Own Prison took me back to the five years I served at California State Prison working as a forensic psychologist. During this time, I overheard a lot of prison-based bands rehearsing in the cafeteria. Many were good enough to make a record turn gold, but oddly enough, none were able to adequately express the subjective experience of being in prison. None could get a musical grasp on the choking hands of time wrapped like a noose around the neck of every lifer. Creed, with zero jail time, does capture that prison experience, the prison of the soul.
Unlike the meals inmates are served by cellmate hosts in their dreary dining halls, Creed's first musical meal is cooked to near-perfection, generously packed with nutrients and fortified with all the essential spiritual vitamins we will ever need to get through this sentence we call life. In the musically impoverished ambiance of the late 1990’s, this compact-disc-dish couldn't have arrived at a better time. The rock world appeared to be starving at the time, not for lack of food, but due to a condition I refer to as MCBN (Music Consumer Bulimia Nervosa). After Nirvana broke onto the scene and changed the face of rock in the 80's, the public went on an alternative rock binge. The late 90s were simply a natural consequence, an unprecedented period of purging.
Creed came along and offered an alternative to alternative. Suddenly alternative music was no longer simply a way of nursing a grunge grudge, or a way to feed caged rage. The words that appear on the T-shirt of the now x-Creed member, Brian Marshall says it all, "Music is food for the soul." With the release of My Own Prison, Creed joined the ranks of U2 in their valiant efforts to save the soul of rock music formidably threatened by everything from New Age to "New Rage” to an unprecedented inundation of sugary pop “artists” with plenty of crackle and pop, but no snap.
My Own Prison is a passionate rendering of the struggle between two powerful and inseparable forces within each of us; the life instinct (described by Freud as Eros) and the death instinct (described by Freud as Thanatos). The human proclivity for self-destruction and self-sabotage is no more succinctly stated than in the title song. Actually, Creed's title track reflects a better grasp of the subject matter at hand than Freud's rather abstruse treatise. Creed satisfies the spiritual hunger Freud left everyone with when he left God out of the equation but not before humbly recognizing their own shortcomings, and, in turn, turning to God, the supreme deliverer.
Using raw riffs, electrified licks, and sizzling sticks as staffs, they boldly embark on a spiritual quest for the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. By the end of this Peripatetic journey, you will reach the Promised Land, as promised. Musically, it is as fresh and crisp as it is rich in flavor.
As My Own Prison is entered, the gut-wrenching “Torn” slamming the iron-gate behind us is heard with its arena-rock-sized intensity. With “Ode,” the listener is deemed guilty by association, and every note will pierce the tender conscience. But "One light to the blind" helps through the tunnel. The title song is next, and it is as punishing and penetrating as it is liberating: "The walls are cold and pale/the cage made of steel/screams fill the room/Alone I drop and kneel/Silence now the sound/My breath the only motion around."
“Only In America,” the 5th tier in this 10-tiered prison, holds reckless determination to break through the artificial walls of political correctness: "Only in America we kill the unborn/to make ends meet." No wonder the predominantly liberal choir of music critics have hated the band from the time they were in their embryonic stage. There's more pardon and purpose than penitence in “What's This Life For?” This purpose is further refined in “One.” Much like the apostle Paul, and (Merle Haggard on Sing Me Back Home), Stapp sings through his prison ordeal. There is praise between every punishing guitar chord, and joy distributed through every hue and cry of Stapp's vocal revelations. When all is said and done, the listener receives a pardon. End of sentence. Much more than a guilty pleasure, this album will offer a way to be set free -- lock, stock and barrel.
My Own Prison prepared the listener for life as a free agent in Human Clay. On the artwork, a man appears to be bursting out of the ground with dizzying speed. Could this be the tunnel's exit door the band struggled so hard to reach in My Own Prison? The cover art is a remarkably clever harbinger of all the CD contains.
In Human Clay, Creed uses their sharp minds to penetrate through the seemingly inscrutable mysteries of the soul, deftly delving into uncharted spiritual terrain, and gloriously taking command of their instruments, and their message just in time to rescue the hungry listener. In the midst of this second spiritual journey, Stapp gets lost, but he devises a brilliant escape plan. He leads the band in the execution of that plan, and they pull off the caper with the utmost celerity and skill. Using Mark Tremonti's guitars as axes, a thumping bass as a power tool, Stapp's voice as a guiding beacon, and Scott Phillips's drums as sonic shovels, members of Creed dig an underground tunnel beneath human angst until they find a peaceful point at which to dig to the surface of the soul.
The subject of this CD is a matter of life and death, or, more accurately, a matter of facing both one's fear of life and fear of death. Like his unintentional musical paraphrasing of Freud's Eros and Thanatos theory, Stapp's lyrics in Human Clay echo the sentiments of existential philosophers and psychologists of yore. Otto Rank used fancy words to speak figuratively about the struggle humans must confront as they approach these inseparable fears. With the help of his fearless comrades, Stapp cuts to the chase. He offers musical shorthand to Rank and others that is not above anybody's head or beyond reach of anybody's heart.
In Human Clay, a few dings in Creed's armor are revealed. At points, the pressure to compete with the commercial success of My Own Prison has the effect of a ball and chain, holding them back from their full creative potential. While quietly quelling all commercial competition, there is an element of prosaic predictability that raises its head ever so slightly from riff to riff and line to line on Human Clay. Still, for the most part, the armor holds up, even under the weight of intense critical scrutiny, yielding mostly sour notes and sour grapes from the cynical critics’ choir.
Human Clay is a celebration of life, most elegantly expressed in “Arms Wide Open.” It is a heartfelt longing for a heavenly home, most passionately portrayed in Higher. It is a race against time, a search for soul, a desperate clinging to youth, and a resolute determination to find the abundant life. It is a hope-driven love song from a new father to a new son; an anger-and-angst-driven love song from a reluctant son to a stern stepfather. Another ho-hum lunch? More like a feast fit for a king, with the exception of a few dishes slightly overcooked. While there is certainly room for improvement and creative growth, Human Clay accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish. Above all, it is an earnest song of deeply troubled praise from an earthly son with feet of clay to a heavenly father who will someday say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of the Lord."
Creed's Weathered cannot be adequately studied in isolation. It must be studied and appreciated with reference to My Own Prison, and Human Clay. It is above all a continuation of the struggle with a renewed vigor and spiritual strength. Weathered expresses a human struggle to contain and expel pain; a resolute determination to stand with feet firmly planted on the faith of our fathers; and a diligent fight against forces that seek to thwart one's soul as it seeks higher ground. Unlike the "New Rage" trend in popular music, it offers a resolution and ultimate solution to the problem inherent in the human condition. By listening to Scott Phillip's driving beat, anguished guitar chords of Mark Tremonti, and the angst in the voice of Stapp, one gets the sense that the shadow is only two steps behind the light. It becomes apparent in listening to the lyrics of Stapp that though he has grown by leaps and bounds, he remains keenly aware of the vulnerability and weakness of his own human nature. The best way to listen to Weathered is to listen to it as a prayer or a modern-day psalm.
A careful listen to this reflective collection reveals that in identifying with Christ (who was both spirit and flesh, and yet refused to yield to temptation), we are granted the power to reconcile our dualistic natures and become wholly integrated, balanced individuals. The band Disturbed wants us to "get down with the sickness." Creed wants us to heal. Stapp seems to have learned a lesson Jesus offered to Peter as he was attempting to walk on water, to keep your eyes on Christ, not on the waves crashing in around you from every direction! With a vigorously energetic urgency and vitality, Creed, draws directly from that Bible story as it teaches us by example, how to weather the storm.
At moments, Stapp has bitten off more than he can chew, and then he chews every bite and swallows every bitter pill. The malicious medicine of critics, and the ensuing sensitivity that emerges almost obsessively in Stapp is the exception. The song “Bullets” is a case in point. It is an exercise in anger management, light on management and heavy on anger. The anger borders on rage as hard-driving rhythms are embellished with punchy, bouts of brutal bass lines, and accentuated with excruciating guitar arrangements. There are hints of Ozzy Osborne on Stapp's vocal treatment and the same recurrent theme represented in some way on each album. Creed should spend a little time with the Psalmist who verse upon verse articulates his reality-based paranoia and laments the sting of the words and actions of his enemies.
Storm clouds gather and dissipate right before your ears in Weathered. In terms of underlying themes contained within, there is as much stinging sleet and hellish hail as there are gentle spring rain drops or halcyon breezes. No matter what their fair-weather friends or outspoken enemies like Fred Durst may say, this is a band with its roots firmly planted in fertile soil. As such, they are likely to weather every storm.
Spiritual and musical growth becomes dramatically apparent with the release of each new CD. While the musical food for thought Creed offers is far from being stale, certain creative risks will be necessary to secure their place in rock history. Though critics may prognosticate a future of failure for Creed, with the introduction of a few new stories (or a few old stories told a new way), and a few new musical stretches of the imagination, Creed is guaranteed to supersede even the highest of expectations.
Overall 3D 3CD