Why Creed Sucks
One rock fan's immodest refusal.
JOEY SWEENEY (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dateline: PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 31, 2002. The members of the rock group Creed touched down on Philadelphia earlier today, and they've just completed their sound check for their New Year's Eve show at the First Union Spectrum. In the green room, somebody appears with a copy of this paper in hand, its tabloid front announcing, "WHY CREED SUCKS."
No shocker there. The band has seen this kind of thing before, so much so that at this point, it may be more of a joke to them than it is to the people slagging them.
Creed has seldom heard an encouraging word from the press, but the wisdom is that the joke is on us, not the band: Their latest record was recently certified as having gone platinum ... five times over.
The band members fight the good fight, though, and briefly consider cutting up the paper's cover and rearranging the letters in "WHY CREED SUCKS" to spell something else and then send it back. Problem is, the only thing you can really spell with "WHY CREED SUCKS" that makes any sense is, well, "WHY CREED SUCKS."
This story is basically a vehicle for a headline. Because sure enough, the whole world, it would seem, has conceded the band is terrible: They travel in only the most cringeworthy cliche, they are pompous to what would be the point of comedy--if only they were in on the joke--and they embody all that is dead, idealess and cowardly in present-day rock 'n' roll.
It's almost cruel, then, to single them out--the band is nothing more than a quartet of ridiculously clad and coiffed ducks in a barrel. Why pick on them?
Creed--and their torpid, halftime-playing, self-congratulatory type--are a cancer on the most beautiful thing God ever gave us in the 20th century: rock 'n' roll. And if we're ever to reclaim rock 'n' roll as anything other than acquiescence to the eventual mainstreaming of everything, it's worthwhile to peer through Creed's putrid fog of self-love and see, after all, in the cold light of day, Why They Suck.
Creed is the logical conclusion to all that went wrong--or, if you're in the record biz, right--with the thing the music industry calls "modern rock." Modern rock, perhaps more so than any other genre of music in our lifetime, was a complete and total creation of the marketplace.
Before 1993, there simply were no bands anywhere that sounded like Creed or that pushed the buttons for mass appeal in quite that same way--which is to say, before 1993, it would have been hard for any band to get it together to so thoroughly rip off Pearl Jam.
Creed's sound is the sound of what was very likely hundreds of bands from the mid-'90s: monster riffs; deep, thundering Led Zep-esque beats; and searing choruses that played fast and loose with spiritual truisms (à la U2) delivered by a singer well-schooled in yarling--that back-of-the-throat, oh-so-masculine Jim Morrison/Chewbacca noise perfected by Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder.
When Nirvana finally blew the lid on what until then was called "alternative music," or even worse, "postmodern," it was arguably the first time record executives had been caught with their pants down, in the upstream of a movement, since the dawn of the '70s.
Sure, R.E.M. and U2 had made dings in the armor in the late '80s, but even at the height of their respective popularities they were, as a rock phenomenon, a little more understandable, seeing as how both bands essentially traded on more pragmatic versions of conventional boomer politics and aesthetics. They weren't angry; they were passionate.
But when Nirvana came along, their hearts were full of sloppy, slobbering, snotty rage--so much so that to their eternal chagrin, they were able to appeal to those very same social subsets against which they raged: jocks, airheads, Hessians and, unbelievably, even Christians.
To their credit, Nirvana tried to keep a lid on their fame and appeal as best any million-selling-plus band could: They dropped instruments on their faces on national television, made sure their live shows were maddeningly messy and Kurt even announced he was bisexual before running off to make a 10-inch with William S. Burroughs. A recipe for lasting rock fame this was not.
But the appeal only stretched further, the anger, as John Lydon once sang, being an energy of its own. By the mid-'90s, the world was rife with Nirvana (or worse, Pearl Jam) cover bands, and record companies were eager to snap up the copies--which were invariably easier to deal with than the thorny originals and their stances against Ticketmaster and, ultimately, each other--and get them on the radio.
Creed was but one these bands, toiling in relative obscurity in their hometown of Tallahassee, Fla. It is said that lead singer Scott Stapp, the drip, moved there from his native Tampa after reading that Jim Morrison himself briefly lived there. He then reconnected with some old Tampa buds who'd also moved to the big city and--voila!--Creed was born, quickly finding what would be their base audience through the ages: people who didn't know any better.
After toiling around the local circuit and self-releasing their first CD, the band signed to Wind-Up Records in 1998, which is when their rise began in earnest. But here's the thing about Creed: They had chops, but not a single idea in their collective head. They were, however, persistent--look into Scott Stapp's eyes and you'll know there has perhaps never been a man more eager to stand on a CGI cliff in a rock video--and by the by, they learned how to play by the new rules.
In the absence of new music with a vision, those new rules quickly established themselves as a sort of recipe for mass appeal and mainstream success.
Creed--a pallid, entitled imitation of something that might not have been so great in the first place--sold millions upon millions of records and became the sole embodiment of everything that went wrong. What they proved was the final triumph of capitalism over what, at the very least, should have been something like art.
Three prevailing facts aided them in this sorrowful (but lucrative!) journey. They were:
One: The radio is for sale.
I know you don't want to believe it--neither do I--but it's looking more like the truth all the time: Payola is back, and with a vengeance. Sure, these days it's all clouded in terms like "promotional support" and grandfathered through by independent promoters ironically called "indies" who merely sort of make demands and then launder money between influential stations and labels.
And while I would never be so bold as to accuse any one artist or band of knowingly doing this, there is compelling evidence that it happens constantly, and here's the rub: The second it does, radio programming becomes no longer about the music.
To think that one pay-for-play incident would not color the entire credibility of what gets on the radio--especially given how rock and Top 40 stations parrot one another once a record looks like it might break--would be naive.
(For more on this, dig up Eric Boehlert's amazing story on the modern payola system on Salon.)
Two: Creed are all mixed up with Jesus, and that just can't be good for rock 'n' roll.
While it may be true that before they went mega, Creed probably started out as a contemporary Christian/sports bar band simply because that was the whited-out cultural cesspool from which they emerged, it has been hard for them to shake the Christian thing--and they've been trying.
"I can say that all the members believe in God, but we each differ on our methods to reach Him," says Stapp on the band's website. "I know this might be hard to understand for all the Christians who follow the band--and trust me, I know where you are coming from--but let us continue to seek, and if that is the way, then we will find, if we continue to knock, the doors will be opened."
Clearly, a lot of this is just backpedaling for the mainstream.
Stapp's nudging and winking with Christianity is basically analogous to Trent Lott's ring-around-the-rosy with racism: It's clear the group has an affiliation. But the conventional wisdom is that Christian rock has no credibility in the secular world, and with good reason.
The contemporary American-style Christian Right--which has more to do with a political and social orientation than a belief in the divine--seems to endorse everything rock 'n' roll has over the years sought to defeat. Like sexual repression. And segregationism. And so on.
Creed's muted affiliation, whether the band knows it or not, is more in line with Bush and Lott's America than with anything else in the whole of rock 'n' roll. It's a travesty. Believe whatever you want--hey, that's why we're all here, right?--but to drag their whole weird Christian nudge-and-wink thing into rock 'n' roll, the very arena that was set up in protest against it, is wrongheaded, and yeah, even sinister.
Three: Creed plays into the business plans of this country's companies that are destroying rock 'n' roll as we speak.
You know what I'm talking about. We live in an age when you can count the number of major labels controlling what's on the radio on one hand. And one company or another owns something like 60 percent of all the radio stations in the country, as well as the larger venues in each city, which is why they squeeze the bands to play those venues lest they be taken off the radio altogether.
It's a mad, mad world, and it's incumbent upon the largest rock bands of the day to rail against this, to stare their own replaceability in the face and say to corporate America, "Bring it on, you fucking drones!" Creed may be on what is technically an independent label, but to act like they're not part of a machine that treats artists as disposable and fans as dupes would be insane.
On the other hand, you have to hand it to Creed and their neo-sincere, corporate, silent-right ilk: They've made disposable music, profited immensely and sooner or later they'll be gone. It's just the rest of us that have to put up with their shit music until the next thing comes around. Thanks, guys. And happy New Year.
Contributing Editor Joey Sweeney (jsweeney@philadelphia weekly.com) also writes That Dirty Lowdown.