Creed at 15: Pretty Tolerable Without Music Videos
Clockwise, from upper left: "One Last Breath," "Take Me Higher," "My Sacrifice," and "What If."
Creed's debut album, My Own Prison, will be 15 years old in 2012. To celebrate, the band's playing the record and follow-up Human Clay in full as part of intimate two-night engagements around the country in April and May. Hand-wringing and eye-rolling ensued among those with whom County Grind discussed this development.
Still, a blend of postgrunge riffage and spiritual references alone doesn't earn any group multiple "shreds" parody clips. But add the blitzkrieg of ego in Creed's music videos that remains even when the music's on mute. My sacrifice: Watching every single fist-clenching moment in every Creed music video ever made to figure out where it all went wrong.
A Creed Refresher
Although it's a fun knee-jerk exercise to take little jabs at Creed's ability to repel wolves, Scott Stapp's "Marlins Will Soar" debacle, the group's lyrical content, Stapp singing Christmas carols, and umpteen metal horns sightings during recording sessions for the band's fifth album, this band is far from universally reviled. In spite of several damaging moments from Stapp's personal life,
the Tallahassee act was one of the most commercially successful bands
during the late '90s. Plus, controversy and run-ins with the law daily befall
our other musical heroes -- Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Britney Spears, to
name a few -- so that's hardly enough of a reason to make Creed out to
be so bad.
But in 2011, it's impossible to think of Creed without that amalgam of Jesus Christ poses, wind machines, and grimaces that Scott Stapp began honing 15 years ago.
My introduction to Creed was painless. During a very brief romance my
freshman year of college, a girl lured me back to her dark dorm room on a few occasions and
hit shuffle on her Aiwa ministereo, and awkward making out commenced. The trays held the first
Creed and Days of the New albums, and in those days, those bands were pretty much
interchangeable. For a good while after that, when I'd hear Creed's "My Own
Prison" at the bowling alley, it didn't make the bile inside me climb the rungs of my esophagus, but I might scratch my head and wonder which Alice in Chains album the song came from.
Days of the New's "Touch, Peel and Stand"
Days of the New frontman Travis Meeks clearly had a bit
of a fascination with Chris Cornell's unkempt beard, wild eyes, and
shirtlessness -- and who could blame him in 1997. But he can't quite pull
off the Soundgarden frontman's massive range. The "Touch, Peel and Stand" clip from the Louisville act -- perhaps the only band signed by R.EM. producer Scott Litt to once feature Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger as a touring member -- takes us through
a tour of quickly cutting scenes from, semiblurry, fish eye effects,
someone wearing Birkenstocks, and a dude shaving his head. Meeks throws some furniture around a dirty house the way Stapp would eventually in real life, but this is just a dated, mediocre video.
Martyr poses: 0
The My Own Prison Era
Onto the blue-tinted flair of Creed's first video, released a few months after "Touch, Peel and Stand." Directed by Stephen Scott (Shelby Lynne, Ron Sexsmith), the clip includes Stapp experimenting with lip-curling as he sings, "No appeal on the docket today, just my own sin."
Creed's "My Own Prison"
This actually isn't that bad, though. The pencil-pushers in a gloomy, futuristic office spend almost as much time on screen as Creed does, and Stapp's reverberating jaw is mostly shown at a distance. It's not quite humble but certainly not among the egotistical atrocities that would befall the band in years to come.
Martyr poses: 0
By the time we move to Creed's third single from My Own Prison, the Matchbox Twenty-ish "What's This Life For," things have rapidly slipped into theatrics that the band would never be able to live down. This Ramaa Mosley (Five for Fighting's "Superman," Tonic's "If You Could Only See") showcase (she later directed "Higher") is the moment Stapp was exposed for who he has always been, and the signature "arms wide open" pose makes its debut.
Creed's "What's This Life For"
Strangely, this is the only Creed song to contain a use of profanity. He
is not, however, cursing the sand getting chucked in his face, because
the band willingly decided to perform in the desert during an obviously
man-made sandstorm (and later some seriously inclement weather). Not for nothing, but did he have to pick such a reflective microphone to use in the blazing sun?
Martyr poses: 2.5
The Human Clay Era
A lot can happen in two years. The Creed bros hit multiplatinum status, and their fluorescent-lit green rooms were unsurprisingly bedecked with fawning models now. Director Mosley opts for quick zooms to accentuate just how heavy the opening to "Higher" really is. And as the band prepares to walk onstage -- not before bassist Brian Marshall ceremoniously ditches his shirt -- we, for some reason, dive into Scott Stapp's ocean of an eyeball for what is apparently a lucid dream.
As it turns out, what happens inside his wildly dilated pupil is identical to what happens in the real world: Creed gets onstage, the crowd erupts as Stapp shows off his thigh muscles, and, er, at four-minute mark we get full-on levitation. This is one of the catchiest songs in Creed's catalog by far, but the vocals were absolutely not recorded on a vintage microphone like the one at the end of the phallic stand paraded around here.
Martyr poses: 3, and the last one is just fucking obnoxious.
Enter director Dave Meyers, the definitive Creed video director with five credits to his name and one of the busiest guys working, with more than 200 videos created to date. He practically deserves his own section in this thing. Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Lil Wayne, Pink, Jay-Z, Kelly Clarkson, much of the No Limit Army, and countless others have enlisted him to direct.
David Arquette kicks off the "What If" video, because this song also appeared on the Scream 3 soundtrack. The way the slinky blond woman jumps full on through a window without cutting herself is strange, and the stuff to follow is just as tense as your average episode of Criminal Minds. As per usual, it's breezy onstage during performance scenes to help Stapp's mane into full flow as he "sings the title of the song 61 times in total," according to Wikipedia. And there are ghost masks and the first hints that Meyers secretly wants to inflict bodily harm on Scott Stapp.
Creed's "What If"
Merciless headbanging, and some dirt-scraping soloing by Mark Tremonti pales in comparison to the revelation that the T-man can dunk a basketball. Aside from the heavy Hoobastank-y vocal treatment on the bridge, anyone willing to listen to the above clip with their eyes closed would
be reminded that it's sonically similar to a mash-up of selections from
Stone Temple Pilots' 1992 blunt-force juggernaut, Core -- especially "Dead and Bloated." Not super-original, but hardly torture material.
Martyr poses: None!
On the other hand, "With Arms Wide Open" really is as bad as you think it is, and the video only exacerbates things. Meyers is back to direct for the second time, and he really ups his attack on Stapp by trying to drop meteors and an enormous bell on him. Unfortunately, even someone holding his arms out at every possible opportunity proves to be a hard target. Meyers really starts to have fun with the CGI in his second clip, and there's a new undertone of Lord of the Rings influence that begins here.
Creed's "With Arms Wide Open"
Eventually Stapp ends up on top of a peak -- another repeated idea to be beaten mercilessly in the videos to come. Helicopter shot!
Martyr poses: Like, a lot.
The Weathered Era
The now-familiar Meyers is back -- and so is the zooming-into-the-eyeball trick -- for "My Sacrifice," which signals a new era of creative control for the band. And this creative control said, let's perform in water up to our waists, and no flirting with killing off Scott Stapp in the middle. Filmed in Polk County and Universal Studios, this video looks like
it has a budget of a gazillion dollars. Stapp himself is in a boat and at one point saves himself from drowning. They then sing together,
fists clenched. There are too many bizarre things going on in this video to name them all, but stay tuned for a school bus filled with candles, a devastating hurricane, and a real, live tiger.
Creed's "My Sacrifice"
From the Making the Video (watch it here ) filmed for this, Scott Stapp said: "The tiger really fixated on me for some reason, and they said to make sure I kept making eye contact, and I was like thinking like maybe pit bulls and dogs and looking at him in the eye, but I did what they said, so basically I figured ya know if it's my time to go, it's my time to go -- at least it will be on MTV and everyone will see it and I'll wrestle the tiger and it will be cool." So maybe there could've been actual Stapp carnage after all.
Martyr poses: A measly .5 is all.
Never thought this would happen, but the "Bullets" video makes us want Dave Meyers back! Instead of a live-action representation of Creed, the clip accompanying arguably the heaviest metal thrust in the band's catalog is in a CGI realm. This cost a reported $473,000 by the team that made Twisted Metal 4. They must have watched the "With Arms Wide Open" video, because there are some familiar meteor showers and a falling bell.
"All that I want is what's real, something I touch and can feel," Stapp sings here. Couldn't agree more. This is like looking over your little brother's World of Warcraft raid.
Martyr poses: Would be welcomed at this point.
For the strings-enhanced ballad "One Last Breath," which brings back Dave Meyers, Creed begins atop some towering CGI rocks. Stapp's near-death experiences are back, as he jumps and extends his arms like a cross for a good half minute as he plummets toward the ground. If Meyers isn't trying to kill, at least he wants to maim. The sandstorm theme also returns -- except this one has a face. A woman crying tears of blood, Neverending Story wasteland, there's a lion cub, and then we're back at the top of an epic peak.
Creed's "One Last Breath"
Martyr poses: It'd be easier to count the few moments when Stapp's arms aren't wide open.
After the last over-the-top video, it was time to redirect the Creed vision. Possibly they couldn't afford to film on Mars, so the "Don't Stop Dancing" scales things back considerably to a church setting in Hoboken. With Meyers at the helm, it's surprising that this thing stays so restrained. Cutting to Mark Tremonti playing outside the church à la Slash for the solo is the only real surprise here. Wait, do the children playing on the grounds nearby have gold paint on their faces?
Creed's "Don't Stop Dancing"
Scott Stapp's sister Aimee on backing vocals shows up toward the end, and actually -- *throwing up arms* -- this is not a bad music video. If only we could say the same about the previous seven.
Martyr poses: Two.
The Full Circle Era
Seven years can change a lot about a band, and with Creed's 2009 comeback album, we're dealing with the post-YouTube video budgeting. Farewell, Dave Meyers. This documentary-style clip shows off Stapp with a shaved head. Aside from a moment when he shakes his face at the camera and a shot of a particularly indulgent bro with a beer, this is again not a squirm-worthy experience.
Unfortunately, this new level of restraint -- and improved singing technique by Stapp -- means that there's virtually nothing to complain about. Except that it does not look like we can pick up Full Circle on vinyl.
Martyr poses: 2
Again, we see Creed victimized by a far cheaper video budget. It's a Matchbox Twenty-ish song called "Rain," for pete's sake, and they don't even interact with the elements! Stapp expectantly looks up at the droplets projected on the ceiling, but that's it.
Martyr poses: Zip.
And here's where things end -- for now. "A Thousand Faces" could be the only instance of a Creed song that is sampled prominently in a hip-hop song. (See Joe Budden's "1,000 Faces," if you dare.) And that is the most intense thing about it. The crowd is absolutely dead in this concert video. Compared to the fist-pumping excitement of "Higher," this is a pretty depressing contrast.
Creed "A Thousand Faces"
Martyr poses: A spinning, flailing thing.
Having reached the end of this journey, it's definitely eye-opening to be so close to Creed for such a long period of time. Viewing 12 Creed videos is kind of like eating 12 McDonald's Baked Apple Pies, one after another. There were parts of the experience that we'd never do again -- a straight diet of Scott Stapp's lip-curling and posturing is overwhelming. You will not see me at any of the upcoming Creed concerts, but at the same time, there's definitely a renewed comfort with the songs -- which arguably were never the central problem with this band to begin with. Call it Stapp-holm Syndrome, perhaps.
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