Sunday Retro Reviews: Creed “Human Clay”

We are starting a new feature today where we look back at classic, not so classic, and downright under appreciated albums from years past. Our friend Adam Hardwick has graciously decided to share some of his faves with us. Enjoy!

Creed Makes Post-Grunge Sound Good On “Human Clay”

Human Clay is a great hard rock record for radio-friendly listeners, who are interested in lyrics focused on personal growth.

Creed released Human Clay during a period of Rock music that included “Post-grunge” as a popular style, in the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s. It was their second studio album, and proved popular with consumers, selling millions of copies. The album includes several hit singles, notably “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open”. Human Clay is a great album that consistently demonstrates skillful songwriting, poetic lyricism, and excellent production. However, it is not an album that will appeal to listeners who prefer experimental or non-commercial music.

The songs work well as a cohesive unit, with enough variety to keep the listener interested. There is hard rock (Say I, Never Die), anthems (Higher), and ballads (With Arms Wide Open, Wash Away Those Years), sometimes blending styles in the same song (Faceless Man). The texture of the songs typically alternates between clean reverb and abrasive, gain-heavy distortion. The production is pristine ñ each instrument can be clearly heard, even in the harmonies, and the reverb-ed guitars create a sense of atmosphere within the songs. None of the songs feel out of place, since they all follow the preceding formula. Generally, if a listener likes any of the singles released for the album, they will like other songs on the album. The exception is Higher, the most radio-friendly single, which will likely appeal to listeners who only want upbeat, hook-laden pop rock, in addition to those who appreciate hard rock. There are 11 original songs; the twelfth is an orchestral version of “With Arms Wide Open”. I would have liked one more original song, but this is just personal preference.

Human Clay does not innovate a new style, but brings together elements of past rock albums very well. Critics attack Creed and other Post-grunge artists (Bush, Nickelback, Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, Matchbox Twenty, Puddle of Mudd, Silverchair, etc.) by writing that the genre is derivative of past Rock history. Music buffs also criticize Post-grunge bands, by claiming that they stole the sound of Grunge and commercialized it. Many Grunge acts shunned the mainstream, so commercializing the sound of Grunge has been considered an artistic offense. Critics compare Scott Stapp’s voice to Eddie Vedder’s of Pearl Jam. Both have a baritone-tenor range and sing in hard rock bands that started in the nineties. Scott has a throaty coarseness to his voice, which sounds perfectly suited to radio-friendly hard rock. A closer vocal comparison may be to the late Scott Weiland of STP. Both use a full-throttled singing style that complements abrasive guitar tone and pounding drums, and appeals to a mainstream audience. A comparative sound for Human Clay could be Core-era STP, with more complex or elaborate song structures like in Purple, Tiny Music, and No. 4. The songwriting is also reminiscent of Arena bands like Kiss; they sound ready to be accompanied by stadiums packed with fans singing along to the choruses.

Lyrically, the album deals with issues of healing (“Wash Away Those Years”, “Inside Us All”), hope (“Higher”, “With Arms Wide Open”), regret (“Beautiful”), and consequences (“What If”, “Wrong Way”, “Faceless Man”). The lyrics have an impressionistic quality, meaning there is enough depth to give an idea of the writerís intentions, but room for interpretation and personal application. I have also read that Jim Morrison was a huge influence on Scott, but am not familiar enough with the Doors to make a fair comparison. Scottís lyrical style is reminiscent of Bono’s work with U2 on The Joshua Tree.

Human Clay is a step forward for the band, in comparison with their first album, My Own Prison. The production, songwriting, and lyrics are all major improvements from the first record. In terms of Post-grunge, I respect the genre’s niche – catchy modern rock and Grunge influences – and its mainstream success. However, I normally find the genre to be formulaic and generic, and Human Clay is an exception to my preference. The difference between Human Clay and the scores of other albums in the Post-grunge genre is Mark Tremonti’s technical-focused instrumentation, Scott’s impressionistic lyrics, and, especially, the lyrical content itself.

I am not an expert on Post-grunge, and am only familiar with the most popular singles, but many other Post-grunge songs seem to focus on romance (Matchbox Twenty, Nickelback, Puddle of Mudd, Everclear), or depression (Silverchair). Human Clayís music is aggressive, but the lyrics are not angry, depressive, or romantic. Scott writes about personal struggles, but many of the songs display a desire for personal growth and hope. He seems to focus on working through abuse (“Are You Ready”, “Wash Away Those Years”), personal transformation (“Faceless Man”), and confronting past mistakes (“Beautiful”, “Wrong Way”). In some cases, Scott seems to be writing a letter directly to the listener (ìf there ís a peace inside us all, let it be your friend from “Inside Us All”, what if I died?, what did I give?, I hope it was an answer, so you might live I hope I helped you live from “Wrong Way”) In terms of these themes, and addressing the listener directly, Human Clay is original.

If listeners prefer raw, independent albums with a Do-It-Yourself ethic, written in a unique style, the music of Human Clay will not be appealing. If listeners want modern hard rock anthems with an aggressive sound, and poetic lyrics that focus on personal transformation, they will probably appreciate Human Clay.

Adam Hardwick (Contributor) – grew up listening to the alt-rock of the early nineties. As a contributor, he hopes to recognize under-appreciated musicians and albums. He favors dense studio production and impressionistic lyrics. Some of his favorite albums are Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins, The iHeart Revolution by Hillsong United, and The Joshua Tree by U2. 

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