We’re very close to finally breaching the Top 10 People’s Albums and I probably could’ve just skipped doing another bonus entry in order to keep moving forward. But, this is the most drawn-out countdown of all time, so of course I have to do another bonus entry so I can end this thing with an even 50. Also, this particular album is one that I was dreading whether I would have to eventually write about, but I’m choosing to bite the bullet and admit that me and this album have more of a history than I’d like to admit.
Album: Human Clay
Release Date: September 28, 1999
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 11.7 million
Why Was This Popular?
Ok, confession time. I don’t think I’ve ever admitted it to anyone as an adult, but I owned this album as a young, impressionable 11-year-old with terrible taste in music. I may have painted the picture in a previous installment of The People’s Albums that my infatuation with rock music began when I listened to The Beatles’ 1 for the first time when I was 13. But really, it went back a little further than that. You see, in the summer of 2000, my friend Matt (not the one who sometimes contributes to this website) got me into watching the VH1 Top Ten Videos Countdown, which would’ve been around the time that Creed’s breakout single “Higher” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Alongside Creed on these countdowns, you had other post-grunge bands that were a little less agro and angsty than the nü metal bands that were getting play over on MTV. Some of these bands still remain fairly well-known, such as Matchbox Twenty, 3 Doors Down, or Red Hot Chili Peppers (then in the middle of their Californication string of music videos). However, many of the other bands I associate with this era have more or less been lost to time. Bands like Vertical Horizon, Nine Days, and Lifehouse, who are all mostly forgotten for a reason, but who I still associate with my first memories of listening to modern rock music. It’s hard not to see why I was sent scurrying to the past in search of good music a year or two later, since the turn of the 21st century was a pretty terrible time for music.
This surely had to do with the fact that the first year of a new decade rarely reflects what the rest of the decade will sound like musically, and is more of a hangover from the previous decade. In regards to most of the bands I just mentioned, this mostly holds true, as ’99 and ’00 saw a lot of bands that were milking the last vestiges of what grunge and alternative rock had done to mainstream music, and Creed was no different. You can hear a lot of the non-Nirvana grunge bands (i.e. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains) in Human Clay, or in the case of album opener “Are You Ready?”, Stone Temple Pilots and specifically the song “Vasoline”. However, you do have to ask yourself why none of the other albums from this extremely forgettable era of rock music that coincided with the peak of physical album sales were quite as popular as Human Clay.
Though two big reasons are the enormously cheesy (but shamefully enjoyable) singles “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open”, as is the case with most things, I think it also has to do with Jesus. Creed frontman Scott Stapp has often denied that Creed are a Christian rock band, and after listening to this album, that seems fair. What little Christian rock I’ve heard, it seems like most Christian rock bands make it really obvious how much they love Jesus in their songs. And while Stapp’s upbringing as the son of a Pentacostal minister and the fact that the band’s lyrics about good and evil and mortality take on a Biblical bent, it doesn’t really seem like Creed is interested in spreading anyone’s gospel other than their own.
Still, I think it absolutely helped in broadening Creed’s commercial appeal that they had the overall vibe of a Christian rock band. After all, when I think of the sonic trademarks of Christian rock, what comes to mind is that turn-of-the-century, generic mid-tone distorted guitar sound that Creed embodies. Also, just look at the video for “Higher”, where a cross-tattooed Stapp is playing the part of a Christ-like frontman with just a little too much gusto (not to mention that the song seems to be about going to heaven).
But at the same time, you could argue that tons of other frontmen were prone to a Jesus Christ pose or two in their music videos, and Stapp’s savior-like posturing was all part of being a rock and roll frontman, which didn’t have anything to do with actual messianism. But it’s in being able to wink at Christians and infer that there’s something going on here with religious connotations that gave them this appeal to the very broad base of Christian rock fans. Though at the same time, they could also appeal to the kinds of mainstream, secular listeners that could propel Creed’s music up the Billboard Modern Rock charts.
Did This Deserve To Be Popular?
Even though I am willing to admit that I used my allowance money to buy a copy of Human Clay when I was a youngster, in my defense, I’m not sure I ever was able to make it through listening to the entire CD front-to-back. I was mostly interested in hearing “With Arms Wide Open” and “Higher”, and since I hadn’t yet figured out how to download Napster on my family computer, this was the only way I could have those songs to listen to whenever I wanted.
So if I’m grading my taste at 11 years old purely on those two songs, adult me can kind of see where younger me is coming from. Or at least, I’ll still vouch for “Higher”. It’s a very thrilling, chest-beating rock song that while undeniably uncool, I would gladly sing at a karaoke night if the pandemic hadn’t made me still skittish about such an endeavor. “With Arms Wide Open” I can’t vouch for quite as hard, since it is a pretty corny song about a pretty corny subject (fatherhood), whose self-seriousness makes it a little difficult to enjoy even on a fun ironic level.
As for the rest of the album, listening to it now really did feel like listening to it for the first time. Yet despite that opportunity to listen to this oft-derided band with fresh ears, it was still pretty hard to try and take this album at face value considering Creed’s reputation. It seems that when I first started getting serious about music, they were used as the prime example of what a “shitty band” sounds like, which made me all the more ashamed about my brief flirtation with liking this band just a few years prior. Though because Creed broke up pretty quickly after their heyday (in 2004 after Scott Stapp’s drug addiction and alcoholism tore the band apart), their reign as the kings of bad hard rock was short-lived. This gave an opening for them to be dethroned by Nickleback, who proved to have far more staying power than Creed as the “worst band imaginable”, though even they were eventually usurped by Imagine Dragons and the monolithic pile of radioactive shit that was “Radioactive”.
So with all that baggage in tow while listening to Human Clay in 2022, really the two easy stances I could take are A) this totally sucks and will always totally suck, or B) this is actually underrated. Ultimately, I think I’m somewhere in the middle. There isn’t really anything vital or important about Creed, though perhaps you could say they were weirdly influential in bringing about the likes of what we once deemed “crap-rock” on a podcast many moons ago. These were bands that looked like they were cosplaying as stereotypical rock stars, while exuding that kind of laughable machismo in a post-irony era that surely should’ve prevented such a thing from becoming popular. I’m thinking about ‘00s bands like Hinder, Buckcherry, and the aforementioned Nickelback, who technically rocked, but in a way that was completely devoid of self-awareness or fun, which made a band like The Darkness look like absolute geniuses for understanding the 21st-century appeal of being rock stars.
But of course, you could also ask: is there any value in being influential on music that sucks? Maybe not. And what makes Creed’s case a little harder to make is that this music is so derivative. As I mentioned earlier, the band sounds a lot like the Seattle bands of the early ‘90s, and though I’m not as big of a grunge fan as I’ve always wanted to be, I still see the appeal in big heavy riffs with a hint of depression and grandiosity, and Creed appropriates that formula pretty well here.
Creed bassist Brian Marshall even went as far as infamously stating that Creed was better than Pearl Jam was in the late ‘90s. As ridiculous as even a Pearl Jam skeptic like myself would find that, there is still something in the idea that Creed’s embrace of anthemic, commercial rock was more appealing to people yearning for the more commercial side of grunge. However, for rock fans who had already moved on from grunge by the time Creed rolled around, I think the band’s hamfistedness and lack of creativity made it easy to dump on them. But being a bit removed from that era and seeing how much worse mainstream rock could get, Creed doesn’t seem quite so bad.
Would I Pay Money For This?
Even though my dark past includes an instance of buying a copy of Human Clay, never again. While I’ll admit that this album isn’t quite as bad as its amateurish album artwork would imply (courtesy of guitarist Mark Tremonti’s brother Daniel), it’s still not really worth investing your time in. But you know, maybe it would be worth spending money on if for some weird reason you wanted to support Scott Stapp’s legal fees. But I’m also going to assume Creed got screwed on their record deal and aren’t making that much from album sales, so if that’s your justification, maybe it’s worth holding out hope for a Creed reunion tour, god help you.
Next Time On The People’s Albums: I already mentioned last time I was doing Elton John’s Greatest Hits, but this time I mean it. Laaaaaaa la la la la laaa.