"Scott Stapp mistakes the trite for the profound and delivers hallmark card lyrics with an earnestness bordering on the comical": Creed: Human Clay - Album Of The Week Club review

Criticised for being exemplars of the beige stodge-rock that followed grunge, Creed sold albums by the million. We try and figure out why

Creed - Human Clay cover art
(Image: © UMC/Concord Records)

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Creed - Human Clay

Creed - Human Clay cover art

(Image credit: UMC/Concord Records)

Are You Ready?
What If
Say I
Wrong Way
Faceless Man
Never Die
With Arms Wide Open
Wash Away Those Years
Inside Us All

Creed, in case you've forgotten, were huge. Between 1997 and their break-up in 2004, the Tallahassee, Florida band sold 28 million albums in the US alone, and their second and third – 1999’s Human Clay – debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 chart and sold 12 million. 

The production of the album was fraught with personal drama as bassist Brian Marshall, then struggling with alcoholism and addiction, threatened to physically attack guitarist Mark Tremonti and publicly criticised singer Scott Stapp. He eventually left, after refusing to go into rehab, and was replaced for the ensuing tour by Brett Hesla.

That drama didn't affect the album's performance. Third single With Arms Wide Open won the Best Rock Song Grammy in 2001. The album took home the Best Pop/Rock Album prize at the American Music Awards. Billboard named it the Catalog Album of the Year in 2002, and as ranked it the 5th best album of the decade in 2009. Not bad for an album described by Entertainment Weekly as "lunkheaded kegger rock sculpted from tiresome grunge riffs." 

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Other albums released in September 1999

  • The Avenger - Amon Amarth
  • Chamber Music - Coal Chamber
  • Riot, Riot, Upstart - Agnostic Front
  • Showbiz - Muse
  • The Ultra Zone - Steve Vai
  • No Ordinary World - Joe Cocker
  • Between the Bridges - Sloan
  • Liquid Skin - Gomez
  • One From The Modern - Ocean Colour Scene
  • Q2K - Queensrÿche
  • The Ladder - Yes
  • Metalhead - Saxon
  • Supergrass - Supergrass
  • Euphoria Morning - Chris Cornell
  • The Fragile - Nine Inch Nails
  • Happiness... Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch - Our Lady Peace
  • I'll Take Care Of You - Mark Lanegan
  • World Coming Down - Type O Negative
  • A Different Beat - Gary Moore
  • Calculating Infinity - The Dillinger Escape Plan
  • The Time Machine - Alan Parsons
  • XXX - ZZ Top
  • Ravishing Grimness - Darkthrone


What they said...

"It may not be the kind of thing that knocks out critics or grunge purists, but it does deliver for anyone looking for direct, grunge-flavoured hard rock. Within that realm, the band does mix things up a bit – it's not all mid-tempo sludge, for there are also ballads and some high-octane, up-tempo rockers – and that makes Human Clay a stronger, better-paced record than its predecessor, which wasn't bad either." (AllMusic)

"These God-fearing grunge babies sound falser than rape-inciting Limp Bizkit, abuse-tripping Static-X, party animals Buckcherry, or even world-dance Days of the New. Because their songs address universals, they don't debase women, a plus. But their spirituality is as sodden as their sonics. I mean, it's not as if familial oppression isn't real. It's the main thing that turns the hard and loud into truth-seekers and revenge-seekers both." (Robert Chrisrtgau)

"Like Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Creed has concocted a winning formula and dares not deviate from it, lest it result in lost market share. For fans of the band, Human Clay will ring reassuringly familiar. Much of the album is grunge twice-removed. The songs sound less like knockoffs of such standard-bearers as Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains than they do facsimiles of Seven Mary Three and Stone Temple Pilots." (Los Angeles Times)


What you said...

Jack Rose: Following up My Own Prison wasn't an easy task, but I feel they did a stupendous job. I mean, while it gives you smash hits Arms Wide Open, getting all of us Fathers in our feelings, it gives you some songs like What If, and Are You Ready that'll keep you klangin' and bangin' in the gym. 

My personal faves are Faceless Man, and Beautiful on that album. Creed may be more of a punchline for the last couple decades, no denying they were gigantic late 90's, early 00's. I remember catching this tour in the Bible belt, Creed headlining, with Collective Soul, and Full Devil Jacket in support, and I mean the sea of fans you saw coming off of 35 that day, unbelievable. Great show, solid album.

Andrew Martyn: Typical of the beige stodge-rock that came after grunge - too lumpen for rock, not heavy enough to be metal. Horrible charmless crap that thankfully the UK swerved a bit, but when I was in America it was everywhere

Mark Rago: One was a good song. Aside from that, Creed was pretty generic.

Mikey Jay: I personally love this album. The first three Creed albums complement Alter Bridges discography super well.

Roland Bearne: (I wrote a long answer an it vanished..gaaah!) So, trying again. Years ago I was given a Creed CD as a present. I dutifully played, it put it on the shelf and even left it behind when I moved out from that” previous life!”. I remember seeing them MTV but, no impression was made. So, with older ears, and determined to live by the axiom that it’s better to say nothing than to say something not nice, here goes. 

There is actually much to admire here. Mark Tremonti, eschewing the Fender Jaguar jangle/ fuzzed distortion beloved of those compadres in the northwest, he’s blasting out full throated PRS through Dual Rectifier bombast. Only trouble is, he (and others) get a bit swamped the thick clay(!)-like mix. There is great riffage in here, but it’s almost like the production was designed to down-play that and make sure it was market-ready for the perceived musical zeitgeist. When listening to this, I start to zone out, those happy enzymes just aren’t flowing, so why? 

I think it is because everything sits in a rather narrow gorge of its own making. There are no sweeping musical vistas or, actual fire-breathing angst. Putting on my voice professional cap for a mo’, I think I realise why; Scott Stapp. So, yes there’s apparent power there, but to my ears, whilst he’s trying to out Vedder, Vedder, there are limitations. He sings in a pretty narrow mid-range, varying his deliver solely through volume rather than using other vocal techniques or any great range. 

So, it’s quiet and intense, then growly and intense then shouty and intense. All the resonance, while seeming to be a chesty baritone is actually bouncing around the back of the throat and the sinuses. This then leads to the band writing in that range, reducing the options for creating varied melodies and as I said, making everything sit in consistently “middle” range. 

But that’s just my perception I also guess that with the “quasi-religious/ spiritual” vibe, kids across the US had a band who weren’t going to get them yelled out for buying artists with semi naked women adorning the covers, upside down crosses or were given to biting flying rodents! So, for me, neither fish nor fowl really (But who am I to argue with gazillions of sales!) thank goodness for Myles Kennedy who allowed Tremonti to expand and explore those wider musical vistas.

Jamie Laszlo. It was bad 25 years ago. 25 years later it's now bad and dated.

Adam McCann: Record company exec: "hey, let's keep flogging this Pearl Jam sound". Tbh, Creed took the post-grunge sound as pretty much as far as it could, massive at the time, but arguably quite dated. However, the one after, Weathered, is a much better album, but they'd never top how big With Arms Wide Open was.

Jim Black: to be fair I've tried and have listen to the whole album and i just can't seem to get past the Eddie Veddar comparison. The music is ok, but for me Scott sounds to close to Eddie.

Toby Barclay-Deane: One of my favourite albums.

Philip Qvist: With the hindsight of 20 plus years it's easy to compare Creed with Alter Bridge - but the fact is that Human Clay came out during the tail end of the 90s, and it has to be compared to what happened before then.

I have never minded Creed, I thought they were good, their singles were memorable enough and at least there were bands that still tried to rock - that at a time when record companies, radio shows and TV Executives were trying to bury rock. But that all said, as much as I love Alter Bridge, I only liked Creed - and that is a huge difference.

Higher and Arms Wide Open still sound classic - over 20 years later - while songs such as Inside Us All, Beautiful and Never Die are also quite good; and I don't really hear a truly bad song on Human Clay.

So what is the "But" that you keep hearing? The sound, that's what.

It sounds watered-down; with the contributions of Mark Tremonti, Brian Marshall and Scott Phillips drowned out by poor production. Thank God that issue was sorted out when Myles Kennedy came on board - and the producers put the beef and muscle back into their songs.

The other issue is Scott Stapp, with his voice drowning out the musicians - and he was hardly the strongest singer of that period either. A decent singer but that's it.

For sure, this album was the soundtrack of many at a certain point of their lives - with sales to match - but, nearly a quarter of a century later, it sure has dated somewhat and the production has a lot to be desired in my opinion. A 7/10 from me.

John Davidson: I bought this in the early 00s for £1 and haven’t really listened to it since. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work, but it largely doesn’t, although it finishes more strongly than it starts

On opener Are You Ready? singer Scott Stapp doesn’t have the punch to reach through the density of production and deliver the emotional impact that a song needs to get the pulse racing. The lyrics are repetitive and bland which doesn’t help at all.

What If? tries to ape the stomp and groove of nu-metal band Korn without coming close to finding the necessary anger, power or aggression. Again, the muted ‘wall of sound’ production makes it hard to connect with the song on any level. The guitars occasionally cut through but not enough.

The music expands a little on Beautiful, but the lyrics and vocal delivery again seem to hold the song back. Say I continues in the same vein as Beautiful, and confirms the main criticism of the album (and indeed of the first Alter bridge album) in that the band have a sound and stick to the formula too tightly so that even the half decent songs (like this one) get lost in a barrage of sameness.

At this point (on second listen) I have to fight the urge to skip to the next track. I’ve just listened to Wrong Way and already forgotten it. Faceless Man is unironically appropriate.

Things start to move in the right direction on Never Die, which at least finds a little edge. Sadly, the next track With Arms Wide Open is the sort of chocolate box post-grunge power balladry that Nickelback have made a career out of. Higher is the only genuinely good to great song on the album. The lyrics don’t entirely suck, It’s got a foot tapping rhythm and a sing-a-long chorus and the guitar solo rips. Of all the songs on the album, that one would make it onto a general heavy rock playlist.

Wash Away the Years and Inside Us All see a return to the more open arrangement of  With Arms Wide Open. They’re not bad, but they’re not especially memorable either though again the guitar work is better served by the production /arrangement.

What I don’t hear much from this album is any real hint of Pearl Jam. Ok there is a post-grungy vibe to the music but lyrically they are night and day, If anything they sound like Stone Temple Pilots but without the twitchy angst or Live without the religious fervour and weirdness. Where Eddie Vedder told stories and painted pictures with his words and voice, Stapp mistakes the trite for the profound and delivers hallmark card lyrics with an earnestness bordering on the comical.

Robby Jackson: In 1999 this was the rock I could get, otherwise the house was Brittany Spears, et al. Listening to this album today I get a same three-chord vibe. An album to leave behind.

Mark Herrington: In reality, it’s not a bad album with a few reasonable tracks, like  Arms Wide Open, which often features on Rock Ballad compilations. Personally, I’m glad they transformed into Alter Bridge with the help of Myles Kennedy, and hardened and refined their sound in the 21st Century.

Glenn Gregory: I must have had a lot going on in my life when Creed were around as they largely passed me by. I recall moving house and attempting to discover some new music. I heard a track by Creed from Weathered and loved it. Bought that album and was blown away and subsequently bought the previous albums.

I still love My Sacrifice and With Arms Wide Open. I’m pleased I got to listen to the music with no preconceptions. Having found out that they were widely derided (and I never understood why), I did think it was a bit unfair. Yes, Scott Stapp seemed to be a bit of a dick, but I had no issues with his voice.

I never got the chance to see them live, but did see Alter Bridge on their maiden tour. With only their debut album to promote I was looking forward to a few Creed classics. What was delivered was a very short gig with a few lame cover versions included as fillers.

Back to Human Clay: I re-listened to it just two weeks ago, and although it wasn’t quite as good as I’d remembered, it’s still a solid rock album. 8/10 from me.

Chris Elliott: Dinner party grunge. Unlike Nickelback they can't write a catchy chorus. I don't get the hate - it's just a bit dull and boring. There's nothing left of the alternative/post punk bits of grunge, but that could be said of most of what got marketed as grunge.

Mike Canoe: I like it. I think I avoided Human Clay when it came out because a) I worked at a book and music store at the time and was spoiled for choice b) the ubiquity of Arms Wide Open on MTV and radio and c) it had one of the most awful album covers that I'd ever seen without actually having anything actually awful on it, just horribly cheap and slapdash. Sorry, Mark Tremonti's brother.

And while Creed's sound is derivative of Pearl Jam, here's the funny thing, I didn't really like Pearl Jam back then, yet I generally like Human Clay. If they sound like Pearl Jam, then it's a darker, heavier, edgier Pearl Jam.

Scott Staap has a good, strong voice and I learned from the Alter Bridge club pick last year what the rest of the band can do. The lyrics are on par with the pseudo-spiritual stuff that Live, Days Of The New, etc. trafficked in at the time.

I think everyone who bought their own music in the '90s has a Creed album or two in their collection. It just might be a "scrunge" or "post-grunge" or "yarl rock" album that's not actually Creed. For me, it's Sponge's Rotting Pinata and Dragline by Paw, derisively labelled as Pearl Jam's Kansas chapter. I listen to those albums and still hear what others don't or never did. If Creed does that for their fans, more power to them.

Chris Downie: While Metallica's self-titled 1991 album has the unassailable position at the top of the US rock and metal sales chart in the Soundscan era (over 16 million sales in the US alone) it may surprise many that, rather than Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Nickelback or Foo Fighters, it is Creed who occupy the runner-up spot with this, their sophomore album, at over 11.5 million US sales. 

Yet, like the aforementioned bands, there was a downside to success and while the album was propelled due to the success of their multi-platinum debut My Own Prison and the two smash hits on its follow-up (With Arms Wide Open and Higher) their over-saturation on rock radio and MTV was subject to much derision.

Having imploded after a massively successful three-album run, albeit hampered by lack of European touring (Human Clay and their huge third album Weathered flirted with the UK Top 30, but UK appearances were rare) the three musicians in the band would of course go on to form the spectacular Alter Bridge who, despite not matching the commercial sales, have well exceeded critical acclaim of their former band. 

Despite brief Creed reunions in 2009-10 (which culminated in a good fourth album Full Circle, but lacklustre live DVD, let down by frontman Scott Stapp's vocal issues at the time) and 2012 (which yielded an album worth of demos which were shelved, due to resurfacing conflict with the troubled frontman). Having announced a reunion for 2024, on this album's 25th anniversary, reappraisals will come thick and fast.

Upon revisiting their back catalogue, one is reminded of the Pearl Jam comparisons which plagued them in their heyday. While this has merit in the (post-grunge baritone) vocal department, musically Creed are a heavier proposition, sitting closer to Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains and 90s era Metallica. 

Indeed, the muscular metal riffing of Mark Tremonti is present throughout, not least in blistering rockers like Eastern-tinged, Zeppelin-influenced opener Are You Ready, the ferocious What If and the eerily atmospheric Say I. The rhythm section of bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips is as tight as they are in Alter Bridge, evidenced in the dynamic Beautiful and Wrong Way.

Where things fall down slightly, as in all of their 4 albums, is the awkward mix between the heavier, darker sounds and standard FM radio fare such as the aforementioned hits, which always indicated an uneasy compromise. While the lucid dreaming and ghostly apparitions that inspired Higher and Faceless Man respectively are often wrongly attributed to Christianity, the spiritual feel of closer Inside Us All and occasional Biblical double entendres throughout their albums did nothing to dispel accusations they are a Christian band (something they strenuously denied) and hurt their image, particularly outside the Bible Belt.

While they will always be divisive, there is much to be admired. While Alter Bridge are widely seen as the better band (the operative word being "band", such are the superior, more stable and humble dynamics between the three talented musicians and the phenomenal Myles Kennedy) Human Clay is not only the strongest of their four albums, it also stands as a highlight of its time, particularly when compared to the many post-grunge rockers (from Staind to Puddle of Mudd and from Seether to Breaking Benjamin) who travelled in their wake. 8/10.


Final score: 5.03 (146 votes cast, total score 735)

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