Arts Desk

Creed Was Never Underrated

Reading Jonah Weiner's Creed encomium yesterday reminded me that when "Higher" hit the airwaves in 1999 as the first single from Creed's Human Clay, I knew on first listen that I had to learn that song.

When I suggested "Higher" to my guitar instructor, he scoffed. Our arrangement was that I could pick a song to learn (as opposed to having one assigned), only if it supplemented the sight-reading, theory, or scalar focus of our lessons. Radio rock, with the exception of Metallica (pre-Black) and the Foo Fighters (anything from The Colour and the Shape), was verboten.

But when my instructor saw the pull-off in the opening hook for "Higher," he changed his mind. At first, he didn't believe that guitarist Mark Tremonti was playing it as transcribed: It required the guitarist to simultaneously make a bar chord at the 7th fret using the first finger (drop-D tuning) while completing a pull-off (on the notoriously fickle G string) that stretched all the way to the 12th fret and required the pinkie and ring fingers. If this makes no sense to you, just imagine having to stretch your fingers much farther apart than feels natural, and doing something elegant with them like that.

In essence, this one musical line changed my instructor's opinion about Creed, a tough sell considering that very few technically proficient guitarists have anything nice to say about contemporary radio rock. But for many, many people, no convincing was or is necessary. I played "Higher" at parties through college, and the response was always one of warm recognition.

Human Clay is a platinum album, which explains why most people recognize–like, even–the riff from "Higher." Millions of people bought the album, from which we can extrapolate that many, many people like the album. Is an encomium for a widely purchased album that defined an era of radio rock necessary?

No. Based on sales, longevity, and concert attendance, Creed is actually an overrated band, it's just not rated by the select tribe of paid music critics whose job is to play taste police.

In Chronic City, the new novel by Jonathan Lethem, the character Perkus Tooth observes that "[r]ock critics gather for purposes of mutual consolation, though they'd never call it that. They believe they're experts."

One music writer telling his colleagues that Creed is better than we realize, or, as Ron Rosenbaum argued in January, that Billy Joel is not as good as the millions of people who buy his albums think he is, appears at first glance to be a deviation from the consoling we do so frequently: Talking up indie acts, poorly selling albums, and obscure deep cuts, and bemoaning the bad taste of the masses while railing against the labels that keep them fed and stupid. Yet defending Creed isn't a break from that; it's condescension disguised as counter-intuition, and in its own way, a mirror that reflects the impotence of the average music critic: Creed didn't need Slate in its corner 10 years ago, and it doesn't need Slate now.

Ironically, Weiner's piece has been widely reviled by his target audience: people who consider themselves experts. In fact, it's spawned its own twitter meme. Bloggers with "great taste" have dismissed Weiner's argument wholesale, and have sworn to hate Creed even more now that one of their own has dared to save the band from their very tiny, very dull pitchforks.

And that, people, is destined to be the exercise's only value: It reveals the massive divide between what the idiots want and what the smarties want, and the utter futility of suggesting to the latter group that the former is ever correct.

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  • bowie

    I don't see how creating a difficult guitar riff somehow serves to validate the music.
    Anybody can figure out something hard to play; that doesn't make it any good.
    Some of the best music is incredibly simple and easy to play.

  • Polchy Winecheck

    Creed still suck, and I don't care if their chords require six fingers and two toes to play. I can't stand either the phony emotionalism and delivery of the singer nor the plastic and predictable nonsense that they call their "music". Meh.

  • http://washingtoncitypaper.com Mike Riggs

    @Bowie: The point isn't that tricky riffs make good music. It's that you don't like Creed, but millions of people do, and thus the band doesn't really need defending.

    The riff anecdote was just me riffing about riffing/massaging my ego.

  • wintercoat

    You love them because you have shitty taste.

  • http://washingtoncitypaper.com Mike Riggs

    @wintercoat: I would say that I have decent taste overall, and that it is my enjoyment of bad music as well as really good music that keeps me from having exceptional taste.

  • danny

    your shitty - typical creed bashing responses are exactly with this article is talking about. creed musicianly, is a great band. great sound, great lyrics, its pure rock music. mark tremonti is one of the premiere rock guitar players in alt. rock right now, no one out there on rock radio competes with this dude. and what if stapp went through some personal shit back in the day? give the guy a break, the hating is getting a lil old. a good 5-6 yrs old to be frank.

  • blackbird

    ^^^^^ 100%

  • rob

    ^^^^1000%

  • MN

    (Imagine Don LaFontaine voice): In a world where Justin Moyer was in El Guapo and playing opening sets for every single concert in DC, one City Paper music critic decided he wanted to just play a little Creed.

    Mike Riggs stars as Nicolas Cage in ... Terrible Taste.

  • god

    the colour and the shape <3

  • Dean
  • lee

    Thank You Mike Riggs for an excellent piece on why Creed never needed defending in the first place. A top notch band will always be on easy street. Since there is so little competition from anyone else.Right now, Chevelle and Shinedown are the only ones in the same stratsphere. I knew when Creed fist started they had a quality, a real distinction to them that others did not have. American Idol can't produce it, it is not seen that often. Now it is there again. Full Circle can't get here fast enough.

  • JAMpa

    Ja... yes, when a guitar player find an original way to make things, yes, it really matter for matter of taste... now, if you like 3 open chords kind of songs, there's why you don't like Creed. Tremonti is quite original and talented... doesn't need to defend himself... I as a musician find quite interesting his progretion and really don't care bout guys who doesn't know nothing about music and try to talk down about music that they cannot comprehend... as simple as that...

  • Michael J. West

    Since Creed doesn't need defending, would you all mind defending Trans-Siberian Orchestra instead?

  • lee

    Michael J West, even though I love Creed, as seen by my post, you do have a funny point to make. Creed just can't get ahead of Trans-Siberian, oh well, can't have everything. lol Next maybe I'll have to defend Adam Lambert, heck why not. No, he don't write his own songs. Gotta learn the hard way.

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