1. Reach Out 2. Fight Song 3. Hard Way 4. Justify 5. Let Me Go 6. Surround Me
7. The Great Divide 8. Sublime 9. You Will Soar 10. Broken
Label: Wind Up / Release date: November 22, 2005
Scott Stapp has been the whipping post for critics and fans alike because of many reasons. The most notorious altercation occurred in my hometown of Chicago a couple of years back when Stapp, heavily drugged and visibly incoherent, laid on his back and sang the wrong lyrics to the great Creed songs that he helped to write. I initially wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt when he began explaining his behavior. I liked this guy; not only because he sounded spectacular singing those great Creed songs, but because I really thought he was a good guy. After seeing the VH1 "Behind The Music" program featuring Stapp's former band Creed, and seeing him sing "With Arms Wide Open" with his young son in his arms, I got a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Since then, Stapp has been found picking fights in bars, been intoxicated and unruly whenever he's out in public, has divorced the wife he seemed so happy with in that VH1 feature, and has ultimately taken a nose dive on the respectability scale. But, with all of that said, I'm not here to judge the morality of Scott Stapp; but rather to tell you what this, his first solo record, sounds like.
When I first pushed the play button on this one, I instantly started to cringe. With Creed, Stapp's soaring vocal depth and smooth delivery, which was often criticized for being suspiciously similar to Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, was a key element of the successful Creed sound. With "Reach Out," the opening number of this disc, we get Stapp sounding more like Kurt Cobain than Eddie Vedder. His voice sounds scratchy and rough - an unfamiliar direction for the usually suave Stapp. Yes, the song is an aggressive rocker where the particular throaty sound may be appropriate, but this is Scott Stapp. Should Scott Stapp be allowed to get away with this? I mean, this is the guy we depended on to deliver the uplifting choruses and the soaring lyric play of Creed. Can he really get away with being something else? It is my opinion that he can't be something else, and let me tell you why. It's not a natural sound for him. The whole thing sounds unnatural and forced. The song itself is only average at best, but his vocal performance is below average. So, with the first track, we find the apparent strength that powered the fabulous Creed sound, being harsh and unnatural. Things could be better.
The record begins to take more shape as it goes on, and Stapp becomes more comfortable within his relaxed and glossy tone. Songs like "Fight Song" and "Hard Way" have some significant muscle, but Stapp maintains his composure and sings them with a natural intensity. You could also make a case here that Stapp is sending a message to his former bandmates within the strong lyrical content. In the opener, "Reach Out," he growls "Welcome friends, I have nothing to hide / The journey's end has left a mark inside / I'm sure you've heard the rumors, jealousies, and all the lies."; or he sings in the best song on the album, "Hard Way," "Just when I thought I had it all / Caught a sucker punch and lost it all / Just never thought it would have come from you." Whatever Stapp's intentions were when writing these lyrics is really irrelevant; what is relevant is how he delivers them to the listener. For half of the album the songs are worthy of note, but the other half suffers from a lack of, . . . well . . . something. Songs like "Sublime," "You Will Soar," and "Broken," the three songs that close the album, are not as powerful and uplifting as they were intended to be. Something is definitely missing, and I think that something is former Creed guitarist and Stapp's songwriting partner, Mark Tremonti. Tremonti brought more than just his guitar to the Creed game, but he brought a real songwriting savvy that is sorely lacking here. Even the addition of a choir to the song "Broken" cannot lift the song to the emotional summit that it was obviously intended to reach. The song just isn't written as well as the Creed stuff that it is trying so hard to emulate. On the other hand, I listen to the Alter Bridge record that Tremonti put together and I am brought to tears from its emotional impact. There is very little here by way of songs with that effect. Songs like "Hard Way," "Justify," "Let Me Go," "Surround Me," and the title cut are all songs that are enjoyable and well written, but most lack the beating heart and the bleeding soul that Tremonti was so successfully able to capture with his Alter Bridge project. These are just good songs that have been given an average presentation.
I guess it depends what you're looking to get from this record. If you wanted another great Creed record, wait for the reunion album. As hard as Stapp has tried here, he does not maintain the same majesty that Creed so readily acquired with every release. If you heard the title track on your radio and you want to hear more songs like it, you should be satisfied with about half of this album. But for me, this was a disappointment because I wanted this guy to succeed. I still want to like this guy. But it turns out that now, not only do I think he's a bad drunk with a bad attitude, but I think his solo stuff is average at best. It could be worse I guess - he could be that nice guy that I thought he was, and the solo stuff could just downright suck. Then I might feel bad about the review.