The most comical aspect of my education in creative writing was seeing educators struggle with the mechanics of how to grade such a course. Most of my educators had more experience with creative writing than, well, educating, and the demands of the institutions I attended requiring tangible, measurable results at the end of a semester was often at ends with my educators’ consistent message that you can’t rush art. The more experienced ones disregarded artistic integrity altogether, giving high marks to students that could find ten ways to tell a story in a cohesive manner rather than rewarding students that could find a way to best tell the one story.
Such circumstances could explain, to a degree, the mostly-positive reviews for Creed’s My Own Prison on its initial release. The band finds ten ways to perform what amounts to basically the same song; you could keep time to these compositions. Scott Stapp’s singing displays, if nigh-literally nothing else, technical prowess and effort. The songs are about inner torture and disenchantment, never engaging but certainly more classicly noble than rock’n’roll’s usual fixation on glorifying sex and drugs. From most measurables, My Own Prison is, indeed, a rock album that has songs on it. They’d have aced all of my classes.
Creed was, for a long time after this album, the easiest popular punching bag among the general population, with only Nickelback in recent years being more widely reviled. Creed’s brand of over-the-top-but-still-restrained rock quickly went out of style, with the ubiquity of “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open” doing a lot to kill the band’s image, but in their defense (oh God I’m defending Creed what has my life become), it’s not like we didn’t see this kind of thing coming or that we didn’t ask for it. Grunge may have dominated the rock scene in the early nineties, but its unpolished nature combined with its appetite for self-destruction had shifted the needle in the mid-to-late nineties towards alternative rock, which kept the sinister underbelly of the grunge scene but left much of the urgency and shaky production behind. In an atmosphere where Marcy Playground had a hit album, why not Pearl Jam but with less subtlety and more bombast and more Christian elements?
My Own Prison may not have represented great novelty, but it had some novelty on release, especially considering, contrary to what I believed for a long time, the band coughed up the dough to make the album in the first place. Imagine what these guys could do with a real money machine behind them! Maybe they’ll become bigger than Pearl Jam! Maybe their brand of self-impressed sludge would condition the rock-loving public to accept nu-metal as good music, stunting the growth of the entire genre for years to come!
So, then, Creed represent, whether fair or not, how we got from Nirvana to Staind. That’s not really much of a statement towards My Own Prison, though. Listening to this thing with fresh ears today, you’d never know that these would be the guys who would do more to kill rock’n’roll than damn near any other act of the past twenty years. Then again, it’s hard to walk away from My Own Prison with any degree of perspective. It is an album of vanilla ice cream, whose best moments are the intros to tracks like “Ode” and “Unforgiven” solely because they hint at a more interesting song than what ensues, whose title track reads like the emo-est thing that ever emo-ed and is less than half as hilarious as that sounds. My Own Prison is grammatically correct, features no misspelled words, and shows some degree of effort, so it gets a ninety-five and a gold sticker from me so that it stands out on the fridge. I mean, if I were grading this based on artistic integrity and merit, I’d be far less generous—oh, wait, I am? Well, then.VERDICT: DISOWN
Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.