Livin' on a Prayer

Creed is so gay.

Technically speaking, they're Christians, but then so is Aretha Franklin, so at least hypothetically, if Creed wants to Christrock the fuck out of me, OK. I will endeavor not to be taken aback by how their first chorus basically went "Get me to the church on time," or that their biggest hit concerned how excellent being saved is versus the duty of living in this corrupt fallen world. Such things can get you ghettoized to the X-tian bandwidth, a fate they've avoided in platinum spades. One of their secrets has been to sound a lot like Pearl Jam with choruses. And then there's the whole gay thing.

I mean, in the sack, I assume these young Floridians are breeders or britneys. But the Creeders compose on the same principle as generations of queer rockers: lyrics coded so if you were skimming or repressed or something, you could hear them as all heteromantic, then file under love song, buy, listen, yearn, and move on. Sort of like with Erasure's "Chains of Love," or Melissa Etheridge's first three albums. Sure, when queer acts speak with forked tongue, in part it's about profitability. But it has the drama of someone on the outside looking in. Creed might never have heard about the outside if they hadn't been sent a copy of the Staind album.

VH-1 eminence Alan Light points out that a whole lotta pop is mixed up with the Christian musical tradition, and so what? This is a fine point, especially if you're teaching music appreciation to nine-year-olds. After that, one starts to distinguish between, say, intensities of disingenuity in culture. Like, there's Elton John using a gospel piano hand; there's Elton pretending that Daniel is his brother; there's Britney's "virginity." And then there's Creed's triumphal passing off a 700 Clubbing of affirmative action as a unity psalm in "One," all the while denying their own status as a Christian band.

Now, with a nation suddenly as hard up for uplift as it ever was for silly love songs (Christian Music Trade Organization reports a 33 percent increase during the Ides of September), you might think it a propitious time for them to come out of the closet. Have they not been anointed the angels of the playlist by the Clear Channel conglom, so otherwise happy to put the kibosh on devils like Rage Against the Machine?

And for a few minutes it seems they'll come hard-charging: "Bullets" opens their new Weatheredhut-hutting along on jackboot guitars and with a little Hetfield in the vocals—the kind of thing to which you could happily throw up devil horns, though you'll feel silly when the stigmatic singer has thorns in his side by line four. "Freedom Fighter" follows similarly, and adds an always-cool apocalyptic holy war aspect. By this time the canny Sunday schooler is perhaps applauding the aggrojesuitic turn and/or noting that P.O.D. is already handling messiah mosh. Somewhat inexplicably, the eight-minute "Who's Got My Back?" opens with Native American-esque chanting. But the band hastily goes back to Christrockville, depositing us on the corner of Sign and Covenant.

What we encounter is the Creed we know and love, or hate, or are awesomely indifferent toward. "Signs," "One Last Breath," "My Sacrifice," and "Stand Here With Me" recuperate the gentle grind and honeyed boost that made them famous. It's a series larded with postgrunge hooks and endless sweet nothings of the avowedly secular: "This is not about God"; "Please come now I think I'm falling"; "memories of perfect love you gave me." The casual listener might also catch "hold me now" and "please come stay with me" and feel all lovey-dovey. But of course, if one is actually tracking the lyrics with care (a practice limited to singers, rock critics, and older British guys—so, like, Neil Tennant) one can scarcely ignore "somewhere in His grace I cried out to heaven save me," or that Stapp's sacrifice turns out to involve—yet again—living down here in our slovenly pit of a world.

Generally we think of Jesus, and not his fans like Scott Stapp, as the figure of earthly sacrifice. But I guess the idea is that we all have to make sacrifices to improve our lot, and that this itself creates a heavenly feeling. "My Sacrifice" is a sonic allegory for this feeling, all ascending guitars and the type of melodic march from minor to major that always helps us believe some wrong has been righted. Sure it's manipulative, but art is manipulative.

But manipulation itself isn't particularly interesting. The fissures implicit in a band speaking with two audiences can make a music richer, as in the yearning that can't quite say its name throughout Erasure, or the defensive ironies of Pet Shop Boys, standing down the streetcorner hoping you'll come to them. For our guys in Creedence ClearChannel Revival there's no tension: Studious messianism and studio grandiosity simply click together, on the inside looking in, beatifically contemplating the heaven that waits just above the top of the charts. Lucky them. It's a good moment to be a triumphalist; a fine moment to celebrate the idea of sacrifice. And even if a band has nothing to deliver but uplift, that's probably the choicest fantasy on offer right about now—as if enough hot air could keep four planes aloft.

 
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