For the longest time defending the work of Creed or Alter Bridge was the ultimate faux pas a guitar rock fan or critic could commit. Other artists have been more cruelly treated (the assaults on Mark Tremonti’s former bands were always more professional than personal) but no other act had been dismissed so readily.
By the mid-2000s Creed had become a running joke as far as the wider public were concerned; an Internet meme, a by word for bog-standard, whose lowly status was confirmed when the algorithms behind the Google search engine began answering the query “worst band in the world” with “see results for: Creed”.
Fast forward to 2013 and he’s the guitarist’s guitarist. Romping home in Guitar Planet’s end of year poll, not on the back of some manufactured web voting campaign, but because All I Was is bombastic and altogether brilliant. How did we get to this point? Was Mark always this good? Was he ever that bad? Let’s look back with Guitar Planet’s very own: Tremonti Timeline.
The movements of a young finance major might not seem pivotal, but the decision to swap South Carolina for Florida brought Tremonti and Scott Stapp (Creed’s beleaguered frontman) back together. Tremonti originally met Stapp while attending Lake Highland preparatory school in Florida, before the guitarist moved away to attend college.
Sharing an interest in Christian theology Stapp and Tremonti hit it off and soon spark up a lucrative songwriting relationship. Based in Tallahasse, Florida the soon to be Naked Toddler founders recruit bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips.
The seeds of Creed’s critical downfall are sewn as Tremonti and Stapp’s early songs overtly address spirituality (Creed would later be labelled a “preachy Christian” band). Thankfully, before the “worst band in the world” blighted themselves with a contender for worst band name in the world, Brian Marshall (a former member of Maddox Creed) suggests a name change.
Missing out on both college rock (late-80s) and Grunge’s definitive breakthrough in the early-90s, Creed became one of the leading lights in the first wave of post-Grunge bands.
Compared to the warmly received Seattle bands (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden et al) the legion of bands that followed in their wake endured a harsh critical backlash. Often described as humourless and lacking the bite of the scene’s originators, this new wave of artists (led by Creed and Nickelback) would come to define the shape and feel of mainstream American arena rock for the next generation.
My Own Prison is either a masterpiece or a characterless blur – the album’s love or loath-ability is very much in the eye of the beholder. Removed from the animosity of the day, Tremonti’s initial statement feels indistinct but accomplished. The riffs are meaty and the arrangements are considered. The commercial crossover potential remains readily apparent, as the band distil Tool’s expansive structural catharsis and the Seattle bands’ roaring solemnity into a punchy and immediate end product.
My Own Prison would eventually go 6xPlatinimum.
Creed’s next two albums, 1999’s Human Clay and 2001’s Weathered, shifted an astonishing 18 million copies. Rather than quieting dissent Creed’s success only incited further contempt.
The Village Voice’s legendary critic Robert Christgau certainly didn’t hold back: “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 New.” Even, the safe and predictable critics of Rolling Stone were sharpening their knives as they rolled their eyes and labelled Creed: “irony-deficient, Jesus-haired and often shirtless.”
The harshest criticism was reserved for Stapp. Tremonti, who was already earning the grudging respect of the rock community, continued to set the tone with deft guitar work. He sacrificed his considerable talents to create a suitably subdued canvas for Stapp’s earnest stadium sized anthems. Love it or hate it, it worked.
Weathered, the less successful of the two albums, tied The Beatles’ Billboard chart record by retaining the top spot for a remarkable eight consecutive weeks in 2001.
Despite becoming a byword for “contrived crap”, regardless of the Internet’s “100 reasons why Creed suck”, and with Scott Stapp challenging Fred Durst for the most despised man in rock title, Creed ushered in the new millennium with their most successful headline arena tour to date.
Shifting tickets was never the problem for the Floridian outfit, but by the mid-2000s Scott Stapp wasn’t simply enraging the band’s haters, his relationship with Tremonti began to fray. A critically panned tour is one thing, but when your frontman is in no fit condition to perform and fans are forced to sue their favourite band, it’s time to reconsider your direction of travel. The now legendary, lawsuit inciting, Chicago concert of 2002 scornfully described by Jim Derogratis in the Chicago Sun Times) was Creed’s symbolic nadir: the point of no return.
The genus of Alter Bridge is hardly remarkable. Tremonti, Marshall and Phillips freed from Stapp were intent on writing new music. Fans of The Mayfield Four they recruited Myles Kennedy - a singer they all mutually admired. It really was that simple.
Still brooding Tremonti’s playing took on a harder rock edge. Alter Bridge’s sound was defined by the tension between Tremonti’s snarling riffs and gloomy atmospherics. His new band never came close to duplicating the success of Creed but the arrival of a new frontman did serve as a watershed moment. Alter Bridge came in for their fair share of derision, but music critics and rock fans lightened up and began to celebrate Tremonti’s considerable compositional skills.
Without the Christian affectations and with the “loathsome” Scott Stapp out of the picture, fans could marvel at the elastic thrills of “Into The Void”. Tremonti was in face melting form as the pompous thrills of latter-day Guns n’ Roses rubbed shoulders with the thrash brutality of Metallica and the sombre reserve of Creed. By hook or by cook, Alter Bridge earned the approval of the guitar rock fraternity.
Alter Bridge were never loved. They enjoyed their fair share of fierce detractors but, in the six years away from Creed, Tremonti garnered the respect that he’d been so cruelly denied.
All I Was, the run away winner of Guitar Planet’s Album Of The Year poll, feels like a defiant slap in his critics’ face. All the baggage that blighted both Creed and Alter Bridge has been shed. From the opening track to the final note, Tremonti sounds freer and looser than ever before. His playing is both assured and effortless. The balance between the buoyant rock bombast of the arrangement and the stately gravitas of the chorus is coyly maintained throughout. All I Was never feels laboured, as spikey thrash riffs and fleet fingered solos counterpoint every strained emotion.
Tremonti is a revelation. He emerged from Stapp and Kennedy’s shadow toting a rich and wildly satisfying rock vocal. Better yet, he’s proved once and for all that he can cut loose and (whisper it) have some fun. He might not have revealed the “sense of humour” critics have been crying out for, but All I Was could never be described as the work of a humourless mope.
Talk about going from the bottom all the way to the top. Tremonti has been named Guitarist Of The Year three times by Guitar World and surely it’s only a matter of time before the readers of Guitar Planet bestow him with our ultimate honour.
Hampered by ill health, but never ones to retire shyly, The Who continue celebrating their 50th anniversary as they contemplate retirement.
Guitar Planet grades the creative comebacks from three iconic artists who are attempting to give 2015 a much-needed injection of impetus.
Guitar Planet takes on new albums by southern stars Blackberry Smoke, nu-metal icons Papa Roach and the legendary Venom.
The music industry’s glamorous state of the union address was delivered this weekend, but what did the Grammys have to say about guitar music?
Enter Shikari renew their archly political assault while expanding their sonic horizons on The Mindsweep.