Of all the cheesy lead singers the '90s produced, perhaps none catches more hell than Scott Stapp. Some of this is deserved. Stapp, front man for the band Creed, wore leather pants without a trace of irony, cranked out some pretty terrible songs and struck many a Jesus-like pose.
In short, Stapp — who plays a solo gig at the Pub Fountains in Stafford on Thursday — isn’t very good. But he isn’t all that bad, either. For starters, Creed’s debut, My Own Prison, is a solid pop-rock effort that produced a number of catchy singles that pretty much owned late-'90s radio. The album was also recorded independently for a grand total of $6,000, so if anything, Stapp and his bandmates weren’t just gifted their success. And yeah, the band ventured into cheese territory pretty quickly thereafter, but singles like “With Arms Wide Open” and “One Last Breath” helped their respective albums each move north of 6 million copies. Sure, quality doesn’t necessarily equate to success; if it did, Eric Church and not Luke Bryan would be the biggest thing going in country music. But Stapp and Creed made music that appealed to a large sector of folks, and there’s something to be said for that.
Between a musical catalog that can safely be described as hit and miss, coupled with behind-the-scenes stories that don’t exactly paint him in a flattering light, Stapp is an obvious punching bag. But he was a big deal in the '90s, whether people want to admit it or not, and he wasn’t nearly as terrible as many like to remember. And he isn’t alone.
CHESTER BENNINGTON/MIKE SHINODA
The Linkin Park blowback never really made all that much sense to begin with. Those who decried the band as some sort of rap-rock flash in the pan clearly weren’t listening. Yeah, the first two records featured a steady back-and-forth of Bennington’s vocals (underrated; dude can sing) and Shinoda’s lyrical raps (not underrated; Shinoda is an adequate MC but not exactly the second coming of Rakim), but Hybrid Theory and Meteora were nonetheless commercial phenomena. Looking back on them more than a decade after their respective releases, the albums still hold up, even though the rap-rock era faded from existence long ago.
From there, the band did what many are either too afraid to try for fear of commercial disappointment, or simply not talented enough to pull off, and that’s completely reinvent its sound. Linkin Park’s last four albums bear little resemblance to their first two, but rather sound like the music of a band that evolved and matured before our very eyes, whether we wanted to admit it or not.
Rossdale, front man for mid-'90s British pop-rock darlings Bush, was in the right place at the right time… until he wasn’t. Bush came along amid the ashes of the grunge era; the band’s 1994 debut, Sixteen Stone, was just grunge-lite enough to catch fire with listeners. Musical elitist types hate this, mostly because musical elitist types typically despise any band that rode the coattails of the late Kurt Cobain and the grunge era to mainstream success. So at the time, Rossdale was a pretty popular guy. But looking back, many like to recall him as some pretty boy who caught the end of a wave and reaped the benefits. This is inaccurate.
For one, Sixteen Stone is pretty close to perfect as pop-rock records go. It’s tight, checks in at under an hour and features only 12 tracks — five of which eventually became hit singles. It has the requisite hit ballad (“Glycerine”), arena rock singalong jam (“Comedown”) and a host of tracks that were just hard enough to be credible but not so hard as to scare off commercial radio (“Everything Zen,” “Little Things,” “Machinehead”). Bush, like many bands of its era, eventually gave way to diminishing critical and commercial returns, but to marginalize Rossdale as some talentless hack — or even simply as Gwen Stefani’s ex-husband — does a disservice to a band whose catalog still lives on some 20 years after the band’s commercial peak.
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Meet the most polarizing musical figure of the late '90s. To some, Durst represents all that was wrong with the late-'90s musical scene – near-unlistenable rap-rock, generally misplaced angst, red Yankees caps. To others, he is simply a tattoo artist from Jacksonville with a keen business mind who somehow managed to assemble what was, for a spell at least, the biggest band on the planet. The truth likely falls somewhere in between. No, Durst wasn’t a particularly good songwriter, and his high-pitched-rap-meets-thunderous-yelling musical tone certainly grew tiresome after a couple of records.
However, to label the guy as just another representation of all that was wrong with his particular era is unfair to both Durst and the era in which he was spawned. For starters, Limp Bizkit's first two records are, in retrospect, quite good. Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$, while raw as hell, was onto something. Durst found it on Limp Bizkit’s sophomore release, Significant Other, which eventually moved more than 7 million copies. The album isn’t perfect, and some of the tracks haven’t exactly held up, but others, like “Re-Arranged” and “Don’t Go Off Wandering,” have done just that. So mock Durst if you will. For two or three years around the turn of the century, dude was arguably the biggest rock star in the world.