In technology and some other fields, one step in the development of a new idea or process is the “proof of concept” stage. In this step, a company or creative team builds a model of their invention to proof that it is feasible. A proof of concept model is often not complete or functional, and serves as a bridge between an idea and an invention’s final form. As I sat down to write this review, that concept came to the surface of my thoughts, because I think that’s what Scott Stapp’s latest album is, and not just because it shares two words with his album title. I don’t know that he made it with this idea in mind, but it’s what it often comes off sounding like. The album proves that he is capable of differentiating his solo work from his days in Creed, but also that the process is not yet fully baked.
Stapp’s vocal style on this album is at times different than what I’m used to hearing from him, most notably in “Only One.” Stapp usually delivers his vocals with big, legato quarter and half notes, preferring to make grand gestures and drag out his notes. But he fires off some eighth and sixteenth notes in the chorus, and delivers echoes of Bono, a singer he cites as a huge influence on his career. He also shows flashes of nuanced vocal style (again, never a huge priority for him in the past) on songs like “What Would Love Do,” and “Dying to Live.” He even breaks out his falsetto in the former song, which made me raise my eyebrows in surprise the first time I heard it.
But through most of the album, Stapp delivers his melodies with the same straightforward honesty he always has. If subtlety is your game, don’t look here; Scott Stapp will look you right in the face and say exactly what he’s thinking with his songs. The closest he comes to subtle messages is in “Who I Am,” which Stapp describes as his ego incarnate, trying to suck all his attention away. Stapp’s brutal honesty makes his songs easily accessible, though maybe not the most “artsy” on the planet. But there’s not anything necessarily wrong with that.
On a related note, I think the music on this album is an improvement on his 2005 solo album The Great Divide, which often felt like a scaled-back version of Creed. Make no mistake: this album rocks. Hard. The production is slick and the guitars fierce. The drum and bass lines support the other parts very well (most clearly on “Jesus Was a Rockstar,” Scott’s foray into CCM). But the instruments largely take a backseat to Stapp’s vocals, which carry the album. I think that’s what irritates people about him sometimes; his music is all about him, and he makes no apologies for it. The lyrics are about his life, his vocals are largely the star of the show, and that’s just how it is. He’s never really tried to hide that.
Proof of Life does have some weaknesses. It gets a little repetitive in that some of the songs have the exact same lyrical theme (“New Day Coming” and “Dying to Live,” for instance… also “Break Out” and “Hit Me More”). I feel like one of each of those pairs of songs could’ve been deleted from the album, and then the pair that ended up as bonus tracks, “Beautiful Cage” and “Real Love,” could have been included. I think it would’ve given the album more variety and flavor. Some of the songs feel similar to previously-released Creed songs as well, such as when he uses the phrase “throw me to the floor” in the chorus of “Slow Suicide” and lets his last breath trail off at the end, as in Creed’s song “Overcome.” Like I alluded to before, the instrumental parts are rarely very interesting, because this is a solo project versus a band. It’s easy to see that the instrumental parts were kept within strict boundaries (though there are a few good licks and solos, such as at 2:44 of “Crash”).
In conclusion, I’ll say that if you like Scott Stapp’s formula (which I generally do), you’ll eat this album up with a spoon. If you don’t, you probably won’t care for it. I would rate this album as a buy it, but if you’re not normally a Stapp or Creed fan, I’d downgrade the rating to borrow it. It’s a hard-rocking, passionate statement that I enjoy listening to, and has a significant amount of replay value. Now that he appears to be done responding to his critics and atoning for his past sins, I’ll be very interested to see what direction he takes with his next album. What themes will he branch out into? Will he make more progress in differentiating his solo work from the songs he made with Creed? Only time will tell, but I have a feeling Proof of Life will act as a bridge from the beginning of his solo career to its final vibrant form.
Here are my track picks:
“What Would Love Do”