As promised, I’m dissecting Art of Anarchy’s first album with new frontman Scott Stapp now that it has dropped. When I listened to AoA’s original album with Scott Weiland at the helm, I did realize that there were two distinct styles that had to merge in order for this incarnation of the band to work. The first album was clearly post-grunge, but the vocals and lyrical content were more similar to 80s and 90s bands such as Guns ‘N Roses (which guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal was a member of for eight years) or Stone Temple Pilots (which Weiland fronted for most of its existence). This style had to fuse easily with Scott Stapp’s vocal style, which is very straightforward and passionate, infused with religious themes, and much more firmly in the post-grunge tradition.
All indications appear that this marriage of styles has worked out happily for all involved. Hints of each will come out in different songs, but it doesn’t appear that either AoA or Stapp had to give up their identities in order to make The Madness work well. For instance, “Echo of a Scream” features more ambiguous lyrics than is typical in Stapp-fronted bands, which tend to hit the listener over the head with their respective themes. But then you get to a song like “Changed Man,” an anthemic ballad that could have easily fit in on his second solo album Proof of Life. But even in that song, the legato guitar chords that were in the background a lot of Creed songs are replaced by a riff and a solo that play alongside Stapp’s vocals, something that I don’t remember hearing a lot of in his previous work. I also don’t think this is a song that the Weiland-era AoA would ever have made, either. This song, as well as the first single, “The Madness,” are probably where the album hits its peak. The band’s riffs have a ton of energy, and they complement Stapp’s powerful vocals very well.
Another interesting difference between this album and previous Scott Stapp fare is the almost complete absence of the aforementioned religious themes that pervade his work. Not that Creed was ever really a Christian band, but it was interesting to hear Stapp go through an entire album barely mentioning God. In fact, he mentions the devil more often, hence the song “Dancing With the Devil.” But that one doesn’t explore religious themes so much as it explores the question, “What if Art of Anarchy attempted to do a poppy song?” The end result is sort of weird, but good enough that I can at least compliment them for making the attempt. Stapp also experiments a little with the timbre of his voice, as it takes a devilish, almost Joker-from-Batman quality in “1,000 Degrees.”
One big improvement from the original album to now as well comes in the solos. AoA’s first album featured a lot of guitar parts that kind of made it seem like they were just going through the motions, exacerbated by the fact that the music and lyrics were written separately. But on The Madness, the listener can tell that they put real thought and effort into those parts, and made sure they supported Stapp’s vocals and fit with the rest of the song. There’s even a few fast-moving ones that, dare I say, remind me of Stapp’s former partner in crime, Mark Tremonti, who I regard as one of the greatest living guitarists. But they can even vary that up, like in “No Surrender,” a song with a riff that feels reminiscent of the band’s first album, but is a better fit for its song than others on the first album were.
All of this adds up to a record that feels like it was made by a band, rather than stitched together by a bunch of people working on different parts in different rooms. The sound here is much more energetic and organic, with the drum parts working just as well as the guitars and vocals to bring said energy to bear. While I may be biased because I’m a big fan of Stapp’s vocal style (my track picks are probably the most Creed/Stapp-like songs on the album), I definitely think this album is much better than the first and merits a buy it. While it’s not some kind of radical departure for Stapp or the rest of the band, there are enough subtle differences here that the album won’t feel like a complete retread for either entity. Here are my track picks: