'Full Circle' is the first Creed album in almost a decade, and is basically what Nickelback would sound like, if Nickelback were any good. Big, dumb, likeable stadium-rock with sing along choruses; it's so accessible, you'll be convinced you've heard these songs somewhere before.
First track and first single, 'Overcome' is a perfect example of the Creed phenomenon. You'll be singing along halfway through the first listen. However, while it may be dubiously radio-ready, Creed narrowly avoid seeming like a soulless, overproduced and over-studied stadium-rock band, largely due to frontman Scott Stapp's gravelly tones and a grubby slant to the guitars. 'Overcome' is a masterclass in how to make rock mainstream, without completely compromising on credibility.
Sadly, it isn't all positive: there are two major flaws to this album. The first is the lack of variety. The first half of 'Full Circle' is foot-stamping stadium-rock that'll be an instant hit with the listener, but it has very little to offer that isn't already explored in the first few tracks. After a while, fatigue sets in. The second major flaw, are a slew of cheesy rock ballads, which range from good, to awful, and make up a whopping five of the twelve tracks on offer.
Album-closer 'The Song You Sing' is the pick of the crop, closely followed my 'Rain.' 'The Song You Sing' is an all-encompassing lyrical sweep that's vague to the point of being meaningless. However, it's the sort of inclusive vagueness that the listener can get caught up in. As Stapp bellows "does the song you sing / have enough meaning?" this becomes a foot-stomping, mock-passionate-global-message of a song that's designed to delight packed arenas.
Meanwhile, 'Rain' succeeds because Stapp has the good sense to keep his vocals subdued. Even the longer vocal lines rarely rise above a set pitch, and the choruses' customary 'big' note comes in the form of a short, wailing lament. By not belting out those easy, hooky high notes, 'Rain' at times borders on feeling genuine, rather than just feeling like a song contrived to get lighters held aloft, which is more than can be said for 'Away In Silence' and 'A Thousand Faces.'
Both songs lift melodramatic lyrics straight out of the Big Book Of Cliches. "Don't give up on us / don't give up on love / don't you walk away" Stapp croons on 'Away In Silence' before wallowing in canned self-pity ("I bleed inside," "broken mirrors paint the truth," "my scars remind me," etc, etc.) Neither song rings true. Dire lyrical content aside, 'A Thousand Faces' is a decent hard-rock stomp, decked out in prettily sparkly chords. 'Away In Silence,' on the other hand, is a dewy acoustic sway that does nothing to disguise those awful lyrics. It does bring in the crashing guitars and arching vocal lines towards the end, making a brief connection with the listener, but it's too little, too late.
'Time' is an acoustic-edged plod that's like a second-rate version of 'Away In Silence' and 'A Thousand Faces,' two songs that weren't that great to begin with. The choruses crash and stomp dramatically, but lack that emotionally-cutting edge, and it's near impossible to get caught up in a song where the central lament is one as done-to-death as "who will be there to catch me when I stumble and fall?" Completely unmoving.
For a horrific moment, it seems 'On My Sleeve' is about to become the sixth in Creed's series of wishy-washy ballads, as it trowels on the shimmery chords and whining slide guitar. Then, the hard-rock chorus kicks in and 'On My Sleeve' becomes one of the heaviest songs of the album, and you'll breathe a sight of heartfelt relief.
Creed are at their best when they play up their grunge leanings to combat the studied, masses-pleasing side of their sound, namely on 'Bread Of Shame' and 'Suddenly.' Despite its frankly laughable title, 'Bread Of Shame' has a bristling bass undercurrent that anchors this otherwise shiny piece of radio-friendly rock, in the grunge world. That grumbling bass keeps Creed's credibility intact, and means you won't feel guilty about enjoying it. 'Suddenly' employs a similar technique, through a sinister flutter of grungy guitars and doomy vocals, shot through with edgy, Mediterranean-tinged chords. 'Suddenly' is the usual Creed tug-of-war between familiarity and edge, with melodic vocal lines sung by a very unmelodic-voiced frontman. Like Theory Of A Deadman, only with bite.
Despite being rather underwhelming, mid-tempo rock, 'Full Circle' is the song that's sure to delight long-standing Creed fans, as it openly discusses the band's recent reconciliation. It's sure to reassure said fans, declaring that "distance makes the pain fade away" and painting an overwhelmingly positive picture of Creed in 2009. The chorus is the usual swaggering stomp and, if the twangy acoustic verses do feel a little pedestrian, it hardly matters: this is the song that diehard Creed fans wanted to hear.
'Full Circle' is easily digestible mainstream rock, with just enough grunge and hard-rock influences to save it from sounding over-produced. It's an enjoyable stomp, where every chorus is so big and hooky, you'll be convinced you've heard it all somewhere before. On the negative, it does begin to feel a little tired before 'Full Circle' is through. Three songs in, and you've already heard 90% of what Creed have to offer, meaning that this album is best experienced in chunks. But, if you have a passing affection for modern stadium-rock, then this one's for you and, even better, you won't feel the need to hide this CD from your friends.