As much as everyone bags on Michael Bolton, he seems to have been as powerful an influence on popular dirge-rock bands as the more obvious culprits, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam. Granted, you'd have an easier time telling Creed's music apart from Bolton's, but singer Scott Stapp shares a similar tendency to eschew singing in favor of groaning, wheezy pomp. Stapp's tortured, bleating windbaggery, coupled with ham-fisted riffage and take-me-higher/what-about-the-children lyrics, makes for rough, monotonous going throughout the new Human Clay, which improves on its best-selling predecessor mostly because it lacks explicitly stated pro-life sentiments. For the most part, the album's songs aren't as egregiously awful as its heavily rotated single, "Higher," but that's faint praise. Dirge-rock seems to have entered a phase similar to hair-metal's early-'90s Firehouse/Warrant period, when the music was commercially successful but on its last empty, self-parodic gasp. Human Clay is a turgid, lumbering slog, and while it's no doubt bound for the top of the charts, its success should expedite the genre's inevitable downfall, a la Warrant's Cherry Pie and The Offspring's Americana. See? Even this gloomy cloud has a silver lining.

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