Florida is not just home to the pre-fab pop of such boy bands as N'Sync. It's also where the members of Creed, with their second album, strive to sculpt themselves out of "Human Clay." This best-selling near-metal quartet has often been compared to early Pearl Jam, but the similarity is as much spiritual as it is musical: Both bands take pride in being earnest and ordinary.
Creed singer-lyricist Scott Stapp favors Biblical imagery and histrionic delivery, but nothing else about the group's music is especially theatrical. The result is that, while these 11 songs are undeniably powerful, they're virtually interchangeable. Such tracks as "Say I" (the source of the album's title) and "Higher" (a vision of heaven on earth that is the album's first single) surge and snarl passionately, but "Human Clay" would be more interesting if Creed hadn't broken the mold after crafting its archetypal song.
Toronto's Our Lady Peace is also a hard-rock band, but of a considerably sprightlier sort. Its third album, "Happiness . . . Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch," is both more tuneful and more playful than "Human Clay." The quartet artfully balances punch and swoon, the latter derived in part from glitter-rock. That's most obvious during "Annie," a synth- and slide-guitar-based rocker whose refrain sends vocalist Raine Maida's falsetto soaring in apparent emulation of "Hunky Dory"-period David Bowie.
Drummer Elvin Jones appears on one track, "Stealing Babies," but jazz doesn't seem a major influence on the group's sound. Perhaps it is, though. Our Lady Peace is the sort of band that has obviously digested a lot of musical styles, which explains its ability to surprise. Such songs as "Blister" and "Lying Awake" respect rock's traditional forms while shrewdly embroidering them with tempo shifts, studio tricks and melodic asides. That's not a revolutionary approach, but it's enough to make "Happiness . . . " sparkle at a time when so much rock sounds flat.
Both appearing Tuesday at the Patriot Center with Oleander. To hear a free Sound Bite from Creed, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8129. For a Sound Bite from Our Lady Peace, press 8130. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)