In Defense of Stone Temple Pilots

Any popular movement or genre (or sub-genre for that matter) of art or music is bound to spawn imitators.  And those imitators spawn imitators who spawn imitators and so on and so forth, until like a copy of a copy of a copy, the original model is so pale and so degraded that it’s impossible to see how awesome and majestic it once was.  Such was the case with the grunge music scene of the 1990’s whose initial monster acts gave way to wave after wave of cheap knock-off bands, polished turds of which many are still trolling the reunions circuits and bargain bins of Walmarts across the country.  Stone Temple Pilots surfaced during the heyday of the second wave, and while they sold millions of records, the band was critically derided and often criticized as aping a sound that did not belong to them.  While those comparisons and critiques were justified in the beginning (and at the end), the group grew organically over their subsequent releases, culminating in two excellent albums that stand out as some of the best music of the genre and the decade, rivaling much of the work of their predecessors.

If you were to base STP’s career solely on their debut album “Core,” the copycat reputation would be sound and just.  “Core” played like an agitated, misogynistic sibling to Pearl Jam’s “Versus.”  Scott Weiland’s vocals on the record are practically an all out impersonation of Eddie Vedder’s low, nasal snarl…but with more heroin.  And not that good kind of heroin.  Had the band ceased operating in 1993 or just kept churning out “Sex Type Thing” or “Plush” riffs year after year after year, they’d barely be a blip on the pop culture radar.  Instead, with 1994’s “Purple” and 1996’s “Tiny Music,” the band infused a glam rock aesthetic into their particular take on grunge music, trading ripped jeans and flannel shirts for pink boas and eyeliner.  This move proved beneficial, as it separated the band from their contemporaries and secured them as a pop force in the mid 90’s.

stppurple12 Gracious Melodies

When “Purple” came out in 1994, the first taste anyone got of the thing was “Big Empty,” a single that had been used on the soundtrack to “The Crow.”  The song was a hit but still treaded in the waters, sound, and feel of the Pacific Northwest.  The tune was dark and moody with Weiland’s yarl still in the foreground.  In fact, most of the album still has that early 90’s doom and gloom polish that was in vogue at the time, though elements of psychedelic, southern, and glam rock begin to seep through.  The main difference between this album and the band’s previous is the quality of songwriting.  Each song feels looser, yet more focused, simpler, yet grander.  A simple guitar riff like the one used on “Vaseline” feels fresher and more organic than anything on “Core.”  It manages to be fun, despite the gloom.  There’s also much more of pop fusion thing going on throughout the record, as evidenced perfectly by “Interstate Love Song.”  I dare say that that jam is as flawless a pop song as was ever recorded.  The riff is great, the hook is great, and the harmonies beautiful.  The non-singles that comprise the rest of the record really set it apart from its predecessor as well.  And then there’s that unlisted, Johnny Mathis inspired 12th track, showing that the band has a sense of humor buried in there somewhere.  That kind of absurdism would never have flown on “Core.”  Overall, the album pushed the band into creative territories untravelled on their first outing, but things would get even quirkier on their next endeavor.

stptinymusic…Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop

On “Tiny Music…Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop,” the grunge sound is all but gone, replaced by the psychedelic rock and glam vibes that the band had begun to show on “Purple.”  The songs are poppy and stylish, and the influence of artists like The Beatles, T. Rex, and The New York Dolls shines.  Weiland’s vocals are higher pitched on this album than they had been previously, sometimes giving the songs an almost otherworldly feel.  They’re more vulnerable and more feminine, pairing well with the new direction the band’s music was moving into.  The songs are all more classically structured, little pop nuggets that went against the prevailing uber-polished racket the bands of grunge’s third and fourth waves were creating.  That set it apart from the masses.  Singles like “Big Bang Baby,” “Lady Picture Show,” and “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart” find the band grooving on a jangly and quirkily produced old school sound.  They’re light and fun and pure pop bliss.  For my money, the strongest track on the record is the more mellow and downbeat “Adhesive,” which includes a lovely jazz trumpet solo, once again showing the band’s influences outside of grunge and alternative rock.

Stone Temple Pilots would go on to release two more lackluster, forgettable albums, a slew of cliched and boring solo records (though I would argue that Weiland’s first solo outing is actually pretty damn good), and some really bad offshoot super groups.  It really is too bad that interpersonal problems, drugs, and creative lag kept STP from growing beyond this third record.  But it is what it is.  We’ll always have “Interstate Love Song.”

 

Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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