Stone Temple Pilots

Tiny Music...Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop
No. 4
Shangri-La Dee Da
Thank You
Stone Temple Pilots

Core (Atlantic ‘92) Rating: A-
Let’s come right out and say it: Stone Temple Pilots (STP) isn’t a very original band. But they are a very good one, and this strong debut album became a runaway commercial success when it was released at the height of grunge. Of course, the band’s immense popularity and an alleged lack of dues paying caused a critical backlash, along with charges that STP were merely corporate copycats. And while there’s no denying that singer Scott Weiland does a mean Eddie Vedder impersonation (he also pulls off a convincing Axl Rose), musically the band is more metallic, safer, and, one could argue, more radio friendly than Pearl Jam. Their sound is also more streamlined, less sludgy and psychedelic than Soundgarden, and less flat-out weird than Alice In Chains, two other bands that STP have been accused of ripping off. So, even though there certainly are similarities, STP have their own recognizably heavy sound. Besides, though Core is derivative and their angst-filled lyrics can seem somewhat forced (such as on the popular but boring dirge “Creep”), there's no denying the memorable churning riffs and catchy arena ready choruses that this album has in abundance. Popular radio tracks here (and flat-out great songs) included the propulsive “Sex Type Thing,” whose date rape lyrics got STP in hot water (though the band of course claimed that it was an anti-rape song), and “Plush,” whose classic riff and brooding vocals "broke" the band big. Man, I just love the dramatic ending (vintage Weiland) on that one, and the bullhorn intro to "Dead and Bloated" also rules. True, Core has some filler in the form of "Piece Of Pie" and "Wet My Bed," and perhaps the still-good (especially the last couple of minutes) "Where The River Goes" doesn't quite warrant its 8+ minute running time, but “Dead and Bloated,” “Wicked Garden,” “Sin,” and “Crackerman” are other immensely enjoyable hard rockers that remained concert (and at times radio) favorites long afterwards. The underrated "Naked Sunday" is another strong album track, and just listen to the psychedelic shadings on "Wicked Garden" or the wonderfully atmospheric acoustic bridge on "Sin" and tell me that there's not more to this band than most close-minded critics gave them credit for back in the day. Long story short: not every band can be groundbreaking or even original, but there’s plenty of room in my rock collection for classy pros like STP.

Purple (Atlantic ‘94) Rating: A
When Purple instantly rose to the top of the charts upon its release, fans were telling the critics what they thought about all the criticism heaped upon STP. In truth, some of it was deserved, as Core had some bloated, generic moments, but Purple shows the band even more confident and assured, as Weiland’s ragged beauty of a voice comes fully into its own and the band sticks it down their critics’ throats with a stream of crafty hard rock hits. Propulsive anthems such as the rumbling “Vaseline” (man this outstanding song really grooves), the effortlessly catchy “Interstate Love Song” (with great riffs and hooks a mile high, this is absolutely THE STP song along with “Plush”), the brooding “Big Empty” (spotlighted on The Crow soundtrack, this one recalls the morose mood of “Creep” but is much better, in large part due to its soaring, catchy chorus, one of many on the album), and the turbo-charged glam rocker “Unglued” all got extensive air time on all our local “alternative” radio stations. The band surprisingly also offers subtle, refined pop on the acoustic semi-hit “Pretty Penny” (I especially dig the bongos and the shimmering guitars) and the tongue in cheek (unlisted) twelfth track, a cocktail lounge piano piece on which the band showcases a rarely acknowledged sense of humor. Elsewhere, we get treated to some of the big hard rock riffs that highlighted Core, and though on rare occasions the album gets bogged down in generic power chords, on the whole the band’s sleek, resourceful songwriting and Weiland’s creative, hook filled vocals keeps the down time to a minimum. Really, any complaints that I have about this album are extremely minor, as Purple is a filler free affair that offers plenty of excellent album tracks, though the aforementioned hits are the best tracks (STP are often regarded as a “singles band” for good reason, though I’d argue that they weren’t just that). For example, I really like the psychedelic-ness of “Lounge Fly” and “Army Ants;” the former has a really cool opening guitar tone and then keeps you on your toes by switching directions, while the latter flat-out rocks but has cool psychedelic keyboards and a kickass guitar solo (lead guitarist Dean DeLeo is far more likely to show off on this album than on Core, which is fine by me). “Meatplow” also rocks hard and has subtle but ingratiating vocal hooks, “Still Remains” is brighter and showcases STP at their most anthemic, “Silvergun Superman” has big explosive wah wah riffs, another melodic soaring chorus, and more wailing guitar heroics (in fact it’s arguably DeLeo’s single greatest extended guitar solo on record), and “Kitchenware & Candybars” provides a memorably moody finale. So there you have it, 11 really good-to-great songs (plus an amusing “hidden track”) with precious little fat, as despite being released in the midst of the bloated CD era, the band smartly delivered a concise 47-minute album that, with or without the plaudits from professional critics, still sounds great.

Tiny Music...Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop (Atlantic ‘96) Rating: A-
This less grungey, more experimental release received a much better reception from critics, though it fared far worse commercially, in part because Weiland’s heroin habit prevented the band from touring in support of the album. Which proves that (at least where critics are concerned) it’s better to borrow from the past than the present, I guess, for the glam metal riffs and slam bang vocals of “Big Bang Baby” and the Beatlesque power pop of “Lady Picture Show” are no more original than the band’s previous grunge offerings that had the critics in such a lather. Which makes them no less appealing, however, and the jackhammer grooves and intense hard rocking chorus of “Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart” and the lightly melodic, melancholic psychedelia of “And So I Know” (featuring pretty vibraphone and harpsichord instrumentation) also offer prime escapist entertainment. This album expanded the band’s sonic palette and contained some of their poppiest and most fun songs to date, though they still checked in with some good if generic hard rockers (“Pop’s Love Suicide” and “Tumble In The Rough”) in their customary earlier style (I'm quite fond of the strutting latter track, actually). That said, there are also some leaden psychedelic tinkerings and generic guitar riffs that borrow too heavily from the Jimmy Page songbook, like on “Ride The Cliché,” which still soars on its Beatlesque chorus. The weakest track is the lame pop of “Art School Girl,” which apes the lame Tripping Daisy novelty number “I Got A Girl” before going off into an equally mindless thrash chorus. On the whole, despite some uneven moments - "Press Play" and "Daisy" are a pair of pointless short instrumental interludes but “Adhesive” and "Seven Caged Tigers" are other very good overlooked album tracks - and the fact that Weiland's voice sounds a bit ragged this time out (and not always in a good way), Tiny Music... was another highly satisfying step forward for the band, as STP further shed their grunge trappings for a more varied (if slightly less consistent) release.

No. 4 (Atlantic ’99) Rating: B+
After the remaining three members put out a largely ignored album without Weiland (recruiting singer Dave Coutts) as Talk Show and Weiland released a solo album (12 Bar Blues) that also didn’t make much of an impact, the reunited Stone Temple Pilots returned amid little fanfare for the lamely titled No. 4. Big chugging riffs and jackhammer rhythms again rule the day, as the band returns to the metallic thunder of their debut, which will doubtless delight many of the band’s early fans while frustrating others who had hoped for further musical growth after Tiny Music.... However, though No. 4 represents something of a holding pattern and has a few generic riff rockers too many, STP have written enough high quality songs to make it another easily recommendable purchase. Starting off with several hard-hitting but generally unspectacular rockers (the best of which is easily “Down,” the album’s first single and the band's flat-out heaviest song to date), No. 4 upswings on the hooky Beatlesque chorus to “Church On Tuesday.” “Sour Girl” is even more melodic, and with lyrics that linger, too, such as “she was a happy girl the day that she left me.” Simply put, this track, another deserved hit, was arguably the band's most undeniable pure pop song to date. The soaring, radio ready “Glide,” on which Weiland unleashes some striking falsettos, is also extremely appealing, while the beautifully low-key ballad “I Got You” offers further proof that the band at their best are all about melody. Finally, the atmospheric “Atlanta,” with its elaborate strings and enticing late night ambiance, closes out this extremely worthwhile if somewhat inconsistent comeback album in fine fashion by strikingly recalling The Doors. Then again, STP were never exactly a band to hide their influences, and their lack of originality has only marginally curbed my enjoyment of the band's best music. Their subsequent tour, which I attended, was a rousing success, as the band played a "greatest hits" set list (appropriate given the long layoff) that made it clear just how many good songs (and hits) STP has; their eventual "greatest hits" album ought to be a stone cold killer. Having outlasted almost all of their grunge contemporaries, the new millennium once again seemed to hold a bright future for this once troubled band.

Shangri-La Dee Da (Atlantic ’01) Rating: B
Alas, the good vibes were short lived, as the band's next album, the again abominably titled Shangri-La Dee Da, received mixed reviews and didn't make much of a commercial splash. Then again, "Days Of The Week" wasn't as impressive as past singles (and let's face it, without a hit single most albums are DOA these days), even if it is a catchy mid-tempo pop rocker, and the gorgeously heartfelt ballad "Wonderful" certainly would've sounded wonderful on the radio if given the chance. Hard rocking highlights include “Dumb Love” and especially “Coma,” but on the whole this album lacks obvious standout songs, and generic riffs from the DeLeo brothers (that’s Robert on bass) are again a problem. So is bland balladry, as STP is only occasionally a hard rock band this time out. Don’t get me wrong, this is a reasonably consistent (even the ballads are pretty for the most part) and eclectic set, but there’s a reason why this was the band’s least popular album. On the plus side, Weiland’s increasingly multi-tracked vocals and increased use of harmonies continue to impress, and as per usual Dean adds cool guitar solos to several songs. As for the lyrics, a newly sober (for the time being) Weiland is probably worth paying attention to more so than ever before, but the newly personalized focus still didn't win the band many fans among critics (and even many fans were unimpressed). Again, perhaps a hit single would've made a difference, given them more of a reason to continue onwards, but I suppose the band's stylistic shift to a softer sound made them harder to market, and the stupid album title likely didn't help matters either. Regardless, though it has its moments – also including “Hello It’s Late,” “Hollywood Bitch,” “A Song For Sleeping,” and "Transmissions From A Lonely Room” - and is a consistently listenable “grower” of an album, Shangri-La Dee Da is the STP album that I turn to the least, and I've come to regard it as a merely solid last gasp by a band who walked in the shadows of (grunge) giants and whose reputation unfairly suffered as a result.

Thank You (Atlantic ’03) Rating: A
With the notoriously unreliable Scott Weiland joining former members of Guns n' Roses in Velvet Revolver (though he must seem stable compared to Axl Rose), it appears that the curtain has closed on Stone Temple Pilots. Fittingly, as a departing gift comes Thank You, a career encompassing retrospective that shows off what a great singles band they were. Although originally called a grunge band and described as a second rate Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots never really fit in with that or any scene. In retrospect they were simply a no frills, straight ahead hard rock band whose best songs were tailor made for "classic rock radio". Sure, they weren't the most original band in the world, and their sound sometimes did veer too close to those Seattle bands, as well as to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. However, the band had a knack for catchy hooks and had a charismatic vocalist in Weiland, whose drug habit ultimately eroded the enormous momentum the band had gained with their smash first two albums, Core and Purple. Fittingly, more than half of the 15 songs on this compilation originated from those two albums, while the band's less popular subsequent albums (which the band couldn't properly promote due to Weiland's habit) are represented by three (Tiny Music...Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop), two (No. 4), and one (Shangri-La Dee Da) song, respectively. In most cases the song selections are the obvious yet correct choices, and though perhaps a few more well-known songs ("Dead and Bloated," "Pretty Penny," "Unglued") could've made the cut as well, by and large this album does a very good job of presenting STP as the stellar singles band that they were. Even the obligatory new song, "All In The Suit That You Wear," is good in an agreeably hard hitting way, and the non-chronological sequencing is designed to make Thank You flow like a proper album, which it does quite nicely, thank you. The lack of liner notes is mildly disappointing but understandable given the raw deal the band has always received from critics, and the band's inclusion of an acoustic version of "Plush" (after the classic electric version had appeared earlier) may seem questionable at first as well. However, upon further reflection this subdued version provides a perfect coda to the album, as it provides a wistful reminder of how what was once such a highly promising career quietly faded away.

Stone Temple Pilots (Atlantic ’10) Rating: B+
With two albums with Velvet Revolver in his rearview mirror - the first one, Contraband (2004), was both good and successful, the second album Libertad (2007) less so on both counts - Weiland reunited for a well-received North American tour with STP in 2008, and two years later came the inevitable reunion album. Self-produced by the DeLeo brothers, who also wrote all the music (a supposedly sober Weiland handles the lyrics), this self-titled, long-delayed sixth installment is another quality album, probably a mid-tier STP release, which is about the best that could be expected at this point. There may not be any obvious classics a la "Plush" or "Interstate Love Song," and as usual the band has some generic tendencies, but nothing is truly bad on the album, even if some songs are more memorable than others. This album is certainly worth getting for fans of Stone Temple Pilots, as again Dean DeLeo comes up with memorable riffs and imaginative solos that usually manage to take the song to the next level while being connected melodically to the song's main hook. As for hooks, Weiland still knows how to create vocal hooks and layered harmonies that are effortlessly enjoyable, and the summery overall sound of the album stands apart from all their other albums, just as all their albums had before this one. On the whole I'd say that this fairly straightforward pop-rock release has less densely packed textures and psychedelics than their more recent albums, though it's certainly not a return to the grunge metal of their debut or the heavy songs on No. 4 (and actually, two of the albums best tracks, the soaring second single "Take A Load Off" and the chugging groover "Hickory Dichotomy," are quite psychedelic at times). Other strong entries include the fast-paced first single "Between The Lines," a grower track - as are many of these songs which may explain why the album never really took off on commercial radio - whose main selling points are predictably its good riffs, grooves, and vocal hooks, "Huckleberry Crumble," featuring twisting heavy riffs, a stomping groove, a big Beatlesque chorus, and a kickass guitar solo, "Dare If You Dare," featuring a falsetto flavored chorus and a short but sweet guitar solo, "Cinnamon," the albums most instantly likeable and arguably best song which has a great summertime vibe along with a wonderfully catchy and tuneful jangle-pop melody (really it sounds more like Fountains Of Wayne than your typical STP track), "Fast As I Can," which really moves and has more creative vocals, "First Kiss On Mars," a very melodic number notable for its David Bowie-like vocals, and "Maver," a lovely big semi-ballad with prominent piano plus a soaring guitar solo. Unlike Alice In Chains’ recent comeback album, this one is more a collection of individual songs than a cohesive album statement that impacts you emotionally, but it's also catchier and breezier than the Alice album which is to be expected (the Alice album is best listened to as a cumulative whole whereas with this one I tend to cherry pick specific songs to listen to). Fortunately, all of the songs are at least solid, even if none are quite classic, and it’s certainly good to have these guys back together again; here's hoping that they stay together and that Weiland avoids some of his past non-music related dramas. Note: Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and Weiland’s demons finally got the better of him for good on December 3, 2015.

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