For my latest Discography feature I’m covering a band who shot to fame on the coat-tails of the Seattle scene (or so they were accused of doing), but quickly turned into one of the most interesting alternative rock bands around…
Core came out on the same day as Dirt by Alice In Chains, and it didn’t take long for people to connect the two bands. Opener Dead And Bloated is certainly has a definite feel of AIC to its lyrics and the heavy guitars, while Scott Weiland’s voice sounds very close to Layne Staley (his drug problems only made that similarity stronger, though happily his story seems to have had a happier ending), and Stone Temple Pilots were labelled as grunge copycats. However, Core is a better album than that description deserves. Sex Type Thing and Crackerman are both awesome rockers (with the original also getting criticised at the time for its lyrics, which play on machismo and sexism), while Plush and Creep show the softer side that would fully emerge on their next few albums. It’s far from perfect, and some of the tracks don’t really go anywhere, but this was a great start.
I got into Stone Temple Pilots through the use of Big Empty in The Crow, and it’s a perfect way into this second album, which sees everything that was good about Core taken to the next level. They were still being tagged as copycats at this stage, but it was more Pearl Jam than Alice In Chains, with Interstate Love Song’s success adding to that. Purple (the album’s name is only on the cover in the form of a Japanese character) is a nice blend of these more melodic songs with some of the harder edge of the debut, particularly evident in the crunching guitars of opener Meatplow. The first real hints of the Beatles-esque sounds that epitomised STP are also evident in tracks like Pretty Penny and Still Remains. Weiland and Co were just about to blow their detractors away once and for all.
Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop (1996)
While doing a little bit of research, I stumbled across an old Pitchfork review of this album. Wow. It got 0.8/10 and Ryan Shreiber said that Scott Weiland “should have OD’ed a long time ago”. Nice. Anyway, unlike Mr Shreiber, I think Tiny Music is a fantastic album that takes a huge step away from everything they’d done before, with even the rock songs taking on a psychedelic edge. Big Bang Baby, Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart, Lady Picture Show and Tumble In The Rough were the singles, and they sum the album up, veering from trippy pop to grunge rock to baroque ballads. Adhesive and And So I Know are two of my favourites, both a world away from Dead And Bloated, and it shows how far STP had come. Unfortunately, Weiland’s drug problems were starting to affect their ability to promote their music, and their popularity started to wane.
After troubled times following the release of Tiny Music, it was a surprise to see STP back and in such good form on their fourth album. It pulls back a bit from the experimentation and diversity of its predecessor, but the Beatles influences are still evident throughout, while Weiland channels his inner Jim Morrison on fantastic closer Atlanta (probably my favourite STP song). The return to a more straightforward sound helped give No.4 a focus and it flies along with more of a confidence and clarity than you’d expect from a band in turmoil. Sour Girl was the album’s closest thing to a hit, while Down showed that they could still rock out when they wanted to. A great collection of songs, No.4 is one of the most underrated US rock albums of the late 90s.
Shangri-La Dee Da (2001)
The band’s last album before their initial split, Shangri-La Dee Da is an odd one. It’s far from a bad album, it’s just that it feels for the first time like Stone Temple Pilots were just repeating themselves, because it’s the first album that has sounded pretty much like the last one. And, because it’s not quite as good as No.4, it suffers by comparison. Days Of The Week is a definite classic, while I was never particularly convinced by the other single Hollywood Bitch. Lyrically, songs like Bi-Polar Bear and Transmissions From A Lonely Room come across as some of Weiland’s most personal, reflecting the troubles he was still going through, having spent a year in prison after the release of No.4. Overall, while Shangri-La Dee Da functions well enough as an album, it would have been a shame if it had been their last.
Stone Temple Pilots (2010)
And it very nearly was. They fell apart on tour in 2002 and Weiland ended up in Velvet Revolver with most of Guns n Roses. They were a decent band, but when I saw them live, the highlights for me were Sex Type Thing and Crackerman, so I was delighted when it was announced that STP were getting back together a few years ago. After some successful tours, they brought out their new album, self-titled to reflect a new beginning. But, to bring my Discography round to the start again, they are still being criticised for sounding like other bands. Most of it seems to come from Weiland’s chameleon-like ability to shift his appearance and vocals to whatever suits him, most obviously here on First Kiss On Mars, where does a very impressive David Bowie impersonation. The DeLeo brothers do their own impression of Aerosmith on Huckleberry Crumble, too. But what makes this a great return and makes STP a great band is that they take their influences and they make them work.