Stone Temple Pilots will go down in history as one of the greatest bands of the 90s, and for good reason. Since the band’s 1992 debut Core, the band have consistently pushed their sound, exploring further territory with each successive album. If their first two records were firmly implanted within the grunge movement, by the time of 1996’s Tiny Music… Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop, STP had come into their own. Their success relied on a mixed bag of styles, including elements of classic, glam, grunge, psychedelic, and arena rock into a radio friendly assault on the mainstream. Nine years since the disappointing Shangri-La Dee Da, the boys are back, reaching yet deeper into their mixed bag of influences. Only difference this time around is, well… mixed results. There are moments on their new self titled excursion that have the quartet sounding as great as they ever have, full of focus, ambition, and renewed energy. Other times Stone Temple Pilots finds the band straying too far from their comfort zone into unexplored territory that may have been better left untouched. All in all though, it’s good to them back in the limelight doing what they should always be recognized for; making alternative rock hits.
The album roars open with lead single “Between The Lines,” a song quick to mention the band’s previous troubles as lead singer Scott Weiland sings, “you always were my favorite drug, even when we used to take drugs.” Troubles aside, the band are back doing what they did best, making rapid punchy singles that radio can get behind, and they have. Even in this new era of alternative radio, Stone Temple Pilots have arrived to embrace the #1 spot with their new single, a short anthemic song with a hook deeply indebted to Nirvana, memorable vocal melodies at every turn, and a short but sweet guitar solo. STP is and always was more than just the magnificent voice of Weiland, gaining their greatest strengths from the DeLeo brothers, Dean and Robert. Two of the more underrated stars of the 90s, the DeLeo’s really have that type of chemistry that “only brothers could share,” and have made that evident since the band’s inception. “Take a Load Off,” finds the brothers delivering a riff that soars like a lost STP classic, and the entire band sound incredible. Dean spoke to Rolling Stone months before the album’s release saying the band had a formula, and they were sticking to it, and they have succeeded wonderfully at this moment. This is the band we came to know and love in the 90’s, with sharp guitar work and tight focused songwriting. “Huckleberry Crumble” is a bluesy number that derives heavily from Aerosmith’s catalog, perhaps a bit too heavily. The song is certainly catchy, with a diabolical arena friendly riff that shakes back and forth in perfect harmony with Weiland’s vocals.
“Hickory Dichotomy” finds Weiland strutting his glam infused swagger over a staccato riff with an exaggerated vocal performance filled equally with attitude and twang. Robert and drummer Eric Kretz build a strong and stable rhythmic foundation for Dean to explore with sharp swirling licks in every imaginable space. “Dare If You Dare” is reminiscent of the better tracks from the band’s last release, a slower building song with gorgeous guitar playing and an easy going vocal melody. The bridge takes an odd turn from Weiland, but is thankfully saved by Dean’s savory solo. “Cinnamon” is the first extreme example of STP reaching outside their comfort zone, toying with a mixture of new wave and sugary sweet pop music. The song isn’t terrible, but the flow of the album is certainly tainted at this point. Weiland’s vocals switch from syrupy power pop to grainy croons as the intensity builds amongst dreamy bubblegum clouds. Immediately picking the heaviness back up, “Hazy Daze,” finds an infectious fuzz soaked guitar riff dancing circles around itself with glossy tone and rich feedback. Weiland’s vocals swirl during the chorus, seamlessly blending with the guitars psychedelic blasts. “Bagman” and “Peacoat” will transport you directly into the 60s, with a clean sunshine pop aesthetic that doesn’t contribute much to the overall arch of the record. The later of the two is certainly an enjoyable listen, but comes and goes fairly unmemorable.
“Fast As I Can” pulls the album back in the right direction, an up-tempo charge of guitars vaguely recalls the stunning “Meatplow” or “Unglued,” only with a far more classic rock oriented tint. Weiland’s vocals sound terrific as he sings joyously about stumbling through the open door of the liquor store. The DeLeo brothers warp around each other with colorful bursts of guitars, while Kretz pounds out a deep rhythmic groove contributing to what is easily one of the album’s best tracks. “First Kiss on Mars,” owes just about everything imaginable to David Bowie, evident from the title to the melody. The song isn’t necessarily bad, but it sounds like Bowie… not STP. It was evident on Weiland’s last solo album that his desire to tread into Bowie’s territory is ever growing, and once again he has recreated his idol’s sound without much innovation. The album closes with “Maver,” a song built upon an alt/country progression that works to wearily wind down the record. Weiland’s voice, no longer what it once was, still sounds terrific here, as he drifts along with the brothers’ piano and acoustic textured ballad. Ultimately, the album is not the band’s finest release, not even close. With that said, the record is still filled with great songs and the undeniable infectiousness that can only come from the combined effort that is Stone Temple Pilots. The band thrive when revisiting their classic Purple era formulas, creating songs that stand with the best they’ve released, yet slip all too often when trying to imitate their influences. It’s a welcome return for the Stone Temple Pilots; an enjoyable new album combined with the promise of touring in support of it armed with one of the finest live shows in the world.