Let’s not sugar-coat or try to fool ourselves here: the main reason for Stone Temple Pilots’ existence thus far has been drugs. The drugs have come to define them, or at the very least singer Scott Weiland, who has been notoriously in and out of rehab for the better part of the last 20 years. Amid all the use of illicit substances though, STP gained notoriety in the 90s for writing a few great classic rock-inspired albums that just so happened to fit in quite well with the discordant grunge atmosphere at the time. That they lasted as long as they did before finally breaking up in 2002 is a little surprising given their troubled and tempramental history, but they were also smart enough to realize that they were all better together than they were apart. Further evidence of this came after that inital break-up, when Weiland graduated to mediocre supergroup Velvet Revolver and the DeLeo brothers went on to form the bland Army of Anyone with Filter’s Richard Patrick. After both projects became tedious and unproductive, Stone Temple Pilots reunited in 2008 for some touring and presumably to cash in on their legacy. The reunion train had long been rolling on a number of other notable bands from the 90s, and given how financially lucrative that was for them, STP could hardly be blamed for wanting theirs.
The thing about that first reunion tour was that despite Weiland and the rest of the band behaving themselves and staying away from drugs, things were still shaky both inside the band and in their relationship with fans. Early reports were that the band looked sluggish and bored on stage, and that Weiland’s vocals were sub-par compared to years ago. Add this to Weiland’s insistence that he continue to work on and complete his solo record “Happy in Galoshes” before even considering new STP material, and nobody was really happy. There was also plenty of record label drama, with Atlantic claiming the band still owed them albums on their contract. The band disagreed and wanted to release any new music on their own, but a lawsuit left them stuck with Atlantic who they’re now much more “comfortable” working with. Nobody ever said that STP didn’t do things with the maximum amount of drama. Anyways, after a 10-month recording process in which the DeLeo brothers wrote and recorded all the guitar parts before Weiland started piecing together lyrics and vocals, a new album was finally completed and released this week. Their sixth record and either a rebirth or a grand finale, the band chose to creatively name it “Stone Temple Pilots”.
It’s either a sly nod to their past or an eerie coincidence that the first new Stone Temple Pilots single in 10 years is titled “Between the Lines” and has a chorus with the line “even when we used to take drugs”. Weiland has gone on record claiming that the song is not personal or autobiographical in the least, but considering the song’s title and his checkered past, let’s agree to disagree on that one. It is a propulsive and engaging song though, the kind that STP used to be known for in their heyday. Of course times and music have changed so much these last several years that it can never be as brilliant as it once was, but given that the band has built their reputation by trying to imitate the greats like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, their sound has been backwards leaning all along. Unlike their past records though, the band has been far more forthcoming when discussing what influences played parts in the compositions of their songs. Dean DeLeo has confessed to attempting to match wits with Aerosmith’s “Same Old Song and Dance” for the track “Huckleberry Crumble”, and if you listen to both tracks carefully you’ll notice they’re structurally the same though they may employ different notes and chords. One of the most invigorating and interesting tracks on the first half of the album is “Hickory Dichotomy”, which adds a little bit of a country influence to the sound, with some slide guitar work done in the vein of Jimmy Page. “Cinnamon” is one of the poppiest songs that STP has ever written, almost pulling off a Kinks vibe with a heavy bass line that’s eerily reminiscent of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.
While STP do tend to wear their influences on their sleeves, over their five albums they did develop something of a signature sound, and that’s well on display for much of the second half of the record. It’s almost as if they got tired of trying to mix it up and decided to just go into automatic mode for awhile. You listen to a song like “Bagman” and think that not only have you heard the band do it before, but after its over you struggle just a little to remember what it sounded like. Outside of a great vocal performance from Weiland, “Peacoat” fails to impress as well as they continue to clutch to familiar straws. One of the second half highlights comes in the form of “Fast As I Can”, which gives off a “country music on speed” vibe that’s matched well with a chorus that positively soars. “First Kiss On Mars” is interesting for how much of it sounds like a bland ballad, but closer attention reveals not only science fiction-themed lyrics but Weiland apparently doing his best David Bowie impersonation…which is surprisingly decent. A soft and somewhat beautiful ballad “Maver” closes out the record, and while it makes good use of a piano, the harmonized vocals in the chorus betray the rest of the track and turn it from harmless to a poor imitation of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian”. On the whole the song’s not bad, but that chorus can be just a touch bothersome.
When considering “Stone Temple Pilots” and where it stands amid the band’s legacy, this is probably the best thing they’ve released since 1996’s “Tiny Music…Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop”. “Their best album in 15 years” might read as a good quote for the cover, but considering how poor their prior two albums “Shangri-La Dee Da” and “No. 4” were, that’s actually not saying a whole lot. But it is a sign of positive momentum that the band does more good than bad on this record, and were it to actually be their last they’d be going out on a more positive note than where they were when the originally broke up. Whether or not this reunion is more constructed around money than anything else, you can be sure that STP are in a better place now than they have been in awhile. Hopefully that’s a product of staying off drugs and just growing up in general. Or maybe they’ve all come to realize that they’re far more talented musicians and are able to push each other harder when they’re working together rather than apart. As they’ve grown together, so have their fans, which makes you wonder exactly how successful Stone Temple Pilots might be in this renewed run. Once the glory haze of nostalgia wears off and people go back to caring about the newer, younger and hipper bands, who’s going to be left spending their time and money on STP? Time will tell on that one, but for the moment, Scott Weiland and the DeLeo brothers are back and proving they still know how to write compelling rock songs for the masses.