Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Racer's Edge,Part Uno

Grunge fans initally found a lot to like but little to worship at the Temple. Time and talent would eventually convert the nonbelievers (like me!).
The Stone Temple Pilots are back with a new album which I'm waiting for to show up in the mail, in the mean time I decided to look back on their career. STP have never been critics darlings, they were considered derivative carpetbaggers when they first started (thank you high school history class for drilling that term in my head). Continued success and artistic development has helped STP shed this rep and are now viewed as their own band.

I got into STP through my wife who loved their music up until about the No. 4 album. Funnily, that's about the time I got more into them because of the song "Sour Girl". Our combined interest has us owning about all of their catalog, so I'll be replaying each release I have to jog the ol memory on the history of STP, formerly Mighty Joe Young, formerly Shirley Temple's Pussy.

It all starts in San Diego when Scott Weiland, Robert DeLeo, Dean DeLeo and Eric Kretz formed the band and recorded their debut...

Core (1992)

Grunge was the hot new thang in '92. There was the Seattle scene with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and what not all over the place. Even Cameron Crowe made a movie about flannel clad people doin' it with the new sensation (Singles). And into this came Stone Temple Pilots, suddenly omnipresent on MTV with their rampaging rocker "Sex Type Thing". A fantastic guitar riff and lyrical controversy (were they mocking or supporting the mind set of a sexual predator?) drove them up the charts. Critics carped that STP were imitators, not originals, in the grunge scene. Because San Diego is nice and sunny, not rainy and suicidal like Seattle. The group was compared to all the major bands, Weiland had that insect like tone to his voice like Layne Staley. The lyrics were sad and oppressed like Nirvana. The rhythms were low and heavy like Soundgarden. Like a guy who steps on the end of a rake and gets smacked in the face, the band's next single "Plush" added fuel to this fire. Keeping a similar pace to Pearl Jam's "Alive", "Plush" surged forward with a video that featured Scott Weiland doing the self hugging poses PJ's singer Eddie Vedder was famous for. Did this stop their success? No. But like Rappin Rodney they got no respect, no respect at all!

Listening to Core now, it's retained a freshness and has aged pretty well. Core is a good name because all of STPs best moves are here in its most straight forward form. Heavy grooves, herky jerky sections and haunted acoustic numbers fill the rest of the disc. Even lesser developed songs like "Crackerman" gets by on manic energy.

Purple (1994)

Believe it or not, Scott Weiland allegedly recorded Core clean. While on tour, Weiland tried heroin. And quickly became an addict. You know, if you're trying to not be a grunge cliche' avoiding that stuff would have been the right thing to do. But sho nuff, Scott Weiland got deep into it, so deep he got arrested for buying his own drugs. Doh!

And that leads us into STP's sophomore disc Purple,which sounds like Core...on drugs. The tone of the album is darker, murkier than Core while retaining the heavy riffage and taut grinding rhythms. The Zeppy rocker "Vaseline" and the ground and pound stomp of "Lounge Fly" lay down the law so hard they barely come up for air. Interestingly, it was STP's acoustic moments that garnered the most airplay. The angsty ballad "Big Empty" got mad love from MTV after it was used on MTV Unplugged, playing just about every second of the day. Add to that the band's most enduring hit, "Interstate Love Song". A bit of a classic rock feel came into "Interstate", opening up the group to a wider audience. Some nice bits of psychedelia emerge, such as on the trippy "Pretty Penny". Still, Purple remains STPs heaviest disc to date.

Tiny Music...Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop (1996)

Weiland was pretty well smacked out of his mind at this point, which made recording and touring to support Tiny Music a challenge. The group would temporarily split after trying to tour for this album, I missed their concert on this tour because I was sick but my wife got to go. She was a big fan of theirs in '96 so glad she got to go.

By '95 the big old grunge scene died, imploding on its own sludgy depression as the national economy rebounded. People just weren't as sad and hopeless anymore. STP read the playing field and changed strategy, pulling out a lot of the grunge making this one of their lightest sounding efforts. Classic rock influences get pulled to the forefront with obvious nods to The Stones ("Big Bang Baby"), The Beatles ("Lady Picure Show") and Led Zep ("Trippin On A Hole In A Paper Heart"). More variety was featured, what with the slightly funky "Art School Girlfriend" or my favorite on the album, the loungy "And So I Know". At the same time, Scott Weiland's personality begins to show more with bits of his David Bowie / Jim Morrison sense of drama and melody becoming more obvious. Too bad Weiland seemed to deteriorate physically and after holing up with Courtney Love to do a bunch of drugs- bets were being placed as to how long Scotty boy would last.

Talk Show - Talk Show (1997)

Scotty and the rest of the band went in separate directions, with 3/4ths of STP hiring a new singer to call it Talk Show. While the new singer was clearly more level headed and easier to deal with, the guy was also bland and unexciting. So much so I can't remember his name, I just remember him being blond. Same goes for this album, I remember nothing other than the song "Hello Hello". This was a snoozer of a disc, now we don't even own it. We cancelled Talk Show. Bazinga!

Scott Weiland - 12 Bar Blues (1998)

Talk Show demonstrated that they came up with the riffs, Weiland therefore had the melodies. You might think this would leave Mr Scott high n dry with creating a new album, but guess what? Weiland shows he has a real artist in him instead. His sense of catchy melody intact, Weiland supports them with techno beats, Hawaiian guitar, xylophone...just about any sound you can think of. And amazingly, it all fits together like it's all part of a plan. The Beatles White Album sounding "Lady You Bring My Roof Down", the NIN influenced "Jimmy Was A Stimulator" and the alterna ballad "About Nothing" are among the highlights of this excellent disc. What should be a laughable ego trip is instead Weiland's finest work creatively. Commercially it was a bomb and to top it off Scotty got arrested for buying drugs again. What kind of rock star buys his own drugs instead of sending roadies? Oh yeah, seriously addicted ones.

No. 4 (1999)

Once Scott Weiland and Talk Show figured out they couldn't support themselves financially selling CDs to just friends and family, they regrouped. The album title No. 4 says it all as this is the most predictable disc in the band's catalog. Playing it now, it's one of those discs that sounds good when its on but when it ends you struggle to remember what just played. What I could remember was the grungy "Down" and the garage rock mayhem of "MC5". And my all time favorite STP song, the haunting guiltfest "Sour Girl". The rest is STP by numbers, there's a fast song, a slow song, a heavy groove song, etc. Funnily, in 1999 this was my favorite of the STP albums while my wife lost interest in them. Played it a lot while driving to work. Careerwise this put STP back on track just in time for Scott Weiland to go to jail for his drug arrest.

And that's where we will leave our heroes for now. The lead singer behind bars. A band wondering if there's time for Talk Show 2. A space mercenary frozen in carbonite while Billy Dee Williams and a walking carpet go looking for him. All this and more in part 2 of The Racer's Edge!


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BMX photo said...

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keep up the good work!