Stone Temple Pilots were critically reviled when Core, their debut album, came out in 1992. Dismissed as a diluted derivative of the first wave of grunge, they eventually managed to carve out a highly respectable career (if still not always highly respected by critics) that saw them expand their sound and attain significant success, as evidenced by their 40+ million albums sold worldwide, and seven number one singles on Billboard's rock charts. However, everything came to a crashing halt in 2003 when tensions between singer Scott Weiland and the rest of the band reached their limit, leading to a five year "respite" between the two camps (and apparently not a break-up, as had been widely believed), as guitarist Dean DeLeo recounted in this 2008 interview. Weiland went on to release his second solo album and, of course, fronted Velvet Revolver before also wearing out his welcome with that band. The rest of STP (DeLeo, his bassist brother, Robert, and drummer Eric Kretz) formed Army Of Anyone with Filter vocalist Richard Patrick, releasing an album in 2006 that was followed by a supporting tour. The underwhelming output from these non-STP projects provided yet further examples of "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" musical axiom that usually rears its ugly head when band members go their separate ways. 2008 saw the band regroup and undertake a successful tour that lead to this, their self-titled sixth studio album.
One could have expected an unspectacular, workmanlike effort from the group, engineered to just get some new product out there and provide an excuse to mount another lucrative tour. Let's face it, most musical artists these days don't make a lot of money from album sales and the musical landscape has shifted dramatically since 2001 when the band's last studio effort, Shangri-La Dee Da (which holds up better than I remembered upon a recent relisten), came out. Stone Temple Pilots debuted at #2 on the Billboard album chart in May, with the top spot being claimed by the third (!) soundtrack from television's Glee, which has somehow managed to overtake the Twilight movies as today's most annoying and overexposed pop culture phenomenon. A #2 debut may seem like nothing to scoff at, but STP sold a surprisingly modest 62,000 copies in its first week, despite plenty of advance hype and another #1 single at rock radio. Consumer apathy might be in play for this album, but creative apathy from STP is most certainly not.
Straight out of the chute with the instantly infectious "Between The Lines", the band delivers a resounding statement that they have plenty more to add to their already impressive body of work. The clever lyrical wordplay ("You always were my favourite drug/Even when we used to take drugs") is balanced with some typically Weiland-ish gibberish ("You rock the magic plane with no abbreviation"), and it's set to possibly the strongest music the band has ever written, with an ace rock star swagger vocal performance. Weiland's cock-of-the-walk attitude throughout the album really serves as a glaring reminder of how lacking that quality is in most of today's rock singers, and how unconvincing those few that do attempt to convey it are. The singer's lyrics this time around appear to be a little less introspective than on previous albums, possibly a result of his apparently sober lifestyle these days. Dean DeLeo brings his A-game to the track, both with his rhythm guitar work and a scorching solo that brings to mind his frontman's previous lead guitarist, Slash. "Take A Load Off" is textbook STP, showcasing the unique playing style of Robert DeLeo, whose bass playing frequently steers the melodies and direction of the band's songs more than most other rock bass players. "Hickory Dichotomy" also shows it off, as DeLeo's walking bass lines nicely counterpoint his brother's meaty guitar parts (including a great slide solo). Weiland channels David Bowie and Lou Reed through his spoken vocal delivery for the track's verses, one of many homages to the 70's on the album. "Huckleberry Crumble" also has a platform shoe'd footprint stuck clearly in that decade. The track might even be labelled "shameful" for how much it rips off 70's era Aerosmith...if it wasn't so good.
"Cinnamon", "First Kiss On Mars", and "Maver" find the band at their poppy best, territory they staked out earlier in their career with the likes of "Interstate Love Song" and "Sour Girl". These songs also contain the ear candy of subtly layered guitar and vocal backing tracks that highlight the fine songcraft and production at work here. STP is the band's first album not produced by Brendan O'Brien, as the DeLeo brothers take the helm this time. The album was recorded over a ten month period at the personal studios of Weiland, Robert DeLeo, and Kretz during breaks in the band's touring schedule. Producer Don Was was additionally brought in to coordinate the separate recording sessions and work specifically with the tracking of Weiland's vocals.
Rounding out the rest of the album are a rock solid group of songs like "Hazy Daze", "Bagman", "Fast As I Can", and "Peacoat". The latter track is redeemed from "skippable" status mostly by Dean DeLeo's guitar work, which infuses the song with enough interesting different guitar sounds and weird sounding chords (especially the main riff) to hold the listener's attention. The only one of the album's 12 tracks lacking any notable attributes is the electric piano-driven "Dare If You Dare", which borrows a little too heavily from Mott The Hoople's "All The Young Dudes".
STP is the band's strongest album since 1994's Purple and, arguably, their strongest yet. There's a relaxed and focussed quality to it that can't be matched by their previous five studio efforts. The haters probably won't be converted and there isn't anything ground-breaking here, just a re-energized band putting their own unique grunge-pop spin on their musical influences.
Highlights: "Between The Lines", "Maver", "Cinnamon", "Huckleberry Crumble"
Lowlights: "Dare If You Dare"