Stone Temple Pilots Return To Continue An Underrated Career

On Tuesday (May 24), Stone Temple Pilots will drop their new self-titled album, which represents their comeback after nearly a decade on the rocks and the sixth of their career. The group has survived a lifetime of trouble, from attacks from critics to the substance abuse troubles of problematic frontman Scott Weiland. But they’re back on track with a new album and a killer live show, and it’s time to reevaluate their entire career.

Stone Temple Pilots got off on the wrong foot back in 1993 when their breakout single “Plush” turned them into instant MTV and modern rock radio staples. Their biggest sin? “Plush” (and Weiland’s vocal in particular) sounded a bit like Pearl Jam (of course, so did every other rock band who dropped a single in ’93). The idea that STP sounded exactly like Pearl Jam was so ubiquitous that it even got a joke on “Saturday Night Live” (made by David Spade, no less). They basically paid for that misconception their entire career, as they were usually dismissed as Bush-esque (the band, not the President) wannabes even as their sound morphed from radio grunge to further experiments in metal, glam and whatever Tiny Music … Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop was.

They appear to have shaken off that critical stigma, as their latest single “Between the Lines” has been a juggernaut on rock radio since its debut a few months back. So if the new album is your first entry in STP’s oeuvre, here’s some help with their roundly excellent back catalogue.

Core (1992)
Key Tracks: “Dead and Bloated,” “Creep,” “Wicked Garden”
STP’s debut is brief (there are only 12 songs, two of which are more like interludes) but packed with big riffs, huge hooks and Weiland’s esoteric singing voice (which really only sounds like Eddie Vedder on “Plush” and “Crackerman”). Listening to Core a second time, it’s amazing how heavy it sounds. Everything lands with a powerful thump (all credit to Eric Kretz’s savage drum technique) and the guitars have that metallic sheen that sounds like Steve Albini on steroids.

Purple (1994)
Key Tracks: “Interstate Love Song,” “Still Remains,” “Vasoline”
Easily the best album of their career, Purple takes Stone Temple Pilots sound and twists it into a number of different directions. “Meatplow” is full of distortion and metallic bass, while “Lounge Fly” swims in a sea of psychedelia. There are forays into power balladry (“Big Empty”) and straight hardcore (“Unglued”). And of course there’s “Interstate Love Song,” a breezy slice of Eagles-esque rock that ranks as one of the finest songs of the ’90s.

Tiny Music … Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop (1996)
Key Tracks: “Big Bang Baby,” “Lady Picture Show,” “Pop’s Love Suicide”
Weiland’s drug trouble had only begun to eclipse the music in Stone Temple Pilots (they were never able to properly tour Tiny Music because he had to go to rehab), but they managed to grind out their extremely odd third album. It’s a mixed bag, because it contains some of the group’s best songwriting (including “Lady Picture Show” and “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart”) and the beginnings of their experiments with straight glam (especially lead single “Big Bang Baby”). However, the album is also full of strange guitar tunings and unusual production, which can be alienating (especially if you prefer the harder version of STP).

No. 4 (1999)
Key Tracks: “Down,” “Sour Girl,” “Church on Tuesday”
Following a brief hiatus that allowed Weiland to make a solo album (the odd, glammy 12 Bar Blues, the best David Bowie album of the last 20 years) and the other three STPers to launch a brief side project (Talk Show, who put out one album that is perfectly acceptable), the band returned to make a Doors album. The influence is clearest on “Atlanta” and “Sour Girl,” but a mood of heavy psychedelia hangs all over the band’s fourth effort. Still, it’s a strong batch of songs with a handful of entries (including “Church on Tuesday” and “Sex and Violence”) that synthesize everything STP did well.

Shangri-La Dee Da (2001)
Key Tracks: “Days of the Week,” “Hollywood B—-,” “Hello It’s Late”
Coming just before the group disintegrated for the better part of the last decade, Shangri-La Dee Da seemed like an album that nobody was particularly interested in making. However, it seems as though core songwriters Weiland and guitarist Dean DeLeo are incapable of writing boring songs, as the tunes on the album are first rate. There’s the Beatles-biting “Days of the Week,” the punchy “Hollywood B—-” and the cheeky, groovy “Bi-Polar Bear.” Shangri-La Dee Da also does a good job of bringing together sounds from past albums (there’s a big of the Tiny Music guitar sound and a healthy smattering of the heaviness from Purple and No. 4).

In addition to the proper STP albums, there is also an excellent mixtape to be made from the one album from Talk Show (“Hello Hello,” “Morning Girl,” “Peeling an Orange”), Weiland’s two solo projects (“Barbarella,” “Jimmy Was a Stimulator,” “Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down,” “Missing Cleveland,” “She Sold Her System”) and Army of Anyone (which consisted of STP’s Dean and Robert DeLeo and Filter’s Richard Patrick; the single “Goodbye” was a total scorcher). For a bunch of guys who were dismissed as pretenders way back in ’93, their output is staggeringly good — further proof you can’t always take first impressions seriously.

What’s your favorite Stone Temple Pilots song? Do you like the new album? Let us know in the comments!