Stone Temple Pilots arose from obscurity in San Diego, where the group was formed as Mighty Joe Young, to worldwide attention so quickly and with a sound so close to what was happening on radio via Seattle that the backlash set in before the quartet’s debut album, Core, finished reeling off its succession of hits. Tweaked to commanding post-metal power by producer Brendan O’Brien (Black Crowes, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers), Core resonates with the sonic effects of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden in plain view. “Plush” and “Piece of Pie” were understandably mistaken for Pearl Jam, and Scott Weiland’s dry, constricted vocals on the dramatic, semi-acoustic “Creep” (“I’m half the man I used to be”) sound uncannily like Kurt Cobain. Where the best of the Northwest groups STP aped were fighting to break tired rock formulae, the Californians served up their innovations pre- digested and refined for mass consumption, writing songs catchier, more radio-friendly and less compellingly serious than their bull-headed counterparts to the north. The bass/guitar brotherhood of Robert and Dean DeLeo makes a solid but flexible noise on the album, and Eric Kretz drums with the hamhanded power of John Bonham, driving songs like the Nirvana-seeking “Sex Type Thing” (whose ironic idea of a crude come-on is “I’m gonna learn ya my philosophy / You wanna know about my atrocity?”), “Sin” and “Crackerman.”
Again produced by O’Brien, Purple (a title that appears nowhere on the package) is tighter and more confident, drawing the band closer to a characteristic sound but not quite getting there. Weiland possesses a strong, gritty voice and the others can certainly play, but the group can’t seem to shake off its kleptomaniacal instincts. The roaringly melodic “Interstate Love Song,” “Vasoline” and the “Creep”-soundalike “Big Empty” all repeat Core‘s downbeat hard rock with maximum efficiency. The odd acoustic pop of “Pretty Penny” provides an intriguing contrast to the loudness (and doesn’t sound anything like Nirvana’s “Polly” — well, not too much), but the syncopated Jane’sish monotony of “Army Ants” is a bad sign.
So was Weiland’s heroin addiction, which erupted into public view with a May 1995 drug bust, the first of many. Nonetheless, he and the band got themselves sorted out long enough to make a third album before remanding the singer to a medical facility for further treatment. Reinvented as a Lollapalooza-era Cheap Trick, down to the alluring Beatlisms amid the tuneful electric crunch, STP gives its no-stylistic-integrity all to catchy power pop on Tiny Music…Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop. There are exceptions, like the relaxed cocktail pop of “And So I Know” and the blustery “Art School Girl,” but not enough to alter the primary impression. Even “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart,” a Pearl Jammy composition that could have gone in that direction, is reined in with a Robin Zanderesque vocal. The free-association lyrics are too oblique or stupid to mean much to anyone outside (or possibly inside) the group (“Adhesive Love” seems like a silly way to almost sing “Peace and Love,” while “Ride the Cliché” isn’t about anything at all), and the music isn’t breaking any boundaries, but Tiny Music tricks this dragon out in a second set of stripes.
In the months following his 1995 arrest, Weiland released two songs with a side project called The Magnificent Bastards, one a telling cover of John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?” for the Working Class Hero tribute disc, the other a Nirvana-esque original on the Tank Girl soundtrack. It was during this time that the remaining Pilots began working with Ten Inch Men vocalist Dave Coutts. With Weiland tucked away in rehab in 1997 and unable to tour in support of Tiny Music, Coutts and company released a self-titled, self-produced album under the name Talk Show. The band is in fine form, and Coutts—who not only takes over Weiland’s vocal duties, but also his share of the songwriting—performs in a breathy high-pitched rasp that at times eerily resembles his predecessor on Tiny Music, but the songs on Talk Show lack convincing hooks and Coutts is a singer of astonishing little personality or presence. The end result is little more than a 40-minute, STP-like buzzing sound.
After his release, Weiland countered with a solo album, 12 Bar Blues. If his mates played it safe, attempting to maintain their pop rock clout, Weiland went the opposite way, diving head-first into self-conscious artistry. Mixing blatant influence trotting (Ziggy Stardust, T. Rex, late Beatles, Tom Waits) with tuneless industrial grinding and excessive multi-instrumentalism and studio trickery (emphasized by the genius-at-work album art), 12 Bar Blues is a total mess. With its best tracks—lead by the mellow California pop of the happy- daddy “Son”—buried on its second half, the album is overlong and unlistenable for a good half of its duration. Although the three STP albums had gone platinum fourteen times over by mid-1998, both “solo” efforts deservedly sank.
Having tested the waters and found them chilly, both parties reunited for 1999’s No. 4, which—rather than picking up where the band left off on Tiny Music—attempts to merge the whimsical power pop of that album with the brooding riffage of Core. The success of this fusion is debatable, but while the sludgy grind of songs like “Down,” “Pruno” and “No Way Out” can become tiresome, the propulsive slink of “Sour Girl,” the airy pop of “Glide” and the swirling Purple– y “Church on Tuesday” are difficult to deny. Elsewhere the band cuts through the mud with convincing hooks and skillful playing, capping things off with the expansive and orchestral “Atlanta,” on which Weiland imitates Jim Morrison for a change. Free of the cut-and-paste absurdities of his previous work, Weiland’s lyrics here sketch the internal and external conflicts of a recovering addict (“I’m still healing / Oh, and I’m still breathing”), the dissolution of his first marriage (“You can chew me up and spit me out / You’re just the little bitch I cared about”) and the role of his soon-to-be second wife (“I got you to fill the craving that I get inside my mind”). All of that lends the album a new emotional weight for the band. It also makes the cycle of drug arrests and legal proceedings that continue to be the singer’s lot all the more frustrating to witness.
Just weeks before the release of No. 4, Weiland was sentenced to a year’s incarceration for a series of violations following yet another drug-related arrest in June 1998. Released after seven months, he wasted little time in returning to the studio with the rest of Stone Temple Pilots, but the resulting Shangri-La Dee Da proved that his struggles were having a negative effect not only on the band’s schedule, but its music as well. Exaggerating the pop and rock extremes of No. 4, Shangri-La Dee Da‘s heavier tracks (“Dumb Love,” “Coma”) replace grinding with bludgeoning in an attempt to keep pace with nü metal, while the softer numbers (particularly the mid-album troika of “Wonderful,” “Black Again” and “Hello It’s Late”) slip toward the saccharine and trite. Only the buoyant pop of “Days of the Week” makes a positive contribution to the band’s catalog. Weiland’s lyrics about addiction here ring hollow, unaided by blowhard tales of the rich and famous (“Hollywood Bitch” and “Too Cool Queenie,” a dig at Courtney Love) and cloying tributes to his new wife and son (“A Song for Sleeping”).
Thank You compiles the band’s thirteen hits non-chronologically. The sequencing—which buries sure bets (“Sex Type Thing,” “Interstate Love Song” and “Sour Girl”) behind lesser songs (“Down,” “Wicked Garden” and “Creep”)—does the material no favors, but there is little debate to be mounted about the track selection itself, which includes a modest acoustic performance of “Plush” by Scott and Dean from a 1992 episode of MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball and a passable new rocker originally recorded (but not used) for the Spider- Man soundtrack.
In 2003, Scott Weiland joined with Guns n’ Roses alumni Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, plus guitarist David Kushner (Wasted Youth, various Mike Muir projects), to form Velvet Revolver. The DeLeo brothers officially disbanded Stone Temple Pilots at the end of the year.