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STONE TEMPLE PILOTS

Core
Rating: 5
   A loyal reader asked me to review some grunge music. I'm assuming he was just looking for some cheap shots, so here goes: if you liked Billy Squier's Zeppelin-ripoff sound but thought the solos weren't sloppy enough, then this album's for you.
   Seriously, though, there are a number of things to like about STP, and they've only gotten better as they've aged. Core, their first album, has plenty of weaknesses that they've overcome in their later records.
   The big advantage STP has over other grunge outfits is a top-notch vocalist. Scott Weiland spends most of his time on this album growling in his best Eddie Vedder impersonation, and occasionally goes over to Layne Staley's style, but when he chooses to, he can croon smoothly, impart an ironic tone to the lyrics, and even hit some pretty high notes. Producer Brendan O'Brien makes the mistake of burying him in the mix this time around. His best moments, on the chorus of "Creep" and the verses of "Plush" are terrific, though, with a controlled intensity that makes these memorable hits.
   The band's biggest weakness is drummer Eric Kretz. He's solid enough, but seems to completely lack imagination. Every song is a straight four-four beat, and he even misses his big opportunities, like when the guitar riff pauses in "Plush" and he sticks in: a single flam. Very disappointing. Other grunge drummers were throwing in double-bass drumming, cross-stick work, complex synocopations (check out Collective Soul's drummer for some fine integration of jazz influence into grunge), but Kretz is Mr. Predictable. Somewhere between these poles are the riffs by the brothers DeLeo. I kept playing "Spot That Riff" throughout the album. Sometimes it sounds like Zeppelin, others like Dead Kennedys slowed down, sometimes like a song you heard earlier on the album. They sure like that E-F#m eighth-note vamp. Dean DeLeo wisely sticks to rhythm work for the most part. He's got a nice thick tone (my guess is a Marshall stack with a Les Paul switched to the back pickup), but his solos are dripping with wah-wah and are pretty unfocused, just playing licks until the time runs out. I found the solo in "Piece of Pie" so distracting that I couldn't enjoy the rest of the song.
   Weiland comes up with some good melodies, though, to top off the riffs. "Creep" has a nice double-arc in the chorus, "Dead and Bloated" works a small downward scale into the title phrase, and "Plush" is simply one of the better songs written in the early 90's. Robert DeLeo came up with a winner set of chords, all diminished and threatening, with an absorbing rhythm, and Weiland sings a complicated melody that stands out in the rock world for sounding like a Hungarian folk song (but it all works.) I don't understand what the words mean, but I don't understood "Wooly Bully" either and I still like that.
   Sorry I couldn't provide any more nastiness. This album's flaws are pretty obvious, but that's no reason to harp on them.

READER COMMENTS

  • From Tony Souza: I was pleasantly surprised at the rating. STP is a much-maligned band accused at the time of ripping off the Seattle sound ("Clone Temple Pilots"). There's no denying that the sound on here is a little too close to grunge, so the critics have a point, but most of the songs on here are very good. I agree with your comments about the drumming, and Dean DeLeo wisely stays away from soloing on most of the record, but Weiland's voice is distinctive and the songwriting is above-average. I'm also a sucker for that nice, fat, bass tone that Robert DeLeo uses. It does have obvious flaws though, so I think your rating is more than fair. Their later releases (especially Purple and No. 4) get better.

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