Stone Temple Pilots, 2018 - Or, The Consequences of Denial
Let's play a little game, rock'n'rollers - I'm going to pick some groups, and I want you to name the first person that comes to mind: The Doors? Jim Morrison. Led Zeppelin? Robert Plant. U2? Bono. Radiohead? Thom Yorke. Cream? Eric Clapton. Stone Temple Pilots? Jeff Gutt? I didn't think so. Well, it's 2018, and we have a new album by an old band from the days of 90's alternative rock and MTV, refurbished with a lead singer chosen from a tv singing competition show. You might be wondering what motivates Robert and Dean DeLeo and Eric Kretz to soldier on under the STP banner, insisting on recording and releasing material bearing its brand.
Persistence? Loyalty? Perseverance? Or is it more likely, denial? I don't pretend to know what it was like for the members of STP to deal with the addictions and erratic behavior exhibited by deceased lead singer/lyricist Scott Weiland (who died tragically of a drug overdose in 2015 at the age of 48), but at the end of the day, what I do know is that they both loved and respected Scott for his incredible stage persona, free-associative lyricism and yes.....THE VOICE. As hard as they tried to replace Weiland (first with Talk Show in 1997, then in 2013 by recruiting Linkin Park's Chester Bennington), the results were always a mixed bag. So I gotta ask guys, why do you think that is? It's a tough question to answer, but ignoring the answer is like pretending that large pink elephant in the corner of the room doesn't exist.
This takes nothing away from the musicianship of guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo, and drummer Eric Kretz - just the opposite: it is the gorgeous hooks and pop/rock sensibilities of this power trio that propelled the introspective lyrics and emotional range Weiland brought to the group. That will never change, nor be denied by anyone who followed STP from its debut release, Core, all the way up to the last STP/Weiland outing, the eponymous Stone Temple Pilots of 2010. Which is why listening to this 2018 reboot is both disheartening and almost offensive. The import of a rock band can only be measured by the sum of its collective parts, and thinking STP can exist as STP with a new lead singer, following a catalog of six variegated and distinctive albums with Scott is, well - again that word... denial.
"Middle Of Nowhere" is a strong opening, sonically-speaking: Kretz's drums and DeLeo's guitars telegraph the intro before exploding into a blast of hook-laden fervor, while, God bless him, Jeff Gutt comes out of the gate ready for business, with a snarl that echoes "reminiscent" - holding his own even amidst the syncopated, syllabic chorus. But how can you not think of/compare to/gauge against the ghost of Scott? Seriously. And then, on the appropriately-titled "Guilty", Gutt unabashedly tries to step into Weiland's sound booth: although serviceable, the end result feels more like listening to an STP tribute band than the genuine article. When the band does manage such sleight-of-hand as the deliciously catchy, "Just A Little Lie", I for one, can't help but read a little subtext into the song's title.
There are shades of STP's Aerosmith-tinged "Huckleberry Crumble" on "Lie"; echoes of Tiny Music's "Adhesive" wafting through "The Art of Letting Go"; and if you sandwiched "Thought She'd Be Mine" between "Sour Girl" and "No Way Out" on No. 4, no one might be the wiser. But to my recollection, I've never witnessed such cannibalizing among tracks in the whole of STP's oeuvre. Which is a shame, because if this were any other album by any other group, it would be much easier to appreciate the songcraft: as Rolling Stone noted in their review of 2001's Shangri La-Dee Da, STP aren't just better on the pop tunes, they're phenomenal on the pop tunes. I would have to agree. STP 2018 closes with "Reds and Blues", a tune which suggests the morning-after effects of pharmacological excess: "Midnight afternoon/A window I can't see through/I'd rather sleep out on the Avenue than hold onto those pieces/And where you lie is where a flower grows....."
It's a somber ending for an album that wants to project nothing but sunny melodies and glam swagger; that nods repeatedly to the past and its glory days, but wants to be born again; that just can't shake the ghosts of a frontman who was (and still is) larger-than-life: who embraced his glam-rock heroes, but could also plumb the depths of his tortured soul on tunes like "Adhesive", "Hello It's Late", "Pruno" and "Pops Love Suicide." I remember seeing a clip on the official STP website of the band listening to the track master of No. 4's "Atlanta" (a heartfelt paean to Weiland's mentor, Jim Morrison) and it was painfully, poignantly obvious Robert, Dean and Eric were having a hard time reconciling the fact that this time, Scott would never return. Despite all the anger, hurt feelings and disappointments, all three of them recognized they lost not just their lead singer, but a comrade, a brother and a friend. What they haven't acknowledged (to themselves, or to us) is, that irreconcilable loss is ours as well. GRADE B