Stone Temple Pilots have endured a gargantuan amount of criticism in their time, both good and bad, fair and unfair. They’ve been heralded as one of grunge’s big guns, dismissed as a Pearl Jam replica, lambasted for their (lack of?) overall talent, and applauded by a considerably loyal fan base. All in all, they’ve withstood a great deal to keep recording, like Scott Weiland’s abuse problem, his between rehab solo album, and the other player’s lackluster side-project, Talk Show. Not to mention the aforementioned public scrutiny. And here, out of this pile of madness, emerges No 4, an album that surely won’t snag a Grammy or win back the legions of fans and critics who have jumped the ship after Tiny Music Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop. But No 4 stands on its own as a decent little rock album.
If nothing else, you can’t accuse No 4 of being a copycat record. Whereas you could easily pinpoint Pearl Jam and Beatles influence in previous works, No 4 is predominantly a Stone Temple Pilots-sounding effort. In part, that’s because of lot of this material sounds rehashed from their previous works. But it’s also because, as much as many people would hate to admit, STP have a style specific to themselves, even in the generality of it: full-out, balls-to-the-wall, nonsense rock with a subtle verse-chorus-verse pop sensibility. Sure one might hear David Bowie in “Sex & Violence,” and The Doors (heavily) in “Atlanta,” but “Heaven & Hot Rods,” and “Pruno” could come from no other modern rock outfit. On the other hand, “I Got You” is as straight-forward country pop as you’ll ever hear from these guys, and though it hardly sounds like them, it’s curiously one of the best tracks on the album.
As always however, one of the chief downfalls of STP’s music are Weiland’s lyrics: occasionally poignant, often ludicrous or infantile. “Pruno” offers the 7,843rd horrendous variation on the question/answer possession/searching motif (“I know the questions, but I lost the answers”). From a band who released a song on their last album entitled “Ride the Cliché,” you’d think they’d know better. And even with the charm of “I Got You,” lines like “And I got you to paint the sorrow on my day/And I got you to paint the roses on my grave,” seem hopelessly out of place. To his credit, though, and maybe as a result of so strongly evoking Jim Morrsion, “Atlanta” is quite well-written, easily one of his best. (Although who can deny the sentimental power of “Crackerman” or “Unglued?”) Sadly, Scott Weiland’s well-publicized battles with addiction and the unsettling mess that is Tiny Music may prove the band’s best days are behind them. Still, No 4 is a stark improvement from its sloppy, misguided predecessor, and a pretty good representation of how rock/pop/(gasp!)grunge music can still be worthwhile in the days of teenage vixens, processed boy bands, and Chris Gaines.