Nobody ever mistook Stone Temple Pilots for beacons of originality. From the first time we heard them, we were accusing Scott Weiland of copping Eddie Vedder’s vocal style even as we were accusing the DeLeos of wishing they were Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. Eventually they morphed into a recognizable-if-derivative band on their own merits, largely thanks to the apparently drug-fueled charisma and talent of Weiland, whose destructive habits haven’t put off the rest of the band enough to make them forget that they need him.
The drugs almost won, forcing the band into hiatus for a period of six years or so following the tour for what would have been a disappointment of a final album, the underwhelming-in-every-way Shangri-La Dee Da. Mercifully for those who care about such things, 2010 brings us one more Stone Temple Pilots album, a far more fitting epilogue (or, perhaps, next chapter) for such a successful career even as it actually manages to be more overtly derivative than any album they’ve released thus far.
Of course, it’s eponymous.
In a way, the title of Stone Temple Pilots makes sense, as this album marks the first time that the references to the band’s influences and contemporaries sound intentional. It’s more homage than it is subconscious plagiarism, and as a game of “spot the influence”, it’s kind of fun (if also pretty easy). Dean DeLeo said that brother Robert “was thinking Animals or Zombies, a ’60s go-go beat and a girl in a miniskirt,” when writing opener and first single “Between the Lines”, but Scott Weiland managed to turn it into a Nirvana song when he opened his mouth, complete with a bridge that’s a near note-for-note of Nevermind‘s “Stay Away”. “Huckleberry Crumble” is unapologetically Aerosmith, while “First Kiss on Mars” and “Hickory Dichotomy” are like two different sides of David Bowie. “Cinnamon” could be Joy Division or it could be Paul Westerberg, “Dare if You Dare” is a hell of a single candidate with its John Lennon keyboards and Paul McCartney chorus, and “Take a Load Off”, well, it’s the good old days — take Purple‘s “Unglued” in one hand and “Sweet Remains” in the other, clap your hands together, and you get the idea.
Perhaps most damning about this approach is that the more obvious the source, the more memorable the song. “Between the Lines” and “Hickory Dichotomy” are certain highlights, while “First Kiss on Mars” is destined to be one of those deep cuts that the fans trot out every time the word “underappreciated” gets tossed around. Conversely, a few of the tracks that show up in the latter half of the album, straight-up rock ‘n roll songs like “Hazy Days” and “Peacoat” that actually make you think “hey, this sounds like Stone Temple Pilots,” are so easy to forget as to barely exist. There’s nothing wrong with them per se, but they don’t add anything to the album either; “Sin” and “Seven Caged Tigers” they’re not.
The good news for the members of Stone Temple Pilots is that at this point in their career, they have nothing to lose. People had moved on — Velvet Revolver put out a couple of albums, the DeLeos were making albums with guys like Richard Patrick, and the Stone Temple Pilots were a fond memory. They’d released a best-of that looked like a career capper, and few would have thought twice if they’d never released another album. Now that another album is here, it feels like bonus time. Unless the album is offensively bad, it’s hard to begrudge the feel-good story of a band finding each other all over again and realizing that they actually like to make music together.
Stone Temple Pilots is far from offensively bad; in fact, it’s the easiest Stone Temple Pilots album to listen to since at least Tiny Music, and maybe even Purple. The production is pretty smooth, and there’s a certain lightness of touch to the music that’s heretofore only been hinted at by the band. Even the dirtiest songs are tempered by something that sounds like the simple joy of writing and playing music. Derivative? Lightweight? It doesn’t really matter. If Stone Temple Pilots were ever going to get back together, this is the type of album they needed to make. They can save their ghosts, bad vibes, and profound attempts at art for another time.