Perhaps doomed to remain unfairly ignored by hipsters and to confound torch-carrying grunge fans, the most winning aspect of Happy in Galoshes is that it sounds like the work of an artist who’s doing it for nobody but himself.
To be sure, the Scott Weiland of Happy in Galoshes is not the same dude I witnessed belting “Plush” and beating the crap out of a concert-goer at a Stone Temple Pilots festival gig back in the early ‘90s. And it’s not the same Weiland who penned and crooned the more experimental late-era STP tunes that a dear friend played for me long after I’d moved past that band. Velvet Revolver? Nope, thankfully this new solo record has shit to do with that shit. Love him or hate him, Scott Weiland has always been a rock and roll chameleon par excellence, with a knack for both fulfilling and completely subverting audiences’ expectations. For critics, this has been an easy excuse to brand him as unoriginal, untalented, a hack. For believers, this shape-shifting has meant there’s no way to guess what comes next, for better or worse -- 12 Bar Blues, Tiny Music, or Libertad.
I’ve done time in both camps, as a junior high kid enraptured by angsty, manly baritones, and as a skeptical young adult sworn to avoid anything remotely connected with the beaten horse carcass of mainstream rock. But being a mina bird is a skill and a gift just like any other, and Happy in Galoshes is more proof that Weiland’s got it. And much as I’ve always preferred that first band Weiland was accused of aping, Pearl Jam, it can’t be denied that the man has long been taking sharper turns and bigger artistic gambles with each new project. On Happy in Galoshes, he’s Lou Reed on the cover, Bowie, Dylan, and Costello in the songs, and within his own mien he’s defiantly weird. Perhaps doomed to remain unfairly ignored by hipsters and to confound torch-carrying grunge fans, the most winning aspect of Happy in Galoshes is that it sounds like the work of an artist who’s doing it for nobody but himself.
After the dirge-fest of STP’s debut Core, Weiland’s fondness for pop melodicism began to creep into the band’s work in earnest, and has remained a staple of his repertoire ever since. “Tangle with Your Mind” works this angle to a bizarrely satisfying end, with a banjo (!) underlining much of the song and the singer’s affected Dylanesque drawl lazing across infectious verses and choruses. But despite its instrumentation and vocal influence, the song is solidly radio-friendly pop rock with its emotions and hooks on its sleeves. Similarly, the lounge-y, bossa nova of “Killing Me Sweetly” is a decade too late to be included on Beck’s Mutations, but is nonetheless well constructed and executed. Strangely enough, the biggest liability Weiland seems to carry is his tenor, which is generally on key and even capable of brief falsettos, but is also at times disappointingly thin. The pleasing crunch of opener “Missing Cleveland”, for example, is marred by his multi-tracked whine, which competes with keyboard effects in a contest to best replicate a swarm of angry bees.
Not giving a damn for real or concocted soap opera, I wouldn’t know where to start in dissecting Weiland’s lyrics for insight into his actual life. I’m more drawn in by the strange piano intro and horn blasts of “Pictures and Computers” than the confessional bent of “When I’m alone / The world’s at bay / Keeping still / As I slip away / But I’m not Superman and I’m not Everyman”. It’s the verses’ bounce and smart production that hold my interest, rock balladry as inventive and true to his own muse as it is heavily, heavily influenced by others. From the buzzy, upside-down R&B of “Big Black Monster” to the Soft Bulletin soft-shoe at the beginning of “She Sold Her System” to the geeky, tongue-in-cheek Byrne/Bowie hip-hop of “Fame”, Happy in Galoshes is a fresh start for a rock star who began his career derided as a lightweight, but who is slowly gaining respect and credibility both in hindsight and looking forward. I never thought I’d say this, but this record has me looking forward.