Music

Stone Temple Pilots Return With a New Singer and a Familiar-Sounding Album

Photo: Michelle Shiers

Stone Temple Pilots recruit a singer from a TV singing competition, make a back to basics album, and prepare to join the nostalgia circuit.

Stone Temple Pilots (2018)
Stone Temple Pilots

Rhino

16 March 2018

Stone Temple Pilots have tried this before. In 2010 the band tried to revive its flagging commercial career, reuniting with lapsed vocalist Scott Weiland and releasing a back to basics self-titled album. Although the album was a mild success, it didn't reach anywhere near the heights of their '90s heyday. This new album for 2018 is, not coincidentally, also a back to basics self-titled album.

Due to Weiland's long history of unreliability related to substance abuse problems, the rest of the band has occasionally tried using different singers. First up was Talk Show in 1997, which attempted to prove that guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo, and drummer Eric Kretz could be successful even with a different singer and band name. Talk Show was the opposite of success, breaking up after one album and one year in the wake of fan disinterest despite plenty of promotion from their record label and MTV.

The band officially fired Scott Weiland in 2013 after more substance abuse-related issues and teamed up with Linkin Parker singer Chester Bennington for a couple of years. Bennington was never going to be a permanent replacement, as Linkin Park was one of the few big-time rock successes of the 21st-century, but his tenure with the band probably helped them sell some concert tickets. Weiland passed away in 2015, losing his lifelong battle with addiction, and Bennington committed suicide in 2017.

In the wake of these tragic circumstances, Stone Temple Pilots turned to a uniquely 21st-century solution to replace their deceased lead singer: a contestant from a television singing competition. Like INXS (with J.D. Fortune) and Queen (with Adam Lambert) before them, Stone Temple Pilots recruited Jeff Gutt, best known for finishing second on season three of The X Factor USA. Gutt, it turns out, is a solid replacement for Weiland, a virtual sound alike that feels very natural singing in front of the veteran band.

The goal of Stone Temple Pilots (2018) doesn't seem to be reaching the top of the charts with catchy rock singles and selling millions of albums. It's been over 20 years since the band did that and that kind of success today would be out of left field. Rather, this record serves as an introduction to Gutt, to show that he can front the band without shaking things up too much. It gives the DeLeos and Kretz a chance to play some new material and something to sell to longtime fans at their concerts. Most of all, it gives the band a steady, reliable vocalist that will allow Stone Temple Pilots to join the nostalgia circuit, playing clubs and theaters to aging GenX'ers (like me) while doing the occasional '90s summer package tour (coming soon to an amphitheater near you, probably: STP, Everclear, Soul Asylum, and Alanis Morissette), and even getting in on the State Fair scene.

The album achieves all of those modest goals. It is competent and catchy. It rocks hard much of the time but also slows down for more tender and easygoing songs. And Gutt belts it out, rasps, and croons like Weiland before him, just minus some of the swagger that made Weiland such an engaging personality.

Opener "Middle of Nowhere" illustrates all of this nicely. Gutt sings catchy nonsense like "Don't fall in love with the midnight train / 'Cause it'll leave you in the middle of nowhere" over a driving rhythm section and a pair of solid but unremarkable guitar riffs. On the other end of the spectrum, the sunny and wistful "Thought She'd Be Mine" recalls the band's iconic hit "Interstate Love Song" stylistically without directly echoing it. A pleasant acoustic rhythm guitar provides the song's bedrock while slow, reverb-laden electric guitar leads swirl around. Gutt croons pleasantly of mild regrets, and overall the song is a big success. Splitting the difference is the album's first single, "Meadow". This song has a bright vocal melody in the verses over buzzing guitars (previous STP song touchpoint: "Vasoline"), which leads into an even brighter pre-chorus that declares "We're all just having fun / In the sun." The actual chorus features the band at full volume, including Gutt just belting it out as much as possible, but in cranking the volume, it jettisons all of the song's other hooks.

The rest of the album is essentially just minor variations on these three types of songs. Stone Temple Pilots are not interested in taking chances on this record. The hard-rocking "Six Eight" has a bit of a jittery groove to it. Music nerds, can you guess why from the title? That's right, instead of the standard 4/4 time signature the vast majority of rock songs are in, the band wrote a song in 6/8 time and was so impressed by this fact that they named the song after it. Album closer "Reds and Blues" is another acoustic ballad, but the guitar and bass double a really nice riff and the song's changes all blend together very nicely. Maybe the band should be focusing more on these relaxed songs because the couple of times they try it on this album they end up with musical nuance and catchiness that is tougher to come by on their hard rock tracks.

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