What happens when you take four band members, put them up in an idyllic beach house, and film their every move? Well yes, you do get that already classic episode of The Real World Meets Bands on the Run guest-starring Pamela Anderson. But more importantly, you get Shangri La Dee Da, Stone Temple Pilots' rollickin' fifth album.
Headlining MTV's "Return of the Rock" tour last fall must have rubbed off on STP -- as soon as the trek ended, the band moved into its very own Real World inspired dream house. Shangri La Dee Da was written and recorded in the same Malibu villa where Scott showered (mmm...early '90s fantasies are suddenly flooding back) and Eric made toast. And if that isn't MTV worthy enough, the entire undertaking was caught on film by photographer Chapman Baehler.
Because STP were literally recording in the living room, Shangri La displays an earnestness and a level of comfort not heard on previous albums. A band that has intentionally held back over the past 12 years is now baring all, or at least enough to get fans pretty damn excited.
From battling the past in "Dumb Love" ("Alcohol, it's a lie") to being a dad in "A Song for Sleeping" ("You're more than beautiful / And you're my son"), the lyrics are sincere and gripping -- and often times scathing. "Too Cool Queenie", a song about a vindictive siren who prompts her musician-husband's suicide, seems to point hot-pink fingernails at America's favorite bitch, Courtney Love.
Shangri La Dee Da is a complex and genre-bending joyride. Sprinkled with strung-out psychedelia, punk pulsations, and poppy melodies, it provides an ideal context for Scott's ever-shifting vocal styles. Songs like "Long Way Home" maintain the guttural growling of the first album, while "Hello It's Late" and "Black Again" lean towards glam-rock crooning. On "Coma" his voice even imitates a scratchy guitar.
The video for "Days of the Week" presents STP as spaced-out glam guys and the cover art portrays them as color-dripping neo-hippies. But in the end, Shangri La Dee Da is just a solid rock and roll album. And amidst the emo/pastoral/noise/math/art-rock overload, it is strangely refreshing. Shangri La is reminiscent of the '60s or maybe the '80s -- it has that timeless, classic rock feel. Complete with roaring guitar riffs, a preening lead singer, and some pretty ballads, it is a big, beautiful, Stones-y album.
Brendan O'Brien's hi-fi recording style is a testament to this love of pure rock. The songs are fully separated and incredibly clear -- the bass is deep, the guitar squeals, the drums rumble, and the vocals soar. The sound is enormous.
Judging by the album's honesty and invigorating energy, the Stone Temple Pilots are over the drama of the past and ready to rock forward. Let's just hope they get out another album this good before Scott uses Dean's nail polish without asking, or Robert forgets to put his bass away, and the band is thrust into true MTV-land turmoil.