The year was 2010. The date was today. The record was simply titled, Stone Temple Pilots. After nine long years, it was beyond exciting to have a new record from these ’90s rock pioneers in my hands. Little did I know it would be Scott Weiland’s final recording with the band. Although, unfortunately, neither his departure in 2013 nor his passing in 2015 was totally shocking to most people.
The cover, designed by street artist Shepard Fairey, featured a peace sign filled in with paisley style artwork. The origin of this Persian design stems from the Cypress Tree, which symbolizes life and eternity. It’s somewhat somber to reflect on this now, realizing they were making a statement about celebrating life together. One thing is certain though— Scott’s legacy, and the music he created with his brothers in STP, will live forever.
This album, produced by the powerhouse siblings Robert and Dean DeLeo, showed they were capable of more than just writing catchy tunes and playing their fingers off (as if that wasn’t enough). The sound quality delivered a knockout blow to my senses and remained sharp when turned up to 11 (which is the only way to enjoy it). Releasing “Between the Lines” as the first single, and album opener, was a wise move. Its aggressive energy pulled me in instantly. The chorus read like testimony from Weiland:
“I like it when you talk about love
You always were my favorite drug
Even when we used to take drugs”
He made it a point to repeat, “Even when we used to take,” numerous times, as though he were trying to convince us he was really clean. However, it’s the “we,” that’s always thrown me off. It’s possible he only stopped doing drugs with one specific person. I also considered the opening lines, “Lovely disguise / Read between the lines.” Was he lying to us? Was he lying to himself? Is it possible to write lyrics like, “Penguins don’t fly / Crocodiles sometimes smile / I really love to fish / But don’t like superficial people,” if you’re not on drugs? The world may never know. What we do know is that he claimed to be sober while recording this. What I know is that he was at the top of his game when it came to his poetry and vocal delivery, and it’s an attribute of his I miss terribly in today’s music.
I believe this album is underrated and often overlooked by rock fans. Hardly anyone mentions it, and that shouldn’t be. There are so many classic riffs jammed into this that at first, I was unsure if I was listening to Stone Temple Pilots, or a supergroup featuring members of Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, and (my first love) Aerosmith. It’s most evident on the foot-stompin’, head-bobbin’, pelvis-thrustin’, “Huckleberry Crumble,” “Hickory Dichotomy,” and “Hazy Daze” (is that enough “H” songs for ya?) Even the titles conjured up images of guys with tie-dye t-shirts, bell-bottom jeans, and hair down to their ass cheeks.
Dean crafted licks that could snake through my cranium and stick to every vulnerable, unsuspecting brain cell. I recall thinking, “Man, this guy must be as big of a Brad Whitford fan as I am,” and a radio interview around this time confirmed this. And when I heard the climax of his solo in “Hickory,” I swore he was going to glide into “Dancing Days” by the great Jimmy Page. Even while his powerful leads soared through my speakers, I could still hear Robert’s unmistakably tight bass playing, keeping things smooth and heavy as ever.
“Bagman” had similar attitude and groove, while drawing influence from the vocal stylings of Steven Tyler, specifically “Line Up,” from Aerosmith’s Get a Grip. This record wasn’t quite as diverse as their previous releases, but wedged between those fuzzed-out jam sessions was the massively upbeat tune, “Cinnamon.” This one had “radio play” written all over it, and my local rock station took that ball and ran with it hard. I was unsure about this one at first, but it quickly, and sneakily grew on me. It’s one of the poppiest things they’ve done, yet it still doesn’t muster any complaints from me.
On the back end, I was thrilled with the one-two-punch of the grungier “Peacoat,” and the energetic shuffle of “Fast as I Can.” They really showcased the various talents of Eric Kretz on the skins. “Dare if you Dare” and “First Kiss on Mars” sounded like they gave their singer the night off, and snuck David Bowie in the back door (on the latter, Weiland even references “modern love”). This, of course, is a compliment of the highest magnitude toward both men. Imitation, when done right, is the sincerest form of rock ‘n’ roll.
The bonus live tracks were a treat, especially the timeless “Vasoline.” Performances of newbies, “Hickory Dichotomy” and “Between the Lines” showed they still had their concert chops intact. This was proven to me in full force when I caught their tour supporting this album. The band, alongside a lively, humble, completely sober Scott Weiland, blasted the whole damn venue to pieces before taking their gracious bow before an exhilarated crowd.
It was clear with this album that Stone Temple Pilots were “Back in the saddle again,” as another band once said. An interior photo showed all four members literally jumping for joy. They seemed to be in a happy place, and damn proud of this reunion release. My eyes lit up like the Big Bang (Baby) when I discovered the LP-sized foldout poster placed inside the CD package. They were making a statement. They looked strong and united. It’s tragic it didn’t last longer, but it felt good to be a fan of the band then, and it still does today.