Stone Temple Pilots - Tiny Music… Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop (Super Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews

Stone Temple Pilots - Tiny Music… Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop (Super Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews
Newly reissued for its 25th anniversary, STP’s sunbaked album of glam and pop and rock ranks as one of their best, separating them from the pack of post-grunge wannabes.  

Depending on your perspective, Stone Temple Pilots’ debut, 1992’s Core, was either the last of the first wave of big-alt rock records lumped under the name “grunge,” or it was the first major album to arrive in the wake of the genre’s success. Either way, it caused enough chop to trouble the already turbulent waters of Puget Sound. For the first three years of the band’s career, most critics and artists viewed them as poseurs grasping at the hem of Eddie Vedder’s cutoffs. In his 1993 Spin cover story, subtly titled “Steal This Hook,” Jonathan Gold reports that Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers was fond of calling STP “Stone Pimple Toilets.”

But for the millions of teenaged Gen-Xers headbanging to “Sex Type Thing” in their Geo Prizms, the question of whether Scott Weiland and his bandmates—brothers Robert and Dean DeLeo on bass and guitar, plus drummer Eric Kretz—had a cultural right to their Big Muff pedals and thrift-store clothing didn’t matter. They wrote killer rock songs, and that was enough. This, it seems, was also STP’s first priority. At a time when authenticity was considered in terms of artistic novelty and personal torment—and when critics thought authenticity was music’s primary aim—STP understood alternative rock as merely another kind of pop music and were content to work within its established forms. When the flannel grew too warm, they simply shrugged it off.

Remarkably, they didn’t bother putting on anything else. Their third album, 1996’s Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop—reissued for its 25th anniversary with a collection of alternate takes and a 1997 live set from Panama City Beach—is glammy and sexy in a way that would make Seattle’s gatekeepers blush. Its experimental streak—while slightly overstated in later years—showed that they were willing to explore new sounds, but only if they resulted in pop gold. The songs themselves are emotionally direct, conjuring T. Rex, Bowie, and Exile-era Rolling Stones; like those totems of exhaustion and bravado, nearly every song sounds like it was made at 4:30 in the morning.

Everything moves quickly and smoothly, Weiland’s voice raspy like a skate blade on old ice. While the band’s early singles like “Plush” and “Dead & Bloated” were more melodically developed, they could come off as plodding and a little pushy, cornering you like a grad student at a party who really wants you to get where he’s coming from. “Pop’s Love Suicide” and “Tumble in the Rough,” which kick off the album, both sound like they’re being hammered out of tin. They move with a newfound speed and ease, but their casual arrangements and flat melodies make them feel slight; you can barely imagine them soundtracking a Surge ad, much less standing against the post-grunge glam that Spacehog were already perfecting.

It may seem unfair to frame Stone Temple Pilots in relation to the artists they were channeling, but originality was never their goal. “The last thing I wanted to do with this band was make everybody believe we invented something,” Robert DeLeo told the L.A. Times in 1994. Accordingly, many of Tiny Music’s best moments come when the band openly embraces its influences. “Lady Picture Show” is a stately piece of Beatles pop that sounds like a version of “You Never Give Me Your Money” that’s been left in the street for a few days. Though Weiland would later say that it’s about “the horrific gang rape of a dancer who winds up falling in love but can’t let go of the pain,” the song never wears its emotional heaviness too proudly; like Paul McCartney delivering “Eleanor Rigby,” Weiland comes off as a concerned—if lyrically obtuse—observer, and the distance he places between himself and the subject gives the song a melancholy air that’s light-years removed from the clumsiness of “Sex Type Thing.”

“Big Bang Baby” goes one step further, namechecking Bowie’s “Station to Station” and directly nicking the chorus melody from the Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” While the latter made Pitchfork’s then-editor accuse them of plagiarism in a genuinely deplorable review upon its original release, Weiland was trying to use one of the most famous rock songs of all time as a sly comment on the weight of stardom: “Sell your soul and sign an autograph,” he sings in the preceding lyric. When the band shifts from the churning glam of the chorus to a beautifully chiming refrain of “Nothing’s for free,” the irony is apparent. Rarely had they sounded so in command of their craft.

“Adhesive,” meanwhile, showed that Stone Temple Pilots were still tuned in to alternative radio, its slow blooms of overdriven guitar and subdued vocals floating in the same galaxy as Hum’s 1995 hit “Stars.” Weiland was in the grips of a heroin addiction that would slowly erode his life over the next two decades. But now, roughly two years after the death of Kurt Cobain, he was keenly aware of himself as a product and how his own death would likely be co-opted by the industry. “Sell more records if I’m dead,” he sings. “Hope it’s near corporate records’ fiscal year.” Even as the song rises to a chorus, his voice remains weak and thin; it’s one of the only times on Tiny Music that he returns to the alienation that marked the band’s early work.

Despite the occasional introspective moments, Tiny Music is primarily an album of expansion. It was recorded in a 25,000-square-foot mansion north of Santa Barbara, throughout its bathrooms, hallways, and even on the lawn. The tracks here that were preposterous to critics at the time now seem like the album’s most carefully considered—and daring—moments. NME called “And So I Know” “blatant easy listening” likely because the cool sway of its starry guitar-jazz was wildly at odds with what passed for sensitivity among male-fronted groups at the time. While the song was never released as a single, it showed that a rock band could be sincere without being abrasive, broadening the era’s narrow conceptions of authenticity and masculinity, even if only slightly. A few years later, Incubus would sell a ton of records playing basically the same kind of song. You can also hear the past and future of alt-rock radio in “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart,” whose burning chorus would’ve fit on Alice in Chains’ Dirt, and whose choppy, pepped-up verses cleared a happier path out of grunge that bands like Third Eye Blind would gladly follow.

A complete take of the abbreviated album opener “Press Play” aside, the alternate cuts collected on this reissue are more interesting than essential, but the Panama City Beach concert captures Stone Temple Pilots’ power as a live band. Parts of this set aired on MTV’s Spring Break, and if the crowd chatter during the quieter moments is any indication, this was not the most attentive audience STP ever played for. But the band doesn’t seem to notice or care. Robert DeLeo covers so much ground, he seems to be playing rhythm and lead at once, steering feedback and slide guitar through the verses of “Big Empty” and replicating the ripples of organ in “Lady Picture Show.”

Hearing Weiland toggle between the voice he used on Core and Purple and the coy shout he developed for Tiny Music is a reminder that his vocal transformation in the mid-’90s is arguably Tiny Music’s biggest artistic leap; he takes melodic lines with a tongue-curling insouciance that makes him sound like Bono gone hoarse with jet lag, and his ability to convincingly inhabit both the swirling darkness of the first two records and the bright pop of Tiny Music in this set is remarkable. The tracklist is split evenly among their three albums, highlighting just how many hits these guys had already accumulated by 1997.

In his 1996 review of Tiny Music, Spin’s Charles Aaron suggested that Stone Temple Pilots fundamentally lacked irony. That’s not quite correct, even if by “irony” Aaron meant the kind of cynicism toward the trappings of rock culture that the alternative movement had been so keen to avoid. While that supposed deficiency prevented them from being accepted by the alt- and indie-rock stars of their day, it also allowed them to embrace big, powerful, goofball rock’n’roll without second-guessing their ambition. Sure, that’s probably how Scott Weiland ended up duetting with Fred Durst and Jonathan Davis on Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other and how we all ended up with Velvet Revolver. But it’s also how Stone Temple Pilots managed to evolve into a much more interesting band without losing their pop appeal. For a band who was regularly accused of chasing trends, Tiny Music proved they were willing to buck the defining characteristic of the era: They made being in a hugely famous—if somewhat dopey—rock band sound like it might actually be fun.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Stone Temple Pilots - Tiny Music… Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop (Super Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews Stone Temple Pilots - Tiny Music… Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop (Super Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on July 31, 2021 Rating: 5


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