Grunge band Stone Temple Pilots finds success with a new singer.
The Stone Temple Pilots (STP for short) are an American rock band formed in 1989 in southern California. The band’s music is similar to many of the grunge acts to appear out of Seattle in the mid-1980s, such as Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. However, due to their relatively late formation and their location in California, the Stone Temple Pilots were often called “grunge imitators” by their critics. This didn’t seem to stop their meteoric rise in popularity, however. Even despite the dismissal of the band as Pearl Jam clones by the music press, the quality of the band’s music stood for itself. Fans bought their early records eagerly, launching their freshman and sophomore efforts to numbers three and one respectively on the Billboard 200.
The band split and reformed multiple times in the 2000s, but after a final falling out between Scott Weiland (lead vocals), and brothers Robert and Dean Deleo (bass and guitar), The Stone Temple Pilots were forced to move on without their original vocalist. Chester Bennington, Linkin Park vocalist and a good friend of the DeLeo brothers, joined the band as lead vocalist in May of 2013. Shortly after Bennington left the band to work on Linkin Park full time in 2015, Weiland was found dead in Minnesota. An audition for a replacement vocalist was launched, and only a few months later Bennington passed away. Despite the tragedy surrounding the vocalist position, The Pilots moved on with the audition. After selecting X Factor runner-up Jeff Gutt for the position, they began work on a new album.
On March 16th of 2018, the album “Stone Temple Pilots” was released. This was the second consecutive self-titled EP for the band, in an attempt to reinvent themselves in Weiland’s absence. The critical reception of the album was decent, but it received high praise from the general audience. The album was able to reach 24th on the Billboard 200; it’s a far cry from the 1st and 3rd that previous albums had achieved, but considering the dominance of hip-hop on the music charts in modern times, it’s a respectable showing nonetheless.
There’s a lot to analyze on this record, with 12 tracks totaling a runtime of almost 45 minutes. Gutt’s vocal performance is an almost frightening imitation of Weiland’s early work for the band. He manages to slide seamlessly from a whisper or a growl to belting out powerful verses in perfect harmony, capturing a lot of what made Weiland’s vocals so enticing. The first five songs are high energy hard rock jams that, combined with some heavy, high octane riffs, form a convincing demonstration of Gutt’s powerful lungs. “Middle of Nowhere,” introduces the audience to the new Stone Temple Pilots with a fast paced groove and serves as an exciting opener to the record. Track three “Meadow” is one of the stand out songs on the record, with an instrumental build up that supports what can only be described as a vocal explosion. It’s an entirely different sound for the band; it feels in many ways much more produced than the band’s early sound. The instrumentals have been tinkered with meticulously, and while it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it certainly changes the mood that the song would otherwise evoke. “Roll Me Under” is a similarly produced song, both in energy and guitar tone. It’s energizing and different, and it feels refreshing for the band to explore new horizons.
Although there’s plenty of praise to be given to the record for it’s more upbeat tunes, the softer tracks “Thought She’d Be Mine” and “The Art of Letting Go” are where the album really shines. Track six “Thought She’d Be Mine” opens with a beautiful acoustic intro, and serves as a break from the manic pace of the first five songs. The song gives Gutt an opportunity to slow down and show off his vocal prowess in a more harmonic fashion. “The Art Of Letting Go” is far and away the best song on the album, with a performance from Gutt that’s breathtaking in its own right, supported by instrumentals that take a back seat to allow the vocals to shine.
Even with so much to love in this release, it’s not flawless. The record suffers at the end, with the last three songs delivering a generic, uninspired finish to what could have been a fantastic album. The melodies to the concluding tracks “Good Shoes” and “Reds & Blues” are entirely forgettable and bland. The album would have been better off ending on “The Art Of Letting Go,” leaving the audience floored after one killer final vocal performance. There’s some other cheesy bits that the Stone Temple Pilots could have done without, too. Track five “Six Eight” is a lazily titled song, flaunting the fact that the song was composed in the unusual time signature 6/8. While it’s mildly interesting to have a rock composition written in such an unorthodox way, it’s not as if STP are even close to the first major rock band to incorporate 6/8 time into their music, and it’s certainly not worth stripping a song of its identity by giving it such an obnoxious title. There’s a few other small nitpicks, too, the largest among an issue with the bass guitar mixing. The bass is mixed pretty inconsistently across tracks, which leaves some songs like “Guilty” feeling a bit shallow and decreases the cohesion of the record as a whole.
Overall, there’s a lot that prevents the album from being excellent, but nothing that prevents it from being a solid addition to an extensive discography. The Stone Temple Pilots succeeded in showing that they’re good musicians independently of Weiland, and released an album that, while far from being perfect, pleased crowds and solidified Gutt’s role in the band going forward.
OFFICIAL SCORE ON THE BAXTER-SCALE: 7/10