Monday, June 07, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘No. 4,’ Stone Temple Pilots (1999)

Stone Temple Pilots definitely offered a lot of variety on their first three albums, playing hard rock, pop/rock, and art-rock, respectively. On this, their obviously titled fourth effort, they perfectly merged all those styles into one heck of a CD.

I loved opener “Down” from the first moment I heard that monster riff, and nothing’s changed in a decade. This, “No Way Out,” and “MC5” are the most notable throwbacks to 1992’s bottom-heavy “Core,” but the sound is reinvigorated rather than rehashed.

The smoother sounds of STP’s second album, “Purple,” are reflected in the aptly titled “Glide,” and the more uptempo “Pruno” evokes the rolling rhythm of “Vasoline.” And then there are the trippier, “Tiny Music”-type songs, like “Sour Girl” (remember that Teletubbies-on-crack video?) and “I Got You,” while “Church on Tuesday” reminds of the clean licks from that album’s outstanding closer, “Seven Caged Tigers.” It is also worth noting Scott Weiland sings this entire disc in the shredded, dirty vocal that was such a shock when first heard on “Tiny Music.”

Of the 11 tracks on “No. 4,” there’s only one I don’t care for: the crooning closer “Atlanta.” Otherwise, this album sounds as good in 2010 as it did in 1999, and makes me wonder why I let it ride the bench for so long. (I think it has something to do with the terrible concert STP put on while touring this album. That and general Velvet Revolver revulsion.)

Grade: B+

Favorite Track: “No Way Out”

Least Favorite Track: “Atlanta”

Friday, June 04, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘Tiny Music … Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop,’ Stone Temple Pilots (1996)

This is an album for people who love albums (or CDs, as the case may be). “Tiny Music” is best heard start to finish, where the pacing and sequencing drive home how far and wide the band went for this release. From the “Press Play” instrumental intro through the fadeout of “Seven Caged Tigers,” this is Stone Temple Pilots at their artistic peak.

Stylistically this release was jarring at first—most notably Scott Weiland’s tremulous voice that sounds nothing like his bellowing on “Core” just four years earlier. The sludgy days of that debut album are (thankfully) eradicated, too, replaced by some of the best pop songs STP ever wrote. Lead single “Big Bang Baby” uncurls like a psychedelic snake (I love that key change toward the end), while “Lady Picture Show” gives “Interstate Love Song” a run for its money. “Adhesive” is a more than serviceable ballad, and “And So I Know” even successfully flirts with a jazz lounge feel. The pure adventurous spirit on display throughout this record even justifies a cheeky track like “Art School Girl.”

That’s not to say the band forgot how to rock during these recording sessions—quite the contrary, as “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart” is one of their all-time greats. “Tiny Music” also offers a trio of taut, driving rockers in “Pop’s Love Suicide,” “Tumble in the Rough,” and “Ride the Cliché.” STP saved their best for last, though, with the pure, clean lines of “Seven Caged Tigers,” one of their most underappreciated songs.

“Tiny Music” took some getting used to, certainly, but the sheer variety of musicmaking on display here rewards repeat listens. This is just such an interesting album. Consistently great? Not exactly. But never boring, and that’s what makes it such a joy to this day.

Grade: A-

Favorite Track: “Seven Caged Tigers”

Least Favorite Track: “And So I Know”

Thursday, June 03, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘Purple,’ Stone Temple Pilots (1994)

I’m not a musical engineer, so I don’t know how to describe this quite right. But when you compare STP’s second album to their debut, “Core,” these songs just sound … lighter. They still rock pretty hard throughout, but there isn’t nearly as much of the Alice in Chains-dirge to them as the last record. That change makes “Purple” more pop/rock than hard rock, and that, in turn, makes all the difference in the world because “Purple” was one of the best records of the 1990s.

The band starts with a look back: “Meatplow” would’ve fit in on “Core,” though again, there’s a bit more air in there this time around. But starting with the second track, the iconic “Vasoline,” “Purple” takes off and doesn’t turn around anymore.

“Lounge Fly” is trippy and tribal, and hints at some of the psychedelic work the band would fully embrace next time out; “Interstate Love Song” is a pop/rock masterpiece; “Pretty Penny” makes for a nice acoustic breath of fresh air in the middle of the album; “Silvergun Superman” ebbs and flows wonderfully; “Big Empty” got a big boost from its involvement with “The Crow,” but it remains a cool, dirty change-of-pace rocker; “Unglued” is as fiery as “Crackerman” without being all dumb-frat-rock about it; “Army Ants” starts with that nice false-intro swirling guitar part before exploding into another sturdy effort; and “Kitchenware & Candybars” is a more honest, pure version of the schmaltzy “Creep” from the last record.

Did I forget one? No. “Still Remains” in the fifth slot is the only track on “Purple” I absolutely do not like. Otherwise, this album’s a beast, and established STP as a band apart from their grungier brethren.

Grade: A-

Favorite Track: “Unglued”

Least Favorite Track: “Still Remains”

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘Core,’ Stone Temple Pilots (1992)

The title is ironic, isn’t it? Because nearly two decades later, these songs are clearly anything but the core of STP’s true—and best—sound.

It’s easy to see why this band was critically reviled as grunge-era Scotty-come-latelys; though distance shows STP’s debut was more Alice in Chains and Soundgarden than Pearl Jam, it does play like a bit of a ripoff. Heard in a vacuum, “Core” remains utterly listenable and appealing on a guttural level—it’s brawny, catchy alt-rock of the best kind (or worst, depending on how you feel about such things). “Crackerman,” “Dead and Bloated,” “Wicked Garden” … these songs still sound good at high volume, where it’s all about the crunchy, sludgy guitars and pounding drums and less about Scott Weiland’s macho posturing.

But time showed this is not what the Stone Temple Pilots were really about. They proved with their next two albums—both excellent—they were more interested in pop music and other more interesting twists and turns than the bland near-butt rock this record led us to believe at the time. They’re definitely more “Plush” than “Sex Type Thing.”

It’s just a shame they still trot so much of this stuff out on tour.

Grade: B-

Favorite Track: “Plush”

Least Favorite Track: “Wet My Bed”

OK, That Doesn’t Really Count So Here’s My Actual Least Favorite Track: “Piece of Pie”

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘Lungs,’ Florence + the Machine (2009)

I bought this album at nearly the exact same moment I started reading Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” and the two works will forever be linked in my heart and mind.

If Rand’s main character in “Atlas,” Dagny Taggart, could sing, she would sound like Florence Welch. Welch conveys utter strength without sacrificing an ounce of her femininity. She’s imposing at times, vulnerable at others—and sometimes both at once. She can wail with the ardent strength of PJ Harvey (“Cosmic Love”), lilt with the grace of The Cranberries’ Dolores O'Riordan (“Howl”), or summon a ghostly power a.k.a. Amy Lee of Evanescence (“Drumming Song”). For “Girl with One Eye,” she even slinks into the persona of a lounge singer.

Stylistically, “Lungs” is just as diverse. Welch’s breakthrough hit, “Kiss With A Fist,” plays like a rambunctious White Stripes song, but it’s the only one like it on the record. Elsewhere she embraces New Age, blues, gospel, and plain ol' rock, while “Hurricane Drunk” is a deliciously twinkling pop song that should make Lily Allen jealous. The constant throughout is a steady diet of thunderous drumming, heard most notably on standout cuts like “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” and “Dog Days Are Over.”

Welch brings all of these various styles together perfectly on the album’s final track, a stirring rendition of “You’ve Got the Love.” Perhaps the best song on the album, it serves as both a reminder of where you’ve just been and why it was all so thrilling.

"Lungs" is easily one of my favorite albums of 2009.

Grade: A-

Favorite Track: “Hurricane Drunk”

Least Favorite Track: “I’m Not Calling You A Liar”