Ever since the days when modern-rock radio played “Plush” three times an hour, fans have heard the story about how Stone Temple Pilots got their name. “Stone Temple Pilots doesn’t mean anything,” claimed frontman Scott Weiland; he and his bandmates simply liked the initials “STP.” At the time, it was an innocuous factoid, easily ranking among the least interesting anecdotes in rock history. More than 15 years later, the story sums up a good deal of the criticism the band has spent its career fighting. Namely, Stone Temple Pilots put style over substance, and beyond that, substance abuse over style. To put it another way, they never meant anything.
But this isn’t entirely true. Stone Temple Pilots have re-emerged in 2010 with their first new album in nine years, the solid, straightforward, and aptly titled Stone Temple Pilots. For those expecting a bold new direction or a desperate Hail Mary pass for long-overdue critical respect, it’s safe to assume you were never a real fan to begin with. After all, the best-kept secret about Stone Temple Pilots has never been Weiland’s drug problems or Pearl Jam’s influence; it’s the quality of the songs — from the overplayed “Plush” and “Interstate Love Song” to the undeniable pop triumphs of “Big Bang Baby,” “Sour Girl,” and “Between the Lines,” the supercharged first single from the new album. STP are never groundbreaking, rarely deep, but they’re almost always good.
“I think this time we were dead on,” says drummer Eric Kretz. “We definitely wanted to make more of a rock record than an art record. Going into this, we realized we haven’t had an album out in eight or nine years. We thought, What would STP fans really want to hear right now? That led us to more of a straight-ahead rock approach, with harder elements and songs that are in your face.”
Supposedly, bassist Dean DeLeo coaxed the ever-troubled Weiland back into the fold by asking him, “Want to make a million dollars?” The band’s motivation is clear. Not that any of them would tell you otherwise —STP’s commercial drive separates them from other more critically beloved alternative bands that are also doing the reunion thing this summer (including Pavement, who famously brushed off Stone Temple Pilots in 1994’s “Range Life”).
Indeed. Kretz agrees with Weiland’s statement that the party is over, and it’s all about business now. “When you’re touring in your 20s, you can just completely abuse yourself and get right back up there and do it again,” says Kretz. “Whereas now, I’m in my 40s [and] I can’t really do that anymore. It just hurts too much to abuse myself and try to play a great show the next day.”
On the bright side, growing up has also helped STP finally push the sex and drugs aside for the music, allowing their live show to come together, despite the long hiatus (a period highlighted by Weiland’s predictably tumultuous run with Velvet Revolver). Like the new record, the onstage focus these days is firmly on pleasing fans. Kretz says the band is playing some songs that haven’t been heard in concert for 15 years.
Meanwhile, perhaps as a testament to Stone Temple Pilot’s lasting appeal — or the fact that you can still hear “Plush” on the radio a few times a day — the band is drawing younger fans to their shows. “We see quite a few teenagers and sometimes even younger kids who are there with their parents,” says Kretz. “It kind of makes you wonder, Was STP a baby machine? When people saw us 14 years ago, were they so excited that night that they went home and created some new fans to come and see us years later?”
And so the circle of life continues for one of the nation’s most successful but underappreciated rock bands. Kretz is well aware that the grunge tag and Weiland’s tabloid shenanigans have cast long shadows over Stone Temple Pilot’s music. But he also sees a silver lining. “It bothered me more in the past, having to talk about Scott’s problems,” he says. “But he’s doing really good right now, so it’s a lot easier to talk about it.
“In the end, though, it’s all just part of our history,” he concludes. “And in some ways, it could play a role in why the music is better than some other bands. It’s part of our struggle.” —Andrew Clayman
Stone Temple Pilots, with Cage the Elephant, play Time Warner Cable Amphitheater at Tower City at 7 p.m. Tickets: $47.50
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