SOUNDGARDEN – DOWN ON THE UPSIDE (1996)

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS – Purple (1994)

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS – PURPLE June 7th, 1994, Stone Temple Pilots released their second studio album Purple, on Atlantic Records. As 1994 rolled into view, Stone Temple Pilots were on a hot streak. Multiple hit singles from their massive debut album, 1992’s Core, had garnered them legions of new fans and worldwide attention. Yet more than almost any band of the era, STP were beset with detractors who felt that they were late comers to the “grunge” movement.

The press accused the band of capitalizing on the path laid out by those who came before them. Sections of the public in turn dismissed them, because, well, you know, if you read it in the press, it has to be true, right..?. By the time the band finished promoting Purple, those detractors were unequivocally silenced.

Prior to the release of Purple, bassist Robert DeLeo told Guitar Player magazine, “It’s a shame that the press base our existence on one album. It’s not fair to any band… We’re all growing as people and musicians, just give it time and things will branch out.” And true to their word, branch out they did.

Purple was preceded by the single “Big Empty” which was released on the Crow Motion Picture Soundtrack in March of 1994. This was fans first glimpse at new material from the band since Core’s release in ’92, and it didn’t disappoint. A fittingly cinematic track, laced with mournful slide guitar and a euphoric chorus, “Big Empty” was a clarion call, a song of genuine depth that packed an emotional wallop. By June of 1994, and Purple’s release, anyone expecting Core Mk2 were in for a surprise.

In a similar way to Alice In Chains progression from Facelift to Dirt, STP’s progression from Core to Purple was startling for a few reasons. Rather than re-write the entire script, STP (and Alice In Chains for that matter) expanded on all that was brilliant and vital about their debut, and multiplied it ten fold. Sounds easy right..? Well, if it was, the famous adage “the dreaded sophomore slump” wouldn’t be a thing.

On Purple, the song-writing became more dynamic, taut and expansive. The band effortlessly blended many new musical stylings into their established sound. Jazz and world music rubbed shoulders with blues and country-esque passages, adding a freshness to the bands already incendiary brand of hard rock. What’s more is they achieved this expansion of their sound without out ever giving the impression it was shoe-horned in.

Scott Weiland told RIP Magazine in 1994, “I’m so confident with the songwriting of the people in this band, the people I play music with, that I’m not going to let anyone try to judge me as a person or songwriter, because I know where we’re at. I’m not saying we’re better than everybody else, but we’re a completely different entity than anyone else. I’m satisfied with this album, and I hope that we continue challenging ourselves and progressing as songwriters.”

It was this attitude that set STP apart. While those detractors sat on the sidelines screaming foul. STP were in the game. They were a dangerous opponent, a triple threat of incredible talent, a maniacal drive to improve and the ability to deliver on the promise. Most would have folded under the avalanche of cat calls and heckles, instead Scott, Dean, Robert and Eric delivered the most devastating of comebacks, Purple.

The album opens with the bulldozer riff of Meatplow, a mid-tempo romp. Weiland sings in the pre-chorus “They got these pictures of everything/To break us down, yeah to break me down/They make us hate and we make it bleed..” While it could be easy to speculate those lines are aimed at their detractors, the chorus is and insight on how the wisdom of loved ones may have helped them through. “..But I got a lover/ And she shows me how/To understand it, yeah to understand./I got a brother and well he shows me how,

To make amends, yeah to make amends with it….”

“Vasoline”, the albums second single, is propelled by a jaggedly syncopated guitar riff which plays off the drum beat to create an oddly timed but infectious feel. During STP’s performance of “Vasoline” on VH1 Storytellers, Weiland says that the song is about “feeling like an insect under a magnifying glass.” During an interview with Greg Prato, Scott Weiland confirmed that the key line in this song came from a misheard lyric: His parents put on the Eagles song “Life in the Fast Lane”, and Weiland thought they were singing, “Flies in the Vaseline.”

Eric Kretz always impressive drums and percussion come to the fore throughout “Lounge Fly” The track starts with a backwards-masked guitar riff, under-pinned by complex, rolling drums before it works its way into a more straight ahead rock arrangement. During the middle section, the song flirts with acoustic folk, before building back up with a screeching guitar lead by Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers.

“Interstate Love Song” is considered one of the band’s biggest hits reaching number one on the US Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart on September 17th, 1994, replacing the band’s previous single “Vasoline” at the top spot. The song stayed at number one for 15 weeks, a record at the time, and gave the Stone Temple Pilots 17 consecutive weeks at number one with both songs.

Still Remains showcases the depth of Scott Weiland’s poetic lyric writing. About a lover who just wants to be with the person they love. While its sentiments are straight-forward, its turn of phrase are anything but. Weiland delivers each line with devastating intensity ‘take a bath I’ll drink the water that you leave’ and ‘if you should die before me ask if you can bring a friend’.

With a riff that sounds like the bastard son of Nirvana’s “School”, “Unglued” is a barnburner. It’s chorus is everything a great rock song should be, huge, mysterious, catchy and raw. It’s an exhilarating short blast and is pure rock perfection. “Army Ants” follows, both it and “Unglued” probably could have rendered Purple one of those ’90s albums that yielded five or six hit singles, if only they’d been released (Unglued was released as a promo only single, which meant it could not chart). The music was far more accomplished and distinct than anybody gave STP band credit for the first time around.

The album’s final (listed) track is the often over-looked STP classic “Kitchenware and Candy Bars” a brooding masterpiece of crushing melancholy and euphoric release. Scott’s simple repeated refrains of “Sell me down the river” followed by “What I wanted/is what I wanted/What I wanted is what she wanted…” is given extra emotional weight by a pitch perfect performance from the DeLeo brothers and Kretz on their respective instruments.

With Purple, Stone Temple Pilots broke free of the labels so many tried to place on them. They proved themselves a far more worthy, intelligent, and cerebral unit than most had given them credit for. By October of 1994, just four months after its release, Purple had sold three million copies. Now, nearly three decades after it’s release, Purple can be viewed as the point where Stone Temple Pilots truly found their identity. Bassist Robert DeLeo said in 2019 “I don’t think we ever wrote music to fit into any scene, I think we were just expressing ourselves, I think you just do what you do and try to express as many different kinds of sentiments as you can as an artist.”

The following year, Stone Temple Pilots recorded their third album, Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, which took an even more radical musical departure. But it’s Purple that laid the groundwork for all of the bands future endeavours. A true classic.