September 29th, 1992, STONE TEMPLE PILOTS released their debut album, Core, through Atlantic Records. “I ammmmm smelling like the rose that somebody gave me on my birthday deathbed / I ammmmmm smelling like a rose that somebody gave me ’cause I’m dead and bloated!!!” Scott Weiland introduced Stone Temple Pilots to the world on the opening track of their debut album by singing these acapella lines into the pickups of a Gibson Les Paul guitar. The earth-shattering double “crack-crack” of Eric Kretz’s snare hits like a gunshot as Dean and Robert DeLeo steamroller into a sludgy, grinding riff.
Stone Temple Pilots arrived in September 1992 sounding fully formed and armed with an album so hook-laden and intense rock music fans couldn’t ignore it. Here was a band that didn’t spend years toiling in the underground alternative rock scene, didn’t release a string of albums on trendy indie labels before signing to a major, and didn’t even come from the Pacific Northwest. And while none of those experiences were required to make a great rock album in 1992, sections of the music press still wrote the band off as mere copyists void of any depth or integrity simply because they didn’t fulfil those requirements.
This, mind you, was the same music press that just over a year before gushed ad nauseam about the glossy poodle rock shimmying its way out of the Sunset Strip. Once Nirvana laid waste to that scene, suddenly, they hastily adjusted course and anointed themselves gatekeepers of virtue and what was acceptable and unacceptable in the brave “new” world of alternative rock. Sadly, like lemmings off a cliff, sections of the public parroted their rhetoric, turning to multi-national music magazines for guidance regarding their opinion on the current state of alternative rock rather than relying on their own judgment.
And despite the cat-calls from the sidelines, Core was embraced by millions of fans. STP’s vision was far broader than the mainstream press gave them credit for; they imbued their music with glam flair, sludgy psychedelia and hook-laden riffage. They’d perfect these amalgamations on subsequent releases like 1994’s Purple and 1996’s Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop. But, as an opening salvo, Core was an extremely high bar to set for a debut album. One the band traversed, seemingly with ease.
It’s also worth noting Weiland wasn’t a brooding introvert a la Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell or Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley—he wanted to be a rock star in the classic sense; he strutted the stage like Robert Plant or Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler, and brought a sexual energy to an otherwise deathly serious genre. The sharp divide between journalists and the band’s fans was stark in a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, in which the magazine’s readers and critics labelled the STP as Best and Worst New Band, respectively.
Why did the rock music press find STP so reprehensible? Having spent the previous decade clung like limpets to the good ship glam, these writers, like the major labels of the time, hadn’t a clue what just happened in the wake of Nevermind’s atomic bomb. To stay relative, they set the narrative. They decided to denounce anything resembling “grunge” that didn’t emanate from the Pacific Northwest as disingenuous or lacking authenticity. STP never once affiliated itself with “grunge”. They got on with the business at hand, making excellent rock music. Sure, the band hadn’t spent years touring the alt-rock toilets of America in a rusting Econoline van reeking of weed and piss before that major-label record deal landed on their lap; if they didn’t, surely they’re bogus, right? Also, STP released their debut on the renowned major label Atlantic Records and quickly attained massive success, which made them prime targets for the ire of gatekeepers. The bigger you become, the bigger the target on your back.
In later years, Weiland talked about the mixed reactions that Core got, saying, “It was really painful in the beginning because I just assumed that the critics would understand where we were coming from, that these just weren’t dumb rock songs.” On the contrary, musically and lyrically, the songs that make up Core are thought-provoking, deep and laced with vibrant imagery. There’s no doubt STP’s early success was a byproduct of the grunge and alternative rock sea-change of 1991, but equally, the reason they connected so deeply with fans was simple: their music. Passionately performed, well-written rock music like this will rise to the top in any era.
Considering the less than complimentary press the band received, it’s a testament to how strong the songs on Core are that most ignored the rhetoric and bought the album in droves. Core was recorded with producer Brendan O’Brien at Rumbo Recorders in Los Angeles over three weeks in May 1992. “It was an amazing time, man; it was so beautiful,” remembers Dean DeLeo when remembering the recording of Core. “And that was some of my greatest memories of Scott. He was so on his game; he was so healthy. He was electric and vibrant. There was an innocence, yet a determination with all of us.”
Every detail of the album was considered, right down to its sequencing, “It was imperative to us that if you had time to sit down and listen to the record in its entirety,” notes Dean DeLeo. “That musical ride and how we put those songs in order was essential to us. It was very thought-out.” Core is Scott Weiland, Dean DeLeo, Robert DeLeo and Eric Kretz referencing the musical idols of their youths— ’60s psych-rockers The Doors, ’70s arena goliaths Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin and ’80s rockers like The Cult, are all flung into a melting pot, stirred and seasoned with the angst and sludge that defined the early 1990s.
“Dead And Bloated” explosively fires the starting gun on Core. Scott Weiland conceived its enormous riff, guitarist Dean Deleo recalls, “Scott hummed that verse riff to Robert (DeLeo), and Robert transposed it onto the guitar. Scott also sang the intro into my guitar’s pickup in the studio. We knew how microphonic pickups were, and I just finished part of the song because the guitar was plugged in. Scott wanted to sing the intro into the bullhorn [megaphone], and we said, ‘Sing it into the guitar pickup and see what happens.'”
The band’s first single, “Sex Type Thing”, was released on March 15th, 1992, six months before the album hit the shelves. On release, the song was immediately misunderstood. Weiland found himself defending “Sex Type Thing” to individuals who took the first-person approach he used in the song literally. “I never thought that people would ever seriously think that I was an advocate of date rape,” Weiland said in 1993.
Completely missing the mark, Entertainment Weekly’s Deborah Frost wrote that “Sex Type Thing” “could be Mike Tyson’s rape defence transcribed into grunge rock.” Scott wrote the lyrics after a girl he was dating was raped by three high school football players after a party. Weiland stated that “Sex Type Thing” is an anti-rape statement: “The song is really not about sex at all. It’s about control, violence and abuse of power.”
Dean Deleo recalls the inspiration for the song’s massive riff, “I was in my driveway with the windows open on a beautiful summer’s day, I had Physical Graffiti on, and In The Light came on. And when it comes to that lick around the three-minute mark, you can fit the Sex Type Thing lick right between that. I immediately ran inside, transposed it onto the guitar, and called Robert: ‘I’ve got a pretty cool lick here, man.’ Thank you, Jimmy!”
Wicked Garden is the kind of open sky, driving rock STP made their own. It’s cinematic, sexy, groove, and hook-filled melodies instantly burrow under the skin. Weiland stated,” ‘Wicked Garden’ is a song about people allowing all their innocence and purity to be lost from their lives.” he sings, “Can you see like a child? Can you see what I want? I wanna run through your Wicked Garden. Heard that’s the place to find you. ‘Cause I’m alive, so alive now. I know the darkness blinds you.”
“No Memory” is a beautifully moody instrumental interlude written by Dean DeLeo, “I wrote that maybe three days before recording it. Scott and I were living together at the time. I remember sitting in his room. I played it for him, and he was moved by it. We thought that would be a nice little prelude for “Sin,” a nice little moment.”
“Sin” opens with a succession of massive single chords played on the downbeat of Eric Kretz’s slow open drum pattern before locking into a tight “Kashmir-esque” guitar riff. Weiland’s vocal melody is incredibly infectious. The song’s chorus is euphoric, even if the subject matter is deathly serious. Throughout the song, Weiland warns of the damage organised religion can do, comparing how holy water clouds the conscious mind like alcohol.
The two-chord gallop of “Naked Sunday” is laced with buckets of energy. Weiland’s distorted vocals crash against the funk-lite rhythms of the DeLeo brothers and Eric Kretz’s driving drums.
“Creep” was the third single released from the album. Scott said of its lyrical concept, “It’s about the idea of being a young person somewhere, caught between still being a kid and becoming a young adult. It’s that youth apathy, second-guessing yourself, not feeling like you fit in.” Bassist Robert DeLeo wrote the music and said, “I was thinking about a song along the lines of “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young, which is in the key of D-minor, the saddest key of all. Scott was thinking about the lyrics, and we were struggling at that time in our lives. What Scott was writing about was a real-life situation. “Creep” is a very demeaning word. It was one of those instances where we looked at ourselves in the mirror.”
“Piece Of Pie” is a sludgy, heavy riot. Scott sounds maniacal and wickedly engaged. Once again, it shows how brilliant Scott was, melodically and lyrically. Dean DeLeo said, “The lyrics to that song are extraordinary. It shows how brilliant he was for such a young man – I think he was 23 years old writing that stuff.”
“Plush” was the second single released from Core and became the band’s biggest hit up to that point. The song won in the “Best Hard Rock Performance” category at the 1994 Grammy Awards, with the music video receiving an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in 1993. “Plush” remains one of the biggest rock hits of the 1990s. Robert DeLeo wrote the song’s music. Inspired by his love of ragtime and old jazz, he compiled the song’s chord sequences on an acoustic guitar before giving it to the band.
“Wet My Bed” is a Tom Waits-like carnival interlude. Scott’s spoken word passages sound spikey and unhinged. “Crackerman” is a barnburner and one of the band’s favourite songs to open their shows for years. It’s easy to see why. The song’s powerful riff and no-nonsense pace is exhilarating. The band locks into a wickedly catchy halftime breakdown after the chorus’ before returning to the pummelling, melodic attack.
The album’s final song, “Where The River Goes”, is an eight-minute epic. “That was one of the first songs we wrote in a room together as a band. It came together quickly,” recalled Dean DeLeo. “I came in with the riff. The band got heavier once I came into the picture.” Scott’s lyrics state, “I wanna be big as a mountain, I wanna fly high as the sun.” These lines referred to the feeling Scott had the first time the band jammed with Dean on guitar. “To us, Dean’s playing was big as a mountain and high as the sun,” Weiland said in his 2011 autobiography. “He pushed us up to a heavenly place.”
With that, Stone Temple Pilots signed off on a remarkable debut album. Fans around the world took Core to heart. While the extraordinary musical and lyrical depth the band would achieve on subsequent releases was astonishing, Core’s impeccable hooks, strident performances and robust songwriting set the stage for one of the most exciting back catalogues of the ’90s. The band’s follow-up Purple is widely regarded as one of the era’s best albums. It also began the arduous process of rehabilitating their image with critics — but for some close-minded listeners, the band’s story would always start and end with the unjust mauling Core received on release.