October. 26th, 1999, Stone Temple Pilots released their fourth album, No. 4, through Atlantic Records. From 1992 to 1996, Stone Temple Pilots were on a white-hot run of creativity. Three impeccable albums in three and a half years had shot them to the top of the alternative rock heap. Following their third, 1996’s Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop, the band started to fragment. Scott Weiland’s ever-deepening addiction and legal problems were beginning to take a toll; taking a break from STP, Weiland found time to write and record his debut solo album, the Daniel Lanois-produced “12 Bar Blues.” Released in 1998, it showed Weiland was still a gifted and eclectic songwriter despite the upheaval surrounding him.
The other three members of STP, brothers Dean and Robert DeLeo, with drummer Eric Kretz, formed Talk Show, recruiting singer Dave Coutts to front the band. They released their self-titled (and only) album in 1997. Despite positive reviews and supporting tours with the Foo Fighters and Aerosmith, the album’s sales were disappointing. Coutts left the band, and the DeLeo brothers with Kretz soon reunited with Weiland as Stone Temple Pilots.
The band reconvened in 1998 to begin writing and recording the follow-up to Tiny Music. Y2K was fast approaching; the planet fretted about the chances of a widespread computer programming shortcut expected to cause extensive havoc as the year changed from 1999 to 2000. As conspiracy theories gained traction over the final years of the ’90s, many of STP’s peers in the alternative rock sphere began experimenting with synthesisers and electronic sounds.
In the later half of the ’90s, like a creeping osmosis, alternative rock bands that heretofore traded solely in the guitar, bass, and drums format released material with a solid electronic edge that reflected the foreboding undercurrent and mania surrounding the new millennia. Albums like REM’s Up, Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore, U2’s Pop and Radiohead’s OK Computer and its impending follow-up, Kid A, all embraced glitchy programming.
Stone Temple Pilots never entertained such swings toward synthesised sounds; instead, No. 4 represented a “back to basics” approach after their kaleidoscopic and often psychedelic experimentations on Tiny Music. Looking back to their debut album, Core and its follow-up, Purple, for sonic inspiration, the band doubled down on the two core aspects of their sound: crushing riffs and beautiful contemplative balladry.
Weiland, writing in his autobiography, described the writing sessions for the record as: “The songs were written together live. Brendan O’Brien, our brilliant longtime producer, urged us simply to put our hearts and souls on the line.” Then Weiland somewhat dismissively described the resulting album as “a good record of generic rock”.
Scott’s many issues stemming from his spiralling addictions had magnified after the release of Tiny Music, causing the band to go on hiatus. In 2017, bassist Robert DeLeo spoke of when the band reconvened to record No. 4, “Resentment was growing since Purple, there was a window during the making of No.4 that Scott, genuinely, had the clarity of the Core days. He was sober, focused, looking great and all there. He had a great energy to take the band to the next place.”
Unfortunately, Scott’s sobriety didn’t last. His window of clarity was short, but he had enough time to record the album. Outside the band, he regularly fell foul of the law and courts. In September 1997, Weiland was arrested after being found with a quantity of heroin. In April 1998, he was discharged from the Impact drug rehabilitation centre for failing to comply with the court-ordered program, and in June of that year, he was again arrested for heroin possession. In July 1999, Scott was hospitalised after a heroin overdose, which violated the terms of his probation.
On September 3rd, 1999, Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler ordered Weiland to Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail “to show that this will not be tolerated, and to help him make up his mind to stop killing himself.”
MTV Reported. “Sobs broke out in the courtroom when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler sentenced Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland to one year in jail Friday (September 3rd, ’99). Despite attempts by the singer’s attorney, Michael Nasatir, to prove through a series of letters and testimonials from drug counsellors that the troubled singer had turned a corner in his attempts to clean up, Fidler was unmoved.”
“Weiland, sporting dark hair and an orange jail-house shirt and pants set, appeared calm. He occasionally looked at loved ones in the courtroom and smiled weakly. He seemed to get teary-eyed as he looked down at the ground during the judge’s ruling. I understand what you’ve provided,” Fidler told Nasatir, “but you have to keep in mind that the people of California have chosen that this sickness is also a criminal activity.”
Weiland was sentenced to one year in prison, serving five months behind bars, just as No.4 was released, hampering the band’s touring and promotional possibilities. On his release, Weiland had again turned the page on his demons, “When Scott got out of jail, the touring for No.4 was great,” recalled drummer Eric Kretz, “He was finally clean, and he was on fire.” Dean Deleo stated, “He was sober; he felt like he had a lot of ground to make up. In truth, all the band did; it was high time for us to get the show back on the road and deliver, and boy, did we.”
No. 4 kicks things off with “Down”, the lead single from the album. The metallic force of its impossibly heavy, down-tuned riff is punctuated by a catchy chorus refrain of “Yeah, I’ve been waiting for my Sunday girl.” “Down” neatly showcases the heavier aspects of the band’s sound and harkens back to the Core days, a great opener to the record.
“Heaven & Hot Rods” gasoline-soaked stomp drives home the pummelling vibe. Scott employs his back-of-the-throat “Sex Type Thing” voice to menacing effect. The chorus explodes into a halftime psychedelic sunburst of colour as Weiland sings, “And the dogs came in, Just to see her smile.”
The thrashing groove of “Pruno” keeps the dial cranked on energy and heaviness. Scott’s gliding verse vocal floats above Robert DeLeo’s bouncing bomb bass, Kretz’s percussive pounding drums and Dean DeLeo’s slashing guitar.
“Chruch On Tuesday” is a shop window for the exceptional musical talents of the band. Those with even the most rudimentary understanding of musical structures have long known that STP are among the elite when it comes to sophisticated chord voicings, rhythms and melodies. Packed with suave sonic gestures, “Church On Tuesday” is an aural treat. Weiland is on top form here singing, “Father’s always smoking and your Mom’s at church on Tuesday and your brother’s always drinking and dying”.
No. 4’s big single, “Sour Girl,” opens with a dreamy guitar and deft melodic bass. Robert DeLeo’s bass acumen is transcendental. In so many instances, he’s the band’s MVP. The catchy, simple chorus of “What would you do, what would you do if I followed you” is both eerie and poignant. The accompanying video is suitably trippy and sinister, featuring Scott and Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Sarah Michelle Geller hamming it up.
“No Way Out” returns to the sledgehammer energy. No. 4 is easily STP’s heaviest album, and it’s thrilling to hear them in this context. The down-tuned grind of “No Way Out” is gripping; its start-stop verse groove is a head-bobbing monster augmented by a demented chorus that sees Dean DeLeo channels Chic’s Nile Rogers if he played through a wall of Marshall’s dimed to ten.
“Sex & Violence” opens with a metallic thump before locking into a hot-blooded punk blaze. The song’s pre-chorus shifts into a kaleidoscopic route before the savage drub of the oddly off-kilter chorus sinks its hooks in. The onomatopoeically titled “Glide” drifts at a far less frenetic pace, adding a welcome counterpoint to the album’s crushing nature. A beautiful, underrated STP song, “Glide”, is an essential slice of magic.
The country-infused swing of “I Got You” displays the band’s depth and understanding of structure and form. The songwriting acuity on show is breathtaking, as the band subtly references country, jazz and rock flavours while taking gorgeous, unexpected melodic twists and turns. The stuttering garage rock vibe of “MC5” is contagious before the album ends on a stunning, reflective note with “Atlanta.”
“Atlanta” is a remarkable song. Weiland is on top form with beautiful lyrics like, “She lives in a bungalow, She kills me with rose garden thorns, She waits for me, My love is unusual, It’s painted with roses and thorns, With her I’m complete.” Swooping strings augment the lush acoustic instrumentation. It’s a gripping musical journey and one that wears its inspiration on its sleeve. The song’s sophisticated melodies and timbre resemble The Doors, a band that, like STP, was much maligned and misunderstood during their heyday and had a gifted frontman unable to reign in his demons. The song’s triumphant outro is poignant and haunting as its dying notes, played on marimba by Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin, waft through the air. The song is a masterpiece.
No. 4 was released to a lukewarm reception critically and in terms of sales. Nu Metal was the flavour of the month, and despite the quality on offer, No. 4 struggled to capture the zeitgeist in the same way Core, Purple and Tiny Music.. had. At this remove, viewing the album on its merits without the trappings of the time it was conceived, it is obvious STP poured every modicum of their being into its making. It’s easily their most aggressive and heavy album—a two-fingered salute to the doubters, haters, misanthropes and non-believers. A triumphant, beautiful, fuck you…!!!