HELMET – MEANTIME (1992)

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS – PURPLE (1994)

June 7th, 1994, STONE TEMPLE PILOTS released their second 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 was beset with detractors who felt they were cynically capitalising on the current adoration for alternative rock.

The band ignored the criticism and stuck to what they could control: crafting beautifully passionate rock songs and delivering them with pulverising intensity on stage. Many detractors were unequivocally silenced when they finished promoting Purple some years later. Before the album’s release, 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; give it time, and things will branch out.”

The evolution from Core to Purple is revelatory. One could hardly call Core monotone, but in comparison to Purple, it’s clear that the band took the visceral vitality of their debut and upped the ante in every department, painting a vivid technicolour soundscape of crushing, hook-laden alternative rock.

Like Alice In Chains’s progression from Facelift to Dirt, STP’s progression from Core to Purple was startling for several reasons. Rather than rewriting the entire script, STP (and Alice In Chains, for that matter) expanded on their debut albums’ scope and depth by pushing the limits of each band member’s creativity and talent. On Purple, the songwriting became more dynamic, taut, and expansive, while Brendan O’Brien’s production perfectly captured the new layers and soundscapes the band explored.

Effortlessly blending new musical styles into their established sound, Purple saw jazz and world music influences rubbing shoulders with blues and country-esque passages; this sonic openness added a freshness to the band’s already incendiary brand of hard rock. 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 we continue challenging ourselves and progressing as songwriters.”

It was this attitude that set the band apart. STP was in the game while the detractors sat on the sidelines screaming foul. They were a dangerous opponent, a triple threat of mercurial talent, a maniacal drive to improve, and the ability to deliver on the promise. Most would have folded under the avalanche of catcalls and heckles, but seemingly unperturbed, Scott, Dean, Robert, and Eric delivered the most devastating of rebuttals to their detractors in the form of Purple.

Purple was preceded by the single “Big Empty,” released in March 1994 as part of the Crow Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. This song was the first time fans had heard new material since Core’s release in ’92, and it didn’t disappoint. A fittingly cinematic track with mournful slide guitar and a blisteringly euphoric chorus, “Big Empty” was a clarion call of genuine emotional depth. Anyone expecting Core Part Two after the release of “Big Empty” was in for a surprise.

The album opens with the bulldozer riff of “Meatplow,” a mid-tempo romp that grinds with menace and glee as it shifts through the gears. 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 that those lines are aimed at the band’s detractors, the chorus is an insight into how the wisdom of loved ones and each other may have helped him and the band 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 album’s 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.” Weiland later 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”, to which the young Weiland thought they were singing “Flies in the Vaseline.”

Eric Kretz’s always impressive drumming and percussion come to the fore throughout “Lounge Fly.” The track starts with a backwards-masked guitar riff, underpinned by complex, rolling drums before it works 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 solo by Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers.

“Interstate Love Song” became one of the band’s most beloved songs. Reaching number one on the US Billboard Album Rock Tracks, it replaced their previous single “Vasoline” at the top spot. Bassist Robert DeLeo wrote the music for the song. His brother, Dean, said, “We were in Atlanta touring Core, and Robert was playing around with the chords and the melody in a hotel room. I had a feeling about that song immediately.”

When he began writing the song, Robert stated it was initially a bossa nova. When he played it for the band, Scott Weiland started humming along and turned what was originally the melody for the song’s intro into a chorus melody. According to Weiland, the lyrics are about his troubles with his girlfriend, Jannina, at the time, saying, “The words are about the lies I was trying to conceal while making the Purple record”.

“She’d ask how I was doing, and I’d lie, say I was doing fine,” he wrote in his autobiography Not Dead and Not For Sale. “I imagined what was going through her mind when I wrote, ‘Waiting on a Sunday afternoon / For what I read between the lines, your lies / Feelin’ like a hand in rusted shame, so do you laugh or does it cry? Reply?”

“Interstate Love Song” is a highwater mark; the tone and delivery are pitch-perfect. Despite its sophisticated nature, its complex chord voicings and arrangement feel natural and inviting. Not many bands in the ’90s alternative rock sphere had the lightness of touch STP possessed; every nuance of their songwriting was considered and honed for maximum emotional impact. “Interstate Love Song” is the purest distillation of that ability.

“Still Remains” showcases the depth of Scott Weiland’s poetic lyric writing. Written about a lover who wants to be with the person they love. While its sentiments are straightforward, its turn of phrase is anything but. Weiland delivers each line with crushing intensity and pathos, singing, “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.”

“Pretty Penny” is a beautiful acoustic folk song that tells the story of a mother and daughter who are both addicts. Weiland’s story is fictional but based on his struggles. He said it was his last try to convince himself and others around him that he was not an addict. Dean DeLeo wrote the music, which perfectly soundtracks Weiland’s mournful tale. The song was recorded in the living room of a friend of their producer, Brendan O’Brien. According to their drummer, Eric Kretz, Dean and his brother Robert played acoustic guitars while Weiland sang his vocals into a microphone in the hallway.

People around the house shook their keys to help create the rhythm, and percussion parts were overdubbed later. The band later tried to record a version with electric guitars but couldn’t come close to the intimate feel of the live living room recording. “Pretty Penny” is strangely uplifting despite its minor key and dour subject matter. Its gorgeous lilting chorus sinks deep under the skin.

The kaleidoscopic grind of “Silvergun Superman’s” verse drips with savage intent before relenting to a more openly melodic chorus. After the sublime “Big Empty,” a riff that sounds like the bastard son of Nirvana’s “School” rips from the speakers. “Unglued” is a barn burner. Its chorus is everything a great rock song should be: huge, mysterious, catchy, and raw. It’s an exhilarating short blast and 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 arrangements, performances, melodies and layers of gilt-edged hooks were far more accomplished and distinct than anybody gave the band credit for.

The album’s final listed track is the often overlooked 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,” are given extra emotional weight by a pitch-perfect performance from the DeLeo brothers and Kretz on their respective instruments. Weiland’s commanding performance is breathtakingly poignant.

After the final chord of “Kitchenware and Candy Bars” fades out, we’re treated to a hidden track titled “My Second Album.” Purple’s back cover features the tracklisting of eleven songs and a picture of a cake with 12 Gracious Melodies written in icing on top. This alludes to the lyrics of the hidden track, a song by street musician Richard Peterson, who had an obsession with lounge singer Johnny Mathis.

“My Second Album” was the title track of Seattle native Richard Peterson’s second album. Scott Weiland said, “The guy is a savant with this bizarre obsession with Johnny Mathis. He’s from somewhere in Washington, a small town- not Aberdeen- but Dean did a radio interview up there, and he saw this picture of a guy on the Wall posing with Johnny Mathis. Dean was like, ‘Wow, who’s this guy?’ And they said, ‘Oh, that’s Richard Peterson, he’s got his own records out.’

“We got a tape of his stuff, and it was just fucking great, so we instantly used it as the music before we went on stage; we listened to it all the time and turned on all our friends to it. And that song, “My Second Album”, is the first on his second album, you know? It’s so self-explanatory to how he feels about his second album that we felt it fits our situation too.”

With Purple, Stone Temple Pilots broke free of the labels so many tried to place on them. They proved themselves a worthy, intelligent, and cerebral rock unit. By October 1994, just four months after its release, Purple had sold three million copies. Now, decades after its release, the album can be viewed as the point when Stone Temple Pilots 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.”

Stone Temple Pilots recorded Purple’s follow-up, Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop the following year. That album took an even more radical musical departure, but Purple laid the groundwork for all of the band’s future endeavours. It’s a true classic that deserves to be heralded alongside the most revered albums of the decade.

Essential..!