erasing clouds

Scott Weiland dies from heroin overdose (Not really, but I didn't think you'd care to read about him otherwise)

music critique by Matthew Webber

1. Preview

For the reason of some probably hilarious inside joke of the band, Stone Temple Pilots titled their fifth album Shangri-La Dee Da. It probably signifies some growing dissatisfaction with the commercialism of today's entertainment industry, or else some ironic observation about Americans' willingness, or lack thereof, to care about entering heaven. Like a Wheel of Fortune "Before and After" puzzle, the "Shangri-La" represents either Hollywood or a paradise, while the "La Dee Da" represents a collective ho-hum.

An obvious alternate title for the album could be Stone Temple Pilots… La Dee Da.

For the reason of their writing wicked, minor chord riffs and haunting, unforgettable lyrics and melodies, as well as for their being one of only two mainstream rock bands that debuted when I was first discovering rock music and didn't break up or commit suicide before I matured from a pre-teen into an adult (Pearl Jam is the other), STP just might be my favorite band currently making music.

I love this band as much as I loved any rock band in my formative music years, including teenage rock gods such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and so-called voices of my generation such as Nirvana. The band's songs are, without a doubt, my favorites to play on the guitar. A triad of songs from their second album, Purple, "Still Remains," "Big Empty" and "Kitchenware and Candybars," rank high on my list of Favorite Songs of All Time, with "Still Remains" battling for Number One.

I can't offer you any further explanation of why I adore this band, in the same way that even though I know I've loved ex-girlfriends, I have trouble elucidating exactly how perfect they smelled. But STP has become a band with which I identify; a band that defines me; the one band that nobody but me seems to like, even though everybody should; the band for which, if they'd only let me jam with them once, I'd be willing to become their missionary.

But nobody else likes them. Nobody else cares.

Because I love STP, I demand a lot from them. My expectations are lofty, and often, they're deflated. I get disappointed, frustrated, angry and annoyed. Like during the years between Tiny Music and No. 4 when my favorite rock 'n' roll band couldn't release records because their asshole addict singer couldn't quit sticking needles in his arms. (Because I love his music, I've since forgiven him.) Like when No. 4 was released and nobody bought it. Like when the current album was released and I bought in on the first day it came out but fewer than nobody bought it. (La dee da, indeed.)

Like when I want to write a music review but I have to write more than 400 words (77 of which explicate the goddamn title) before I can even start discussing the songs because of how exasperatingly inconsistent they are and I just want readers to understand how much this pains me.

2. Review

Stone Temple Pilots, Shangri-La Dee Da (Atlantic)

Despite their first album, Core, being written off as xeroxed grunge (and Scott Weiland as a mimeographed Eddie Vedder), fans of both grunge and more classic-sounding rock were able to discover a grungy classicism hidden beneath the reverb. Critics trashed their experimental second album, Purple, while fans memorized the acoustic-tinged poems. On their third album, Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, the band sounded nothing like a grunge band, and from song to song sounded like the Beatles, a band of boy scouts around the campfire, and themselves.

And then Scott Weiland went to rehab. And then old STP albums began coagulating in used-CD bins. And then Weiland went solo. And then the other guys formed Talk Show. And then, somewhere along the way, the critics actually started to hype the band, and Weiland cleaned up and tried to be a capital R and S Rock Star, and their next two albums sold something like two copies.

I suppose Shangri-La Dee Da continues the evolution that every great Rock (with a capital R) band seems to go through. As such, it veers from inspired to absurd, from fulfilling to defiling, from memorizable to unlistenable. It's cohesive in its incohesiveness, a mix that the kids might understand in twenty years. It's their Houses of the Holy, their Adore, their No Code. Contained therein are masterworks on par with Led Zep's "No Quarter." Following these are embarrassments equal to "The Crunge." One listen, I love it, from track to shining track. The next listen, I love it - but only for 4/13 of the album.

Their loss of fans, record sales, and airplay wouldn't get under my skin so much if the band would let me select their singles. If Weiland and Co. would let anybody other than whomever it is who picks their singles pick their singles, they might not have lost so many fans, record sales, and airplay. People might actually know that Weiland didn't O.D. People might have known that STP had released No. 4 before they finally got around to releasing a hit like "Sour Girl." "Atlanta" could have been a huge crossover hit with the Rogers and Hammerstein-loving set, but instead, they released the worst song on the album, "Heaven & Hot Rods," a song whose title belies how sucky it is.

Shangri La's first single, "Days of the Week," continued in this recent, puzzling tradition. If the song was supposed to be a singable pop crossover, its lack of impact on any chart proved otherwise. If the song was supposed to represent the diversity of its album, it represented instead the album's schizophrenia. If it was supposed to prepare old STP fans for a new and improved sound, it was surely something new, but not much improved. The idea it most effectively conveyed was that the Stone Temple Pilots are fighting to matter nowadays - and mattering only to me. The song was one of those songs that can only be a single - out of place on an album, out of place on the radio, their "Ava Adore" (a beautifully heavy song from a beautifully soft album, but I might be the only one who thinks so), their what-the-hell-was-that.

This non-hit doomed Shangri La, and perhaps all future STP efforts, to the clearance rack.

As a lover of the band, this breaks my heart.

In a just world, Shangri La would sell as many copies as Core, or at least as many as Willa Ford. In a sane world, everybody who ever liked this band would listen to the album, listen to it over and over again, ponder whether four centerpiece songs on the album - "Wonderful," "Black Again," "Hello It's Late," and "Too Cool Queenie" - are the most poignant songs the Pilots have ever written, admire (and then cringe at) Weiland's marriage- and fatherhood-induced candor, and build their expectations for the next STP album, which will surely be their masterwork, their album for the ages, their Led Zeppelin II or Siamese Dream. Their album that's even better than Purple.

Of course, if everybody who ever sang along to "Plush" listened to this album, they'd be both thankful and bored that the criminally underated DeLeo brothers (I know critics like to toss around the "criminally underrated" tag like a football, but any guitar player who has ever sat in front of a book of STP guitar tablature can tell you how much Dean Deleo slays) are still composing huge hooks and chunky riffs; that Eric Kretz is still pounding away on the skins; that Brendan O'Brien, the only producer they've ever employed, is still playing the George Martin to their Beatles; and that Weiland is still one of the most criminally underratedTM singers in rock. They'd learn all the words to "Black Again" and "Hello It's Late," the band's best songs since the also-unreleased-as-a-single "Adhesive."

They'd forgive the band for everything… and hate them that much more for underperforming.

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