Stone Temple Pilots Weren’t Nirvana — But They Were Close, In Bigger Than The Sound

Our writer says STP were not only good, they were one of the top five alt-rock groups of the '90s.

On The Record: Were We Wrong About Stone Temple Pilots?

Being a rock critic is easy. Admitting you were wrong isn’t. So naturally, writing this week’s column was tough … because it’s about Stone Temple Pilots, a band that officially reunited on Monday night in Los Angeles and one that, over the course of five albums and nearly 10 years together, was one of the most critically reviled acts on the planet.

So, of course, if I were to follow protocol, I’d scoff at the reunion, make some joke like “What does this mean for Army of Anyone ?!?!” and move on. I’d dismiss STP as nothing more than generic Nirvana-bes, ham-fisted, lunk-headed pretenders to the throne who foisted their brand of derivative bro-rock on the masses for far too long. Only, I’m not going to do any of that.

See, I’m about to float a hypothesis that basically flies in the face of a decade’s worth of “conventional critical wisdom,” and one that might get my rock-critic card revoked permanently (which means no more 20 percent discount at Quiznos). But I don’t think I can keep it inside any longer. So, in the interest of the truth, I’m just going to come out and say it … here we go …

Stone Temple Pilots were actually pretty great.

And this isn’t something I just realized, either. Ever since I heard the opening chords to “Plush” (which, really, is probably one of the 10 best grunge songs ever written) way back in 1992, I was a closeted STP fan. I followed them through ups and downs — and frontman Scott Weiland’s many drug arrests — always secretly marveling at their dexterity, their ability to churn out hit after hit, and the seamless way with which they leapt between genres (bluesy stompers, psychedelic spindlers, glammed-out rockers), often all on the same record. And though I would never tell anyone, I never thought they got the respect they deserved. I would read reviews and get a little pissed when critics took potshots at them. After all, the only thing they seemed guilty of was having a stupid name (well, that or the whole “does-it-glorify-rape?” debate about “Sex Type Thing”).

So now that I’ve said all that, I’m going to say this. Of all the so-called “alt-rock” acts that lumbered the Earth in the 1990s — a list that includes everyone from Alice in Chains to Tad — Stone Temple Pilots were probably one of the five best. (I’d probably put them behind only Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.) Seriously. They had more rock-radio hits (all of which were pretty great) and sold more records (not all of which were pretty great, but, you know, whatever) than pretty much any other band of that era, and they did it for much longer too (finally calling it quits in 2003, leaving only Eddie Vedder and company to carry the mantle). Not to mention the fact that in Weiland, they had one of the most dynamic — yet colossally screwed-up — frontmen of the decade. I cannot understand why they are almost universally panned … only, I can.

Basically, STP were like the Mötley Crüe or the Led Zeppelin of alt-rock. A critically loathed — though for no particularly good reason — yet commercially successful band that always played second fiddle to so-called “important” acts, yet the one that really made the wheels of the industry turn. The kind of band that makes people hate rock critics.

So perhaps it’s time we reconsidered STP’s place in rock history. And I’m not saying we carve out a spot for them on Mount Rockmore or anything like that, but how about this: Think for a second about those hits I keep mentioning — songs like “Plush,” “Creep,” “Interstate Love Song,” “Big Bang Baby” or “Lady Picture Show.” Chances are, they’re w-a-a-y better than you remembered them being (if you need a refresher, check out some of their videos). Now think if there’s another band in recent memory that was so adept at switching gears or did so with such success. Can you name one? I can’t.

Next, consider the fact that STP might also be much more brilliant than you ever realized. Take, for example, the video for “Big Bang Baby.” You remember it: the ultra-low-budget one that was shot on VHS tape, the sole purpose of which seemed to be so the Pilots could pay homage to Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” It made no sense whatsoever, right? Or how about the time in 1993 when STP performed an entire show at NYC’s Roseland Ballroom in full Kiss makeup just because they wanted to. And let’s not forget the fact that they even released an album as batsh– crazy as Tiny Music … Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop. Were these just examples of rock-star ego gone horribly awry, or was that just what Weiland and company wanted you to think? Clearly, these are not the kind of questions that enter your mind when considering the average rock band. Or even Nirvana, for that matter.

And so, my fellow rock-critic brethren, I urge you to do the math. Think twice before slagging off STP. Be kind while writing about their massive 65-date (!) reunion tour. Because, really, they deserve better. Stone Temple Pilots didn’t change the world or make rock important again or even inspire a series of morbid, longing tomes about their career, but I’m not sure they really need to. All I’m suggesting is that perhaps it’s time to admit that we were wrong about them from the get-go — that we treated them unfairly. We can say we’re sorry, because STP certainly deserve to be remembered as more than just a throwaway line in a Pavement song. The truth can set you free.

5ive Style: Slightly Less Than A Half-Dozen Of My Favorite Things On The Internet This Week, So Named For A Post-Rock Group That No One Probably Remembers

1. The Teenagers’ Reality Check: An album’s worth of ultra-profane Euro-pop about sex and partying and every European male’s favorite hobby: seducing awestruck American girls. Plus a song that pokes fun at Jared Leto! If you hate the French (or cheerleaders), then “Homecoming” just might be the song you’ve waited your whole life for. And if you’ve ever found yourself wondering what Pulp would sound like if they were fronted by an effeminate, debased French dude, well, now you’ve got your answer.

2. 1985 New York Mets WOR-TV Promo: In honor of the last season at Shea, here’s a commercial for the ’85 Mets squad, featuring cameos by Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry and (presumably) an off-screen mountain of cocaine. If you do nothing else, at least fast-forward to 0:14. Trust me.

3. Ugly Casanova’s “Things I Don’t Remember” video on Pitchfork.TV: I am probably not supposed to say this, but Pfork’s brand new online channel is pretty unbelievably great. The best bit? The video section, a treasure trove of musical moments you’ve probably forgotten about completely — like, for example, this borderline creepy/hilarious clip from Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock’s borderline creepy/hilarious side project, Ugly Casanova. Goodbye, productivity.

4. Weezer’s promo photo for their upcoming Red Album: I don’t know if it’s Rivers’ mustache and cowboy hat, that bass-player dude’s patchy beard, or the fact that Brian Bell now looks like Desmond from “Lost,” but I am suddenly very excited to hear Weezer’s new album. Well, either excited or terrified.

5. “A Skin, A Night” trailer: A smoky, boozy documentary about the National’s smoky, boozy Boxer album, which makes me realize why it was my 12th-favorite record of 2007 , and also why it should’ve been much, much higher on my list.

Questions? Concerns? 5ive Style suggestions? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.