I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Buck Rogers or collecting butterflies, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated Dr. Who fan’s knowledge of the Tardis.
But I don’t like Football or Reality TV or Trams or Dr. Who. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article: This entry will be about the San Deigo Grunge band Stone Temple Pilots’ debut full-length studio album Core, which was released in 1992, (almost exactly one year after Nirvana’s Nevermind). We’re hot off the heels of both a Silverchair and Soundgarden First Impressions, and not too far from an Alice In Chains one, so forgive me if I don’t type my history with the genre this time around.
Now. I’m not actually that keen on the idea of Stone Temple Pilots at all. I remember liking their song ‘Days Of The Week’ when that was new, but other than that I have a sort of “not my cup of tea” stamp on their file in my mental filing cabinet. I don’t really like Scott Weiland’s voice on any of the Velvet Revolver songs that I heard either. I heard that recently Scott got replaced with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, which seems a bit odd not only because of their age difference, but because Chester seems too famous and in-demand to stay with the project long term. I’d imagine he either doesn’t plan to stay forever (or like Joe Bonamassa in BCC, will only fit in limited work around his main job) or else he doesn’t realize that nowadays Linkin Park are a bigger deal than Stone Temple Pilots.
Anyway, enough speculating on people’s motivations. This isn’t OK Magazine. Its KingcrimsonBlog. So I’m hear to discuss music, how it relates to other music, and how that fits in with my own likes and dislikes.
I remember very much knowing that Stone Temple Pilots existed and were connected to the Grunge or at least the Alternative end of the Rock music spectrum, but I think that I’d not read the bits in the magazine about them if they ever came up in a magazine I’d bought, and I’d skip most of their music videos if they ever came on while I was watching Music TV. I knew of them, but not really much about them.
I remember seeing a feature in Metal Hammer Magazine, which had previously covered artists with big back catalougues like Iron Maiden and Slayer (and also a stretched-out Pantera one, where they had to include all the Glam stuff to fill it out) about Stone Temple Pilots. I remember seeing all their album covers in there. I remember thinking, that’s a bit of a weird feature for Metal Hammer magazine. Of course, I didn’t actually know enough about them to know whether or not it was a weird choice. Luckily though I didn’t take the time to post them a letter in the mail telling them so. [Sometimes I think comments sections should email you back two days later and ask you if you still really mean what you typed, and only then let other people see it. (…Or at least charge you the price of an envelope and postage-stamp). This might save us all reading a lot of half-developed and completely uniformed angry bilious rants from people who don’t even actually care.]
And I remember Angela in My So Called Life listing them to her Dad, Graham (who is one of my favourite actors and characthers in televison history), in a list of bands that she listened to. That’s about it. Some very loose and vague run-ins with them, but apart from ‘Days Of The Week’ I think I’ve not actually heard much music by them. To be honest I kind of had them mixed up with Jane’s Addiction. Like how I had Vision Of Disorder and Life Of Agony mixed up a while back there. Is Dave Navaro in Stone Temple Pilots?
Anyway, I seem to be liking Grunge at the moment. Its providing a healthy contrast to my overindulgence on big, cheesy Power Metal. This was cheap. And I like both Blogging and new listening-experiences. So here we go…
‘Dead And Bloated’ starts off with a low-in-the-mix solo vocal in the spirit of Load era Metallica or possibly Black Label Society. Then it kicks into a riff and vocal pattern that is almost the exact half way point between Load and Clutch’s Self Titled. It’s a bit early-Fallon on it. Then it moves more into Pearl Jam territory. The chorus is a bit more “stereotype” Grunge, you get little hints of Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden all at once. The post-chorus has a Load vibe again, with some shimmers that are very like Pearl Jam’s debut.
There’s a cool bridge that teases a potential guitar solo (but doesn’t fulfill …maybe there’ll be one next time?). I like this song. Its very solid. Its heavier than I expected. Its production on the guitars and toms is very 90s-Metal. The main rhythm of the main riff and vocal is very groovy. I can see Neil Fallon’s lean-forward-and-back-again dancing on-stage delivery in my mind’s eye when I listen to it.
‘Sex Type Thing’ bangs in next. It sounds exactly like Black Label Society. Like exactly. The guitars, the vocals, the production. Of all the times I’ve mentioned BLS similarities and Grunge songs, this is 100% the most perfect similarity ever. There’s a very enjoyable ‘I know…x, y and z’ vocal bit in the chorus where there’s more melody in the vocals. This is a damn fine, stompy rock song. It’d be great fun live. There are these bridge’s that sort of tease a second of ‘Learn To Fly’ by the Foos before releasing back into that big BLS stomp.
‘Wicked Garden’ opens up with a lot of promise. Then it kicks into another, slower BLS-type riff. The vocals come in and with them a sort of Pearl-Jam’s-debut shimmer comes in on the guitar to tone down the heaviness. The vocals mix a lot of different angles… You hear one bit and it reminds you of Cornell, but another reminds you of Hetfield or Vedder, or Wylde, or Stayley. Then the more melodic chorus comes in, its very effective. It sounds 100% fuck all like ‘Days Of The Week.’ Y’know who it reminds me a bit of too? Soil. It reminds me of the slower Soil songs like ‘Garden’ (and not just because of the word “garden” either). There’s a certain way that the rhythms lock together that reminds me of the first two Soil records a lot.
‘No Memory’ is a classical guitar piece like Metallica do. Well, many Thrash bands did them as album intros too, now that I think about it. It’s a short, one-minute instrumental. Out of place on a Grunge album but pretty cool. Maybe it should’ve been the intro and then kicked straight into ‘Sex Type Thing’? That would’ve made structural sense.
‘Naked Sunday’ comes in next. Its bustley. It sounds like its in a hurry. It sounds like it has to elbow past people on an over-crowded city street in order to get somewhere important before time runs out. It reminds me of Mars Volta songs like ‘Cotapaxi,’ ‘Goliath,’ and ‘Cygnuss… Vismond Cygnus.’ Its got well-implemented additional percussion and cool lead guitar quietly going off in the background. Its vocals and general energy make it feel more like Prog Metal (in the non-Dream Theater way) than Grunge. The melody of the chorus-esque, repeated, word-free ‘aaaawww yeeee’ reminds me a bit of Powertrip era Monster Magnet. It ends all of a sudden without a big payoff but it’s a damn cool song. Instant iTunes stars.
‘Creep’ is next. Its not a Radiohead cover. It sounds a bit like a Flaw ballad. Its got a chorus that actually sounds a bit country and western in its vocal melody. This singer sounds completely different than the one on the last song, and again totally different from the singer on those first two songs. Weiland’s got skills. Who knew?
Then comes a slow, Load era building chord sequence comes in that’s heavier than a ballad but not “heavy”-heavy comes in and gives the song a bit of an edge. This actually reminds me of ‘The Unforgiven III’ off of Death Magnetic. Y’know… the “ship-of-gold” bit?
This is a very good Ballad. It’s a lot better than most of the Grunge ballads I’ve heard. Its better than a lot of Zack Wylde’s ballads even. With its mixture of Texas-pain, LA Regret and Ancient Seafaring loneliness moods. Its not my best-ballad-of-the-week (fictitious prize, new readers) winner though, as Silverchair’s ‘Cemetary’ takes that, and delivers an acceptance speech that embarrasses Gedde Lee (topical Alex Lifeson joke, future readers).
‘Piece Of Pie’ does another “this is exactly Black Label Society” intro and main riff. I instantly like it. I really wasn’t expecting this sort of thing when I bought these guy’s record. But I’m damn happy with it. When the chorus comes in I can hear some Facelift and some Badmotorfinger in it. There’s a bridge about two and a half-minutes in, just before the guitar solo comes in (hooray, finally a guitar solo!) that has slightly Cobainy vocals. The first hint of Nirvana I’ve heard at all in this record.
‘Plush’ comes on next. It sounds a bit more like Grunge. Very Eddie Vedder inspired vocals. It sounds a bit like Creed, in the way that anyone who isn’t Eddie Vedder doing a Vedder-vocal has a sort of similar effect on my brain. The song lacks any BLS stomp. It’s a sort of Waltzy, mid-tempo hypno-swirl of a song, mechanically switching between tight and loose. Its got hints of Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains as it circles around. The more they do the chorus, the more I hear Vedder. Its decent, but sort of a completely different style to most of the album. I’ll bet it was a single. The name looks famous.
‘Wet My Bed’ is another one-minute interlude. Instead of sounding like a classic Metallica intro though, this one sounds like a mixture of ‘Heyfoxymophandlemana’ and ‘Bugs’ by Pearl Jam, with a Mars Volta interlude and ‘Count To Six And Die’ by Marilyn Manson.
‘Crackerman’ finds the answer to the problem I was about to have with the album. By ROCKING. It kicks into a Soil/BLS stomp. With this song I can understand why Guns N Roses members would want to team up with STP members. If it wasn’t for the low earthy vocals, I guess I can see the connection to songs like ‘Right Next Door To Hell’ and ‘Double Talkin Jive.’ Its big, meaty, hard rock. With the Cornell meets Wylde vocals (and nice guitar solo) it reminds me more of Stoner Rock, than the jangly, depressing Cobain-fueled side of Grunge. (The side of grunge my brain most readily thought of up until this year). Yes. A good song indeed.
‘Where The River Goes’ opens up with a Bonhamy drum beat, then some groovy Hard Rock kicks in. Its one of those bob-your-head type songs. You don’t move your legs to it, but you sort of roll your upper-body like a wave. The vocals are very Grungey here. There’s a heaviness in the middle of the riffs, but the other guitarist adds some shlaaaaangs that offset it a bit. It reminds me a bit of Sixty Watt Shaman. ‘Poor Robert Henry’ in particular. There are definite touches of Soundgarden too. I like when it picks up a bit of energy and he starts singing ‘I wanna be as big as a mountain…’ It goes on for 8-minutes. It seems to be achieving, what Soundgarden wanted to do with ‘Searching With My Good Eye Closed.’ There’s a nice emotional bridge around the five minute mark that starts off sounding like Through The Ashes Of Empires era Machine Head before turning into Grunge. Then the big fat groovy main riff comes back and hooray, my friend the guitar solo makes an appearance. This is definitely a nice song. Its got a sort of slight whiff of the Clutch/Shaman/Five Horse Johnson working-man Rock Spirit to it. It sounds like a Biker Bar in a desert town, in a less-important scene in a road movie. Towards the end, it picks up a real cool momentum and a violin starts coming in over the Hard Rock, giving it this cinematic feel until it starts to fade out and the album is over.
Huh. That’s the album over then. Overall, what a damn pleasant surprise. I was really expecting this record to be one step too far. To be too far away from my comfort zone. To be too jangly and un-solid. I thought this would be the regret-point in my genre-journey (there’s usually one, like Sodom’s debut in my Thrash journey. Or Shadows Fall’s debut in my Metalcore journey. Or The Atomic Bitchwax in my Stoner journey.) No only dose it not suck, but this album actually turned out to be a really chunky and solid buzzy Metallic rock album, with lots of parts I like from Metallica, Black Label Society and bits of Alice In Chains in there to act as a comfort blanket and safety net. Its actually even more consistent than that Silverchair record.
I really dug a whole lot of it, and apart from ‘Plush’ it was pretty much never-below-above-average. The only way to make it better would be if the first few songs had guitar solos, and a couple of the songs that faded out or ended suddenly had explosive climactic endings. Otherwise though, no complaints. I’m very happy with this record.
Hey, every once in a while its worth taking a chance on something you’re not sure about. Goodbye for now people.