Stone Temple Pilots were better than Pearl Jam. Nobody was allowed to admit that in the ’90s, when self-seriousness reigned and alternative rock was supposed to be Very Important Business — or rather, A Very Important Indictment Of Business (see: Pearl Jam’s war against Ticketmaster). Plus Scott Weiland made it harder on himself by blatantly copying Eddie Vedder’s trademark bellow throughout STP’s underrated 1992 debut album, Core. As a result, “Wicked Garden” and “Plush” sounded like glammed-up cock-rock in grunge clothing, which is exactly what those songs were. That’s what it took to get on the radio in 1992, and Stone Temple Pilots were a band made for radio. Unfortunately, copping the popular affectation of the times also got STP pegged as a Pearl Jam ripoff band. Were they a bunch of Hollywood creeps trying to ride the Seattle wave? Sure. But they were incredibly talented Hollywood creeps, gifted songwriters with a magnetic, self-destructive frontman who played the part of a rock star exceptionally well. They wholly embraced the ridiculousness of rock ’n’ roll showmanship and skeeze in an era dominated by sanctimonious posturing and intentional weirdness that looks far more ridiculous than most of STP’s exploits in hindsight. Core was stacked with hits, and deservedly so; despite all its dunderheaded lyrics and the despicable rapeyness of “Sex Type Thing,” it’s a hard-hitting, harmonically dense blast of songcraft. But if it was the only thing they ever released, they’d have gone down as mere copycats, which would be a shame because they were much better than that. They were their own band, and on their sophomore LP, they started to prove it.

Purple, released 20 years ago tomorrow, is the beginning of the rest of this band’s life. They stopped trying to fit in and instead became their truest selves. The rock landscape was already significantly different in 1994 than it had been in 1992. Kurt Cobain was dead, but the spandex rock he allegedly killed was still staving off extinction. Pearl Jam was moving away from the sound that made them famous, willfully surrendering the grunge spotlight to Soundgarden and Hole. Live was thriving as a sort of mystic frat-bro Pearl Jam. Alice In Chains released the acoustic curio Jar Of Flies. Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer were on the rise, doing wildly different things with hair-metal iconography that inspired much of STP’s steez. Green Day and the Offspring were bringing pop-punk into the equation. Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against The Machine were picking up steam, having merged hard rock with industrial and hip-hop respectively. Dave Matthews Band was entering the national picture, with Phish already well into their ascendance. A bustling lo-fi scene was bubbling into the mainstream via Pavement and Guided By Voices. Britpop, Beck, Beastie Boys — it was all happening in ’94. Compared to most of that action, Stone Temple Pilots were practically a classic rock band, and they embraced that identity on Purple.

“Interstate Love Song,” for example, sounded like it was 25 years old from the day it was released. Quite pointedly, it was expertly designed for blasting on the highway, windows down, the DeLeo brothers’ rich guitar-bass interplay curving along with the road, your terrible voice blurring into Weiland’s grizzled baritone. In the grand tradition of nonsensical rock radio smash hits, who gives a shit what he’s singing about? (And really, Dean DeLeo’s slide riffs speak for themselves.) Same goes for “Vasoline,” which matches Weiland’s faux-intellectual wordplay with the smartest dumb guitar parts known to man. The track milks a simple hammer-on riff and an incessant power-chord chorus for maximum rhythmic impact while Weiland successfully tests the limits of his range, setting loose the fiery rasp that would prove to be a potent counterpoint to his low-end warbles. It should also be noted that savvy, workmanlike drummer Eric Kretz made these songs slap. He knew when to unleash a flurry of fills and when to just drive STP’s music steadily and let the band’s more colorful flourishes unfold. The other single, “Big Empty,” was a marked improvement on Core’s ballad attempt “Creep” (which loses to Radiohead and TLC in the early-’90s “Creep”-stakes), merging smoky bossa-nova verses with a massive arena-worthy refrain that has more to do with “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” than “Even Flow.”

Purple’s deep cuts are as notable as its singles. Opener “Meatplow” sounds exactly like its title, built upon an atypical power power-chord churn that’s literally physical as fuck. “Lounge Fly,” best known as the longtime MTV News intro music, matches creepy backwards chords with ominous jazzy harmonies and tumbling rockslide percussion. Spazzy masturbation missive “Unglued” is followed by the gleaming-then-gargantuan “Army Ants”; both of them probably could have rendered Purple one of those ’90s albums that yielded five or six hit singles, if only they’d been released. This music was far more accomplished and distinct than anybody gave this band credit for the first time around. Even the Core retread “Silvergun Superman” has merit, its evocative bassline among Robert DeLeo’s grooviest. The real shocker, though, is that the album’s softer, more pensive moments are just as effective, be they the acoustic curiosity “Pretty Penny,” the euphorically floaty power-ballad “Still Remains,” or the big closing number “Kitchenware & Candybars.” And the secret song, practically a requirement in that era, was a self-aware bit of old-fashioned crooning that’s as funny as it is well-executed.

None of this stuff was particularly meaningful, but STP didn’t pretend to be meaningful. Pearl Jam carried themselves like the whole of rock history was on their shoulders — with predictably dour results. In contrast, STP knew they were clowns, and the further they plunged into classic-rock camp, the more their true talents blossomed. That’s why 1996′s Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop, where they finally shook off grunge’s last vestiges, started openly aping the Stones and the Beatles, and ended up refracting them through their own unique sensibility, became their creative pinnacle. It’s why 1999′s post-breakup single “Down” was such an absolute crusher, a sneaky-great rock radio hit that never quite jibed with its time. They were rock ’n’ roll showmen, at their best when Weiland was free to strut and preen, a former high-school jock splitting the difference between David Bowie and Axl Rose and pulling it off on sheer gall.

As a kid who wasn’t bringing ideological baggage to my rock ’n’ roll radio, Weiland and his megaphone seemed like so much more fun than Vedder and the rest of grunge’s preeminent sourpusses. Unfortunately, he’s best-known for the heroin problem that dogged him throughout STP’s career and for being so difficult to deal with that the rest of the band cut ties with him twice. (BTW, 12 Bar Blues, the solo album Weiland made during STP’s first breakup, is a killer composite of glam-fuzz fuckery that proves Weiland brought more than just his voice to the table in this band.) It’s a shame that the DeLeos and Kretz honestly believe they’re better off with Chester Bennington’s electrified whimper these days because when the original lineup was all systems go, they were total monsters of rock — gifted songwriters and great entertainers who weren’t afraid to bask in their genre’s glorious skeeze. Purple is an effective document of those powers. It would never pass muster as high art, but it’s as artful as utilitarian rock music gets. And in its native environment — be that a skuzzy concert hall or the car stereo on a sunny day — it’s the proudest cock in the flock.

Comments (61)
  1. This was a really important album for me growing up. I think I owned it before Nevermind. The riff in “Interstate Love Song” is the first thing I learned to play on guitar. I don’t think this band gets enough credit it deserves. The sound the DeLeos create together is one of the more unique musical elements in 90s rock.

  2. tii iiiii iiiime to take her home, her heeeeeaaaaaddd is conscience laden…

  3. Yes, this album is great, and STP are underrated…but “better than Pearl Jam”?

    No. No. No.

  4. I’ve spent so many hours listening to these songs with my nephew. He actually introduced me to the band several years ago and I fell in love with Robert’s basslines. At the time he could barely play, and I was impressed that he managed to show me such a great rock bassist. Those counter melodies are amazing.

    I always throw Big Empty on during the long night drives when I don’t want to hear anything smart, but I also don’t want to listen to neanderthal cock rock. Great band, and great writeup, Chris!

  5. I do enjoy them more than Pearl Jam, but I know I shouldn’t :(. This has served as a reminder for me to give another listen to “Tiny Music….”, which is a really great album that I completely forgot about.

    • Also reminds me of their self-titled comeback album which was not a good album, but I loved “Samba Nova” so much, I always really appreciated their tinges of bossa and loungey music influences.

      • That album had it’s moments. The chorus to “Take a Load Off” is pretty great. I like “Cinnamon” as well, even if it is pretty light for STP.

    • I still think Tiny Music is one of the strangest and most daring left turns a major radio rock band has taken. I love Purple, but it was Tiny Music that really opened me up to more experimental rock music and spurred my aural journey into indie rock.

  6. I will always remember the period of time Purple came out, as it coincided with my graduation from 8th grade (and the notorious chase for OJ Simpson). I was more excited about getting this awesome brand new album on cassette than any graduation present. :)

    I will always maintain that as much as Weiland sounds like Vedder on Core, the only song that STP wrote in that era (1992-1994) that truly sorta imitated Pearl Jam was “Big Empty,” due to some of its well-chosen guitar chord structures, ones that sound like a slower-paced “Porch.” It’s still awesome for a slow song and Purple still is my (and am sure countless others’) fav STP record.

  7. Big album for me during 94-95. Lots of interesting sounds they don’t get enough credit for and I think STP and Live represented what was really good about rock radio in that instant. I think this is all a big lesson in how following up something good can really embellish or spoil what came after. Tiny Music was also a really cool record too. If they just stuck around and just made interesting music with a little less attention but still a small passionate following, they could have gotten somewhere above where they are now and below where PJ are at now. Same with Live.

    Now, with that said, I guess I’ll be the guy around here that sounds like a broken record but I’ll make it my mission: what is so damn wrong about “self-serious” or “earnest” or “weighty” rock? Why does rock, or any music for that matter, have to be jockular and trivial to get critical acclaim? Why does THAT music get associated with being “douchey” while the most misogynistic narcisstic bling-worshipping hednostic music get more cred with the “authencity” crowd? I’ll take a Bono’s douchebaggery over an R Kelly’s any day of the week.

    • Also calling grunge gods “sourpusses” is like calling movies like Stripes a comedy, or Nightmare on Elm Street a horror movie, or Commando an action flick. I don’t go into The Godfather expecting popcorn fanfare, just like you shouldn’t go into Superunknown, Dirt, Ten, or In Utero for fun Friday night shits and giggles. Let’s put this into perspective.

  8. You guys are doing god’s work with all these great 20th anniversary writeups. :) Also, much respect for giving respect to “Tiny Music.” That record is incredible.

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  10. whatever song they had on the crow soundtrack was my jam.

  11. Pretty much agree with enjoying STP more than Pearl Jam. I remember between this album and TIny Music, STP were treated like one of the biggest bands, at least on MTV. I remember the Crow soundtrack coming out a little before this and hearing Big Empty for the first time along with songs by the Cure, NIN, Pantera, and Helmut. Speaking of which, I think it was a week after this that Betty came out which IMO is fantastic and doesn’t get enough mention. What a great year for music.

    Also kudos for mentioning 12 Bar Blues. That was the soundtrack of the spring of my senior year in high school.

  12. I definitlely remember STP getting ragged on all the time for being johnny come latelys. There was a point where someone tried to market them as being from the same San Diego scene as bands like Drive Like Jehu and Rocket from the Crypt, but that everyone in that scene swore up and down that they had never even met the band.

    And yet here we are 20 years later and people never get tired of these songs. They were never the most original band, but they have a ton of killer riffs, had a fantastic live show, and could also pull off acoustic ballads. Sometimes you just gotta outlive the naysayers ’til your tunes are the last ones standing.

    Unglued is for sure my favorite off this album.

  13. I really loved this album at the time, but relistening to it now, it just sounds flat out bad. Some of the guitar parts are good (Interstate Love Song), but this only sounds good to me now when compared with the horrid alternative rock that came after it (Puddle of Mudd, etc.)

    • Really? Sure it doesn’t sound ‘current’ but it doesn’t sound flat-out bad. I think it holds up remarkably well – better than Core, and Tiny Music.

      • Yup. I got kind of excited about it while reading this article and went back to listen to it and really couldn’t make it through any of the songs all the way through. I think it’s largely due to his voice because there are some really good riffs in there.

        It kind of surprised me because I really don’t mind things that don’t sound current. I mean, I still unironically love that first Third Eye Blind album.

        Oh well, I’ll revisit Tiny Music on its 20th anniversary in 2 years to see if I feel any different about it.

  14. And that horrid alternative rock in the 00s was known as Nu Metal. After the wave of alternative rock fizzled out in the late 90s, bands like Limp Bizkit, Staind, Linkin Park, Papa Roach and Disturb started to dominate radio. The only reason alternative rock got edgier was to compete with the boybands and teeniebopper artists of the time. In hindsight, there wasnt much to choose from since mainstream music really tanked in that era. Think about it. It was either cookie-cutter pop acts or generic sounding rock bands so you had 2 types of poisons to pick. Speaking of Linkin Park, Its strangely coincidental that they initially toured with STP in early 00s and now STP is using the lead douche from that band.

    Music today is strange and bewildering. Theres some good acts out there, but yet the heavy hitters of the 90s such as Beck, Damon Albarn, Presidents of the USA, Eels, Pixies, and 311 have released some solid albums this year. Just a shame the NEW STP is utter shit. Either change the name of the band, boot Chester or break up.

  15. I love this album so much. Such a sonic leap forward from Core. I still remember the first time I listened to it, still remember the first few moments of Meatplow, still remember the impact Interstate Love Song had on me.

  16. I hear they’re elegant bachelors.

  17. This was a big one for me, I’d say. Bought the tape and played it a lot on my Walkman. Similarly to a previous commenter, I had this album long before I bought a Nirvana album…as in I bought Nevermind within the last year. That’s just the way my musical tastes worked. This is one of those albums I bought as I expanded from liking my dad’s bands and my brother’s bands. Guess I consider it a stepping stone. Thanks for mentioning Tiny Music…STP’s creative apex and 12 Bar Blues…very underrated album and I listened to it as much as any STP album.

  18. I’m glad this site has these articles and that the author doesn’t consider himself too cool to represent his past. Anyway, I would say the comment about STP being better than PJ is not off base. I’ve seen both bands several times each and there is no doubt when Weiland is on, he’s a hell of a lot better than Vedder standing around hugging a wine bottle and a mic stand(which is what he was doing in the mid 90′s). Just like their live show, STP’s catalog of music is not afraid to have some fun and their lead singer usually welcomes the rockstar thing. Even their reunion album from a couple of years ago had some nice songs on it that were a lot more accessible than what their peers have delivered the last couple of years(AIC being the exception. Hopefully they can quit fighting and at least get back on the road.

    • True. Both bands are great live. When you get down to it, just totally different bands and styles. STP are the more “fun” band, I guess. Apples and oranges.

    • Watch this…


      Pearl Jam was a bug fucking nuts live band in their early years, including most of the 90s. Eddie Vedder was ape shit crazy. And I refute your idea that he stood around “hugging a wine bottle and a mic stand” in the mid 90s. That didn’t come until much later, and largely it was AFTER the tragedy at Roskilde, when Pearl Jam (understandably) changed pretty much everything about the energy level of their live sets. However, by doing so, they’ve created one of the most unique and inclusive live shows around (maybe equaled only by what Springsteen and The E Street Band are doing these days). No two Pearl Jam shows are the same (at least not in a row, or even near each other), yet every one of them is giant sing-a-long, often approaching three hours in length, with nearly every person in attendance belting out the lyrics at along with Vedder. And that happens with almost every song – which is well over 100 possible choices now, I believe (a number STP will never approach) – including b-sides are rarities. I have nothing against STP, but your statement regarding the comparison between them and Pearl Jam live just doesn’t hold much truth.

  19. In my opinion… ‘Interstate Love Song’ is absolutely brilliant. One of the great singles of the 90s. The mellow acoustic intro, followed by the second electric intro and two verses before the chorus, so NOT lazy in the songwriting department. And the “all of these things you said to me” at the end of the chorus is such a great lyrical reversal. It changes the entire meaning of the song.

    ‘Big Empty’ and ‘Pretty Penny’ are also great. Although I still think the Unplugged acoustic take on ‘Big Empty’ may be the better version of that song.

    But for me, for whatever reason, I really couldn’t get into them as an album band. My awareness and interest in them was mostly because of their singles, which were admittedly, for the most part, gigantic ear worms. And I could certainly never, under any circumstances or in any context, place them above Pearl Jam. I kind of doubt that the members of STP would, either.

    Speaking of, does the rest of the band really think Chester Bennington is a better choice as front man, or is that just some journalistic conjecture? Because I’m pretty sure the issues lie with Scott Weiland, not the rest of the band. His problems with both substances and attitude are fairly well documented. I mean, it’s not like STP is the only band he’s had a problem being a part of.

  20. Jeez, stick a knife in Eddie Vedder why don’t you….Nice call though, coming from someone who was born too late to really experience this stuff, I think Purple is a stepping stone that a lot of people miss out on when getting their fill of the early 90′s. Lifelong addicting guitar riffs.

  21. In what universe was STP compared to Pearl Jam like that? I don’t believe STP was ever trying to be grunge.

  22. “Stone Temple Pilots were better than Pearl Jam.”

    Yeah, like there’s any fucking STP song that’s even a tenth as good as “Black.”

    You want to make your contrarian/revisionist case for STP, cool, I’ll read it, but launching your article by claiming THAT^ like its some kind of objective fact that nobody wanted to admit is such a remedial stunt. Good writers don’t need crutches like that, and if you had any confidence in your article you wouldn’t open with such a lazy hook.

  23. I generally like this article, but Stone Temple Pilots existed (under a different name but nevertheless) and Plush existed before Pearl Jam even formed. Why is it so hard for journalists to do a little research after all this time? Weiland wasn’t aping anyone; that really was his original voice. It is a fact that chronic heroin use can make your voice higher, and that actually did happen to Scott Weiland. He eventually had to relearn how to sing, and he has talked about this multiple times.

  24. Big Empty

  25. they’re foxy to me, are they foxy to you?

  26. I have Baby Krishna in this video…
    Too cool, yea/nay?

  27. despite the insanely dumb opening sentence (and most of the first paragraph), it’s great to see STP actually getting some positive press and recognition for once.

  28. Tiny Music was one of my favorite albums of the 90s, without question. Cool write up, and a great reminder to delve back into STP’s catalog. Talented band, despite the unfair comparisons to Pearl Jam early on, which you can’t really blame people for.

    Also, enough with the silly definitive subjective statements. Pearl Jam and STP: Both great 90s bands.

  29. Even back when Core was released I never really understood the dismissal of STP as a “Pearl Jam clone.” They’re two independent bands, both of which are quite amazing. Loved your write-up about Purple – that album barely ever left my CD player when it was released. Four hour drives to and from college on the weekends were frequently spent with it destroying my hearing, along with my horrible singing. Love every song on the album, and STP has always been a great band. Saw them live while they toured for Purple and they put on a fantastic show as well.

  30. Kind of late to weigh in, but there’s no way I can get behind that STP>PJ statement, though I guess it did its job and got responses. The first two STP albums had some moments, but they also felt kind of plodding a lot of the time, and the fact that some people might have seen them as a cut-rate Pearl Jam seems totally reasonable to me.

    That said, Tiny Music is a huge improvement and genuinely killer album that did a great job of giving them a sound that worked better for them, even if they never caught that lightning in a bottle for an album’s length again that I’m aware of.

  31. I agree with others – I never understood the STP comparison to Pearl Jam. Because Scott Weiland and Eddie Vedder have a deep, growling voice? That’s a lazy ass way to compare two different bands.

  32. Agree, the first line really diminishes the rest of the article.

    Rocky start, pretty darn good middle, and it comes apart in the end.

    I’m talking about the write up, although the same description could apply to the band .

  33. I was going to make a joke about celebrating 20 years of Live’s Throwing Copper while we’re at it, but I looked it up and I see you’ve already celebrated it. Jesus Christ. I guess people can’t make fun of you if you’re already the most ruthless parody of yourself.
    “Looking forward” to the No Need to Argue and Sixteen Stone memorial articles later this year. Spin had more taste in music back then than Stereogum has now with 20 years of hindsight.

  34. Good grief, how could anybody so badly misinterpret the lyrics to Sex Type Thing? Despicably rapey? The song is quite blatantly an anti date rape track written from the POV of a douchebag. These are not complicated lyrics, it virtually screams its message at you.

    Scott Weiland would be gutted if he read that, he complains about people moshing to the track he takes the subject matter that seriously. The guy was raped himself for christ’s sake, why the fuck would he write a pro-rape track?

    Any credibility this author had regarding his knowledge of this band went straight out of the window right there.

  35. Maybe it was because I was 10 years old when Core came out, and I didn’t really get into any sort of rock music until I hit my teens, but I didn’t get into STP well after the height of their popularity. In fact, I was just getting into them when Shangri-La Dee Da came out, and that was easily my favorite album by them. I thought it was such a criminally underrated album at the time, that for a little while there I didn’t dig into their back catalog because I knew it was quite different and I didn’t retroactively get into a lot of early 90s music anyway. That said, I finally did get into Purple quite a bit eventually, even if it was 8 years after the fact. And now, just like that, another 12 years have gone by? God, now even I’m getting old…

  36. Pearl Jam > STP

  37. I can’t think of a better way to intrigue people who know these bands into reading this article more than the opening sentence. Kudos on that deduction. STP proved they weren’t copycats on their first album…beyond Plush and Wicked Garden. Purple was very good as well. No, despite likeability, or however you might describe it, STP at no point surpassed Pearl Jam.

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