Music Rewind – Tiny Music: Songs from the WTF??!!

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Stone Temple Pilots was my favorite band in middle-school.  They might have been America’s favorite band in middle-school.  I credit them for providing me with the moment when I really fell in love with music.  I was at the McCracken Basketball Camp at Olivet College the summer between 7th and 8th grade.  During a break from practice sessions where I was learning how to become an all-state bench-warmer, I went back to my dorm room to relax and listen to some tunes.  I put on my headphones, pushed play on my Walkman, and immediately started rocking out by myself like only a gangly white boy could (picture a drunk Carlton) to STP’s most renown ditty, “Plush.”  I had heard the song many times before, but this particular time it was like my ears were opened wide for the first time and I finally “got it.”  From that moment on, I was hooked on music like Weiland was (is) hooked on smack, and STP was the smackiest of smack.  Smacktacular.  Smacktastic.  Smackerific.

When I was 15 and in the 9th grade, I probably was the stereotypical STP fan.  We were young, male, awkward, and pissed off.  We were pissed off at just about everything: school, our parents, our teachers, our coaches, our classmates, our teammates, our friends, ourselves, our clothes, our hair, our faces, our legion of pimples, our peach fuzz we tried to pass off as goatees during the summer.  STP, with their dark and brooding but galvanizing mini-epics, anthemized* all that we were feeling.  They were deeper than Nirvana, harder than Pearl Jam, smoother than Alice In Chains, and less Soundgardeny** than Soundgarden.  They were the soundtrack to everything we were experiencing, even if we were still too young and stupid to know what that was.

(*Note: It’s a word.  Look it up.  On second thought, don’t.)

(**Note: Not a word.)

I recall vividly the anticipation for STPs third album.  It came out right at the start of spring of my freshman year in high school, and it was bound to blow everyone’s faces off!  This was going to be the defining moment of my 9th grade year!***  So I and the rest of STP nation sprinted to Warehouse Records and gobbled up the new album on the day of its release.  There it was in our hands: “Tiny Music: Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop.”

(***Note: I did not have a lot of dates at this point in my life.)

We thought the cover-art was awesome (it wasn’t)!  We thought the insert, with it poster fold-out format that didn’t contain a track list anywhere, was bad ass (it wasn’t)!  This was going to be the best album ever!  So I, like the rest of the fans, gave it a good listen.  Then we paused for a minute or two and looked around.  Then we listened to it again.  Then we paused again.  Then raised our right hands with palms up in a confused manner, looked to the other side of the room and collectively said “What the f***??”

It was . . . different.  What was it exactly?  The guitar sound was different, sure.  Weiland’s voice was raspier and higher-pitched, sure.  But that wasn’t it.  Something else was missing, or something was there that shouldn’t be.  This couldn’t be STP!  STP writes dark and powerful angst anthems.  This actually sounded kind of . . . happy!

“What the f***??”

We weren’t ready to admit it yet, but STP had committed the ultimate rock cardinal sin in the eyes of the young, they changed.  By golly did they change!  Where we were expecting five-minute grunge anthems, we got fluffy three-minute experimental alt-pop clunkers.  Where we expecting “Plush” or “Vasoline,” we got “Big Bang Baby” and “Seven Caged Tigers.”

“What the f***??”

We all tried to pass it off as a temporary feeling.  I mean, what feelings did we have that weren’t temporary back then?  We’d ask each other what they thought of the record, and, loyal as we were, we grimaced out a “Oh, it’s . . . great!  I mean, it’s different and kind of weird and bad and all, but it’s great!”  We were loyal indeed.  Loyal and massively perplexed.

Why did this happen?  Why would they do this?  They had such a good thing going!  Why did they have to change?  We weren’t helped by the interviews they did to promote the album.  Any hopes of this being a temporary foray into Happyland were dashed when the Deleo brothers stated that this was the record they had always wanted to make.  And although there were brief moments of energetic anger on the album that somewhat resembled the glory of Core and Purple, three of the four members credited “Seven Caged Tigers,” a song that could put a cocaine addict to sleep, as their favorite song on the record.

“What the f***?”

The album ended up debuting at #1, as could be expected, and would ultimately go double-platinum and have three #1 rock hits.  So, Joe’s pissy high school opinion be damned.  In the end it was a success, right?

Sure.  It was a success in the way that Geraldo’s ventures into Capone’s vault was a success: a lot of people witnessed it, but most wish they hadn’t.  Tiny Music was damn near a career cyanide pill for STP.  Coupled with Scott Weiland’s endless fight with the needle, the disillusionment that Tiny Music bestowed upon the young and ever-angsty STP faithful sent the band’s career on a steep downward trajectory.  Double-platinum sounds good, but not when compared to the band’s previous two releases, which each bested six-time platinum status.

STP would never get back even close to have that fan allegiance.  Three albums****, one breakup/reunion, and a few more Weiland relapses, and four side-project albums later, the once area-packing STP is down to touring Indian casinos like they were KC and the Sunshine Band.

(****Note: Their fourth album, “No. 4,” actually brought back some of the fire that the first two albums had, and fans slowly responded.  It looked like STP was on the rise again, but then quickly came the fifth album, “Shangri La Dee Da,” which would serve as the bands second WTF??!! album.  Not many bands get the opportunity to have a second WTF??!! album.  Credit them for that.)

I sold the album to a secondhand record shop shortly after college, along with Methods of Mayhem’s debut album and Jackyl’s Greatest Hits.*****  A few years ago, I went and re-bought it from another secondhand shop.  Since I had tickets to STP’s reunion tour show at my local Indian casino, I thought I’d give the album another chance to see if it I’d hear it differently as an adult.  I still own it.  In fact, I just listened to it as I was starting this post.

(*****Note: One album I did not sell off until years later, Shania Twain’s “Come On Over.”  Don’t hate.)

It’s not bad.

I don’t think it was ever bad.  There are some really interesting moments on the album.  They were always there.  “Press Play” is a weird but enticing way to start an album.  “Tumble in the Rough” is still a pretty formidable head-banger.  “Art School Girl” rocks in a strange, slight-of-hand way that catches you off-guard.  Even the songs I hated when I was younger, “And So I Know” and “Daisy” to name a few, are at least tolerable and I can now appreciate the musicianship involved in crafting them.  So yeah, not bad.  Maybe in a few years I play it in conjunction with the first two albums and I’ll see that it stacks up nicely with them, or maybe (as the band might wish) I find that it stands out as their best album!

And, of course, monkeys might fly out my butt.

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