Review Summary: One of the nineties' hidden gems.
It's no secret that the '90s produced some pretty stellar music. 1994 is often seen as the peak of musical genius in this decade, and maybe even all time. Masterpieces like Grace, Superunknown, Welcome To Sky Valley, Illmatic, and The Downward Spiral were all released during that fateful year, as well as being the sad year that grunge's popularity started declining. Kurt Cobain's death shocked the planet on April 8th, 1994, and with Nirvana, the most successful grunge band, disbanded, other bands had no idea what to do. As a result, Soundgarden slowly started fading away after their short period of wild success, Alice In Chains went into a tailspin, and Pearl Jam became more experimental and adapted their sound just to try and stay relevant. However, another band is often forgotten that made one of their best works in what is often considered the best year for music. In 1994, the fifth member of the big 4, Stone Temple Pilots, released their magnum opus Purple and took the world by storm, although this is all typically forgotten in the present day.
After STP's debut Core in 1992, critics wrote them off as a bad Alice In Chains ripoff, stating their slow, filthy riffing was directly lifted from AiC's style and that they would fade into obscurity in no time. Well, after four hit singles and several awards, STP proved they weren't about to fade anywhere except into your speakers. Purple expands the band's sound into many different territories, such as psychedelia and acoustic music, while Core was pretty much entirely rooted in rock and metal. This variation easily makes Purple STP's best album, and in a few short words, I'll tell you what makes this 47-minute grunge wonderland so impressive.
First of all, none of the techniques STP implies in their music are groundbreaking. Their songs mostly employ basic structures and the production is pretty glossy and clean, but Stone Temple Pilots sure can write one hell of a melody. The best example of an amazing melody would be on the song "Still Remains" where vocalist Scott Weiland wails over a slow half-time riff before changing keys for one of the best choruses I've ever heard. The band can drift into heavier territory but because of their impressive knowledge of melodic structures, nothing is ever abrasive just for the sake of being abrasive. Purple is an album all about balance, despite how the music listlessly leaps and bounds from one genre to the next. This may not be a believable statement after listening to the first five songs which are all rather straightforward rock tunes, however once the acidic strums of "Pretty Penny" come barreling into the mix you'll know this album is special. That's another thing about Purple: it won't sink in immediately. When I first heard it back in 2002, I thought it was complete experimental trash and that a mainstream rock band shouldn't be fiddling around with psychedelic recording techniques. It takes upwards of 5 listens to really appreciate what the band has created here, whereas Core is an album that can be easily digested after just one go-round (come on, who is capable of not getting "Creep"'s chorus stuck in their head?).
Dean DeLeo's guitar tones are some of the fullest and most rewarding I've heard in the spectrum of alternative rock. The massive, melodic textures meld seamlessly with the coasting bass work, such as in the punch to the gut of an opening riff used in "Meatplow". The tunings DeLeo uses are perfect, capturing every tone necessary to create the kind of simple, inviting melody that the group is known for. "Vasoline" is another perfect example of this, consisting of a three-over-four riff based solely on two notes. As it fades in, this front guitar line gives the impression that the song will be very light and minimalistic, but this is countered by DeLeo's crystal-clear guitar tones and heart-stopping harmonies by Weiland during the chorus. DeLeo's acoustics are flawless as well, leading into key changes flawlessly in "Pretty Penny" and driving the soft dynamic verses of "Kitchenware & Candybars". Dean's older brother Robert is the bassist for STP, and it's easy to tell they're related because Robert uses very similar techniques when playing his bass. The bass on this album is a full cascade of sound, driving the lower end of the songs and always maintaining a melodic edge to pack that extra punch. His dynamic skills are also incredibly on-point: the stark contrast between his light, floaty bass line on hit single "Interstate Love Song" and the grumbling madness of "Army Ants" is all the proof a listener needs to know that DeLeo is more than capable. Combine him with extremely solid sticksman Eric Kretz, and you have an unflappable foundation for some of the greatest songs of the nineties.
However, none of the other members' contributions would matter nearly as much without the soaring vocals contributed by Scott Weiland. STP gained plenty of publicity way back when because of Weiland's worsening heroin addiction, and I find it shocking that he was this bad of an addict because Weiland's voice is both unwavering and extremely clear. His range is remarkably expansive and you can feel just how much emotion he is putting into his performances. His harmonies with Dean are a thing of sonic beauty, mostly coming into play on the opening two tracks but being sprinkled in various moments of sonic glory throughout the rest of the LP. However, most of his vocal power shows its face when there is only a single track involved. He can belt out powerful melodic howls without much problem ("Meatplow", "Interstate Love Song") showcase his incredibly technical tenor ("Big Empty") or put both together to create a type of vocal euphoria ("Kitchenware & Candybars"). "Big Empty" is perhaps Weiland's shining moment as a vocalist; grandiose, uplifting and just all-out bombastic, this five-minute alt-rock gem puts the band's quiet-loud instrumental scheme on display as well as Weiland's airy tenor and heart-stopping melodic belt technique. The song itself, about taking off on a road trip to escape the mundane and routine, is written masterfully and is no doubt one of the best songs of the nineties. Songs like "Big Empty" are why I feel STP don't get enough recognition, you'd never see other bands from this time period write something so unflinchingly ambitious while still appealing to and marketing toward a mainstream audience.
Purple is a fantastic record but there are indeed some flaws with it that are difficult to overlook at first. Firstly, the track order is a bit jumbled and disoriented. The first half of the album is entirely made up of heavy-hitting rock anthems, while the second half is filled to the brim with more experimental affairs. This undeniably makes the first half more easy to digest than the second, and for a first-time listener it will make the album seem front-loaded and not having much to offer on the other side of the spectrum. Secondly, certain passages can get extremely repetitive, with "Lounge Fly" being the main offender. This song has one verse and one chorus, but they're repeated to stretch out to a five-minute length when three minutes of music would have made "Lounge Fly" an album highlight. By the time it fades into "Interstate Love Song" your first impression of the song will be repetitive, unoriginal, stale. Also, the hidden track is completely unnecessary. After Purple ends on the heart-wrenching note of "Kitchenware & Candybars" the listener should take some time to sit back and reflect on what they just heard, not listen to a comedic electronic jazz tune about all the songs the band wrote for the album.
Nonetheless, Purple is an excellent album that should be listened to by all people who claim to enjoy alternative music in any form or setting.
Recommended Tracks (asterisk signifies best track on album):
Kitchenware & Candybars