Just to get it out of the way, Scott Weiland was always the best part of Stone Temple Pilots. His bombastic stage presence, soulful scratchy baritone, keen ear for catchy melody, and lyrics that shifted between introspective and enigmatic helped the San Diego quartet become more than the sum of its parts. New singer Jeff Gutt is a competent vocalist but lacks Weiland’s flair, his soul, and his innate ability to turn simple alternative songs into something special.
With Gutt unable to fully fill Weiland’s void, Stone Temple Pilots’ seventh album, which is self-titled just like its last one in 2010, places the DeLeo brothers more at the forefront. Robert DeLeo’s catchy basslines and Dean DeLeo’s guitar riffing, often underappreciated in the shadow of Weiland, take center stage on the hook-laden album that often sounds more like Talk Show than STP.
The album’s best songs feature STP’s stronger psychedelic and hard rock influences, such as the heavy Jimmy Page-esque riffing in “Six Eight.” Album opener “Middle of Nowhere” has Dean DeLeo shredding through a massive hard rock riff as Gutt sings of the elusiveness of love. “Don’t fall in love with a midnight train, because it’ll leave you in the middle of nowhere,” he sings.
“Guilty” and the jangling “Just a Little Lie” showcase the band’s more psychedelic side. In “Meadow,” Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz’s driving, repetitive rhythm anchors the verses before the bouncy hooks drop in for the chorus. “With luck in our eyes and the stains of our souls we can drink from the fire that was burning in the meadow,” Gutt sings through the careening rhythm.
Despite being a heavy rock band, over the years some of STP’s best moments have been in its mellowest songs (“Creep,” “Wonderful,” “Big Empty”). That’s where this album really falls short. Though Gutt has considerable vocal chops, he doesn’t have the same soulfulness and his melodies are often a bit bland. The one exception is the album-closing acoustic ballad “Reds & Blues,” a beautiful crooner that would have fit well on Shangri-La Dee Da. “Welcome the monumental haze, all the wonder we once knew,” Gutt sings over DeLeo’s twangy acoustic.
At its best, the new album sounds a bit like Purple or Tiny Music, but at its worst it sounds like Stone Temple Pilots’ other eponymous album, its most uninspired effort. Though this release is a mixed bag, it shows that Kretz and the DeLeo brothers still have something to say and some good rocking to do.