Thursday, March 25, 2021

"Effortless pop savvy and staggering musicality"

Of all of the albums to get the 25th anniversary treatment, Stone Temple Pilots' Tiny Music ... Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop seems like an unlikely candidate. At the time of its release, the record was much maligned both by the critics (including Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber, who encouraged troubled frontman Scott Weiland to kill himself) and also (as I recall) within my circle of friends, raised on a steady diet of grunge. But, reappraising the album a quarter of a century onConsequence Of Sound's Bryan Rolli argues that "[n]ot only does Tiny Music mark STP's tragically short-lived creative zenith, but it remains one of the most stylistically adventurous albums of the grunge era".

He makes a reasonable case for that bold claim, too. While the band's debut Core hasn't aged well - it's like a chunkier, clunkier version of Alice In Chains' Dirt, or a much chunkier, clunkier version of Pearl Jam's Ten - second LP Purple remains, for me, their best record. But Rolli is right that Purple's successor is their most diverse and ambitious album - take 'Big Bang Baby', 'Art School Girl' and 'Lady Picture Show' as a three-song sample - and therefore arguably also the most interesting.

It's debatable, though, whether Tiny Music can be said to truly belong to the "grunge era". Only at the very end of the article does Rolli acknowledge that by 1996 grunge was "already withering". In fact, it was pretty much dead in the water by then, and so the band's eagerness to "take such exhilarating creative risks" - the nods to Bowie, The Beatles and even bossa nova - was probably prompted by a desire to flee the sinking ship.

Sadly, as sharply declining record sales show, it was a journey that many fans were unwilling to make. While Stone Temple Pilots are still a going concern (albeit without Weiland, who was fired in 2013 and died of an accidental overdose two years later), what Rolli refers to as "a thrilling, genre-hopping opus" effectively became the band's creative tombstone.

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