Release Date: 7 Feb 2020
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The Stone Temple Pilots are one of those bands that I don't remember because they switched on at the point I was switching off but, going back to refresh myself on what they sounded like, I realise that I know their songs. Could I have told you that Interstate Love Song was theirs? No, but as soon as I hit play on YouTube, I knew it. The same goes for Vasoline, Plush, Big Empty and surely a bunch more that I didn't get round to.
The reason why I went to YouTube to check out older material is because what I heard here didn't sound like what I expected the Stone Temple Pilots to be like. Sure, they lost a couple of distinctive vocalists in Scott Weiland and Chester Bennington, but it wasn't new singer Jeff Gutt who surprised me. It was that, somewhere along their musical journey from grungy alternative rock beginnings to wherever they're going, they turned into the Eagles.
Now, while that sounds rather reactionary, it isn't entirely untrue. Opening song Fare Thee Well sounds like the Eagles in their later inoffensive radio-friendly soft rock mode. It's hard not to like it because it's built out of inherently likeable DNA but the older I get the more I have zero interest in inherently likeable music. It's telling that I went to get lunch after about half an hour of this album and shocked myself by realising that I'd paused it on track four. It had maybe been fifteen minutes.
The question isn't whether this is nice to listen to. It is. It's very nice. The question is whether it counts as the sort of music that's enjoyable as it enters our heads but, having done its job, promptly flutters off into the breeze to be forever forgotten. And there I'm not sure. It feels like it is, but I can't answer that until tomorrow or next week, so I'll dive in deeper to see what I can find.
The first thing to note is that the whole album is acoustic, so this is far from in your face music. Wikipedia lists alternative rock, grunge, hard rock and alternative metal as the band's genres. This is precisely none of those. Some of it is introspective, so may appeal to fans of singer/songwriters who focus on the words more than the music but don't ignore the latter. Much of it plays with instruments and writing styles that we wouldn't usually expect of a grunge band. Some of it could be recognisable if it was electric, amped up and delivered with a heck of a lot more emphasis than this.
Fare Thee Well is acoustic Eagles right down to the vocal harmonies, but the comparisons from there get even more surprising. There's Gordon Lightfoot on Three Wishes. There's Leonard Cohen on Perdida, which finds a Spanish guitar style that fits the language of the title (the song is still in English). It never quite makes it to Emmylou Harris but there's always the next album, as it isn't as far away from that as I'd have ever expected.
After those singer/songwriter openers, the album moves into flavouring sound with instruments unexpected if not unusual. There's a flute on I Didn't Know the Time, a saxophone on the Steely Dan sounding Years. The flute comes back with a vengeance on She's My Queen, which thinks about cutting loose but has no intention of doing so. There's a hint of bagpipes and another of gospel, but they're literally cut off. Miles Away is violin led café music. There's a nice piano moment on You Found Yourself While Losing Your Heart, but only one, which may be why this one drags where the previous seven didn't.
Sadly, it's one of the two longest songs on the album and the longest comes after it and follows in the same vein. Perdida wraps up with us drifting far away from it, wondering when the orchestra which gets the last half minute showed up, and that's never good. I'm all for a band reinventing its sound and trying something new. I'm all for a band going acoustic and recording on vintage instruments. I'm all for big transitions, even if they're rarely the sort of things the fans want. And this is all three. But is it any good?
Well, it's not as soporific as it starts out suggesting. I actually liked it for seven songs, before it lost me, but I doubt it'll stay with me. It's not inventive enough to be memorable, not folky enough to render this approach a viable one, not original enough in its choice of odd instruments. For such a departure from the band's regular sound, it just feels safe. It's for old school grunge fans who have turned into bank managers with a fondness for margaritas.