Purple by Stone Temple Pilots
The band's 1994 sophomore effort cemented them as an indispensable band of its era.
We don’t get many hometown heroes in the Cleveland area when it comes to music. When we find out that John Popper of Blues Traveler was born in Chardon, Ohio, we cling to that. Trent Reznor wasn’t born here, but he came of age here. Maynard James Keenan of Tool was born in Ravenna, about an hour into the country from Cleveland. And Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots lived in Bainbridge, Ohio, for a time, attending Kenston schools. As a kid born in 1979 and coming of age in the 1990s, it was especially cool to find that out, even if his musical future would take place in California with the brilliant DeLeo brothers and tragically underrated drummer Eric Kretz. No matter. Weiland and all the other aforementioned rock icons are at least part ours. Of course, the music they made might have something to do with it too. That’s the point of this entire website, of course. So before we get to 1994’s sophomore effort, Purple, let’s start at the beginning.
I only sort of liked Stone Temple Pilots’ breakout debut Core. My friends liked it much more than I did, and I liked it, but I just didn’t love it. “Dead and Bloated,” “Sex Type Thing,” and “Wicked Garden” were undeniable hits, but they weren’t my favorites. “Plush” is the song that became so big that you almost never need to hear it again. For my money, the radio singles were overplayed and overrated for the most part. I owned the CD, but I didn’t feel the need to put it in all the time because every time we got in the car I’d hear a song or two. They had four songs hit the top 25 of the rock charts in America in 1992. “Sex Type Thing” hit 23, while “Wicked Garden” hit 11. “Plush” went to the top, of course. But my favorite and the one that made me turn my head was “Creep,” which eventually hit Number 2.
But it wasn’t that the album version of “Creep” hit the airwaves. By the time that song was released, there was a special radio version of “Creep.” The album version was good, but for whatever reason, the band released an alternative version for the radio where we got to hear Weiland really go for it vocally in the second verse. Listen at about 1:55 when he sings “Think you’re kind of neat…”
That was the moment for me where I really started to take notice of Stone Temple Pilots and Scott Weiland. With that one move and that artistic decision, I took notice.
Fast forward to March 1994, and the soundtrack for the movie The Crow came out and turned some heads. It had The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Helmet, Pantera, Rage Against the Machine, and more, but Stone Temple Pilots stole the spotlight with a song called “Big Empty.” If there was any doubt by fans waiting to see what STP would do next, “Big Empty” erased them. It’s a plucky little song that sounds like a low-fi recording from the band’s front porch through the verse before exploding into an arena rock anthem in the chorus. The band sounds incredible with the subtle acoustic sound and slide guitar and the stark, clean vocals. And then all the distortion and vocal effects kick in like it’s a different band playing a totally different song. And that was just the teaser.
I can’t swear to it, but I think the first single (other than “Big Empty”) was “Vasoline.” While we all thought the song was hinting at masturbation as 15-year-olds, over the years Weiland revealed it was about being in the same situation over and over again, specifically his own addiction to heroin and lying about it. Musically, “Vasoline” is a pure banger. The build into a syncopated guitar riff that bends its way into the verse is hypnotic. The production on that song makes the vocals and guitars feel like they’re moving all over the place, especially when you are wearing headphones. 1
The biggest song in the history of Stone Temple Pilots hasn’t even come up yet. “Interstate Love Song” has even more hits on Spotify than even “Plush.” It has the word “interstate” in the title and it might be one of the greatest driving songs ever. The melodic guitar lead brings you in to the crunchy, chunky verse riff. This band really leaned into the dynamics of volume and also of staccato and big wide open chords.
I said recently on Twitter that there are two types of STP fans. There are those that love “Pretty Penny” and those who skip it. I fall into the latter category. I just can’t get over the facile lyrics.
Pretty Penny was her name
She was loved and we all will miss her
It’s just my personal preference though.
“Still Remains” is a song that didn’t get a release to radio, but is one of the greatest songs on the record. “If you should die before me ask if you can bring a friend” is by far one of my favorite lyrics in all of Stone Temple Pilots’ catalog. At his best, Weiland and his bandmates were poets. The live version of “Still Remains” on YouTube from 1994 is just incredible.
I could go track by track on Purple, but I need to really spend some time with my very favorite and the most enduring song for me, “Kitchenware and Candybars.” If you want to know me as a music fan, just listen to this song on repeat for an hour. This is everything I love about music. The lyrics are incredible. The chorus is soaring. The guitar solo is more of an electric spasm that builds to a histrionic version of the chorus that hears Weiland take his vocals to an extra level. Seeing this performance from 2000 is both awesome and devastating knowing what will happen next with Weiland, but a bit on that later.
Stone Temple Pilots were an important band to the world in 1994, but they were extra special to those of us who saw the whole “grunge” revolution. Stone Temple Pilots was called grunge with their first record, because it kind of sounded like those other bands, including Pearl Jam. You had to listen closely to hear that they were a little bit different, and it was wonderful to hear them come into their own as an art rock band more than anything else. Purple was a huge departure from Core. It took a band that was muddled up with all the other bands and gave them their own identity.
Someday, I might also spend some time talking about Tiny Music, because that album was especially formative for me, even if it has some really low moments to go along with the extreme highs. But for now, I’m just going to talk about Purple as the peak of the band, which ended with Weiland’s death in 2015. Yes, I went and saw the band on September 24, 2019 at The Agora in Cleveland with their new singer Jeff Gutt. And yes, Gutt is an incredible vocalist who does the music unbelievable justice with all the other original members of the Stone Temple Pilots. But it’s not the same thing. Weiland is irreplaceable.
Weiland’s death in 2015 at the age of 48 was one of the least surprising deaths in rock and roll history, but that didn’t make it any less brutal for fans. He was on his tour bus with his solo outfit, the Wildabouts, somewhere in Minnesota when he overdosed on a deadly cocktail of alcohol, cocaine, and MDA. Those weren’t the only substances found on the bus. Weiland was gone forever.
Even as Scott Weiland struggled with drugs over and over again, there was always hope that he’d hit a good stride again at least for a little while and do what he did best on a microphone for adoring fans. Once that news broke, it was proof that the final chapter had been written and the story of Scott Weiland would ultimately be a tragedy.
When that news broke, I didn’t go to Core. As much as I love “Adhesive,” it wasn’t Tiny Music either. I was straight back to Purple. The band did many great things and carries on without its most recognizable figure, but man, that was the peak. And any band should be so lucky to produce a masterpiece like Purple.
The older I get, the more I realize I need to focus more on what we’ve been fortunate enough to experience rather than what we’ve lost.
Someday maybe I’ll dig into producer Brendan O’Brien who produced Purple as well as iconic albums by Black Crowes, the Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden during this same time period, but I don’t have it in me right now.