It’s not often that I go making notes and sharing thoughts on new records like this (last time being The Afghan Whigs’ Do To The Beast), but, as you may be aware, I done gone bought myself the Scott Weiland & The Wildabouts record and I’ve been giving it a fair bit of attention over the last week or so.
For the sake of transparency, I’m a fan of the Stone Temple Pilots, the first Velvet Revolver album, and Weiland’s previous solo albums – particularly 12 Bar Blues (and even the Christmas album). I will, however, feely admit that there’s been a few missteps along the way and he’s often appeared to try too hard to remain relevant in a climate where 90s alternative rock act are largely successful due to ‘nostalgia’ (see the Stone Temple Pilots reunion and their ‘greatest hits tour’ that kept rolling until Weiland’s eventual departure). However, for every cloud that hovers over him, there’s often been a silver lining – the ‘second Pilots split’ found him hooking up with Velvet Revoler and his split with those guys came at a time when he was reconnecting with his Pilots cohorts – ultimately giving him the opportunity to hook up with them for a while; taking in a successful tour and a well received (if disappointing to this guy) album. But at a time when many look at the diminishing returns and erratic behaviour, I can’t help but root for him. Regardless of how exhausting that can be.
There’s a long overdue Stone Temple Pilots post that I absolutely will get to before this year is out, so I’ll keep the Weiland praise fairly brief here, but I will say that he’s one of the most creative vocalists of that whole 90’s alternative rock thing. He’s got an ear for melody. Seriously, when he shed the masculine meat suit he wore on Core, he threw himself in with the best that the ages have given us. Maybe it’s his glam and pop influences, but his melodies, phrasing, and timing separated him from the other angsty front-men of 90s alternative rock. He was in the company of the likes of Belafonte and Sinatra as well as Morrison and his hero Bowie. Now, over the years, he may have lost some of his dynamism (drugs and alcohol clearly taken their toll on his vocals), but he’s still one of the very best in this guy’s eyes.
That said, I’ll admit to having mixed feelings about what was next given his threats to fall into that ‘diminishing returns’ bracket. While I was pleased that he was focussing on a new record with his new band, The Purple at the Core and Master Blaster tours haven’t sounded all that awesome – reports of Weiland’s performances being scattered and erratic (something that was cited as a reason for the departure from Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver) and set-lists that suggest The Wildabouts are nothing more than a covers band (the inner even includes a picture of one). Suddenly, though, tracks from the album were appearing online. White Lightning. Modzilla. Way She Moves. As well as that, Weiland’s talking about the record and sounding excited about it, too. Man, I’m telling my buddies that Weiland’s sounding inspired!
So anyway, with some caution I decide to buy Blaster. First impressions? It’s gnarly and often ugly sounding. Seriously, everything is fuzzy and crackling. Like Weiland and his band have relocated to the desert and buried their amps in the sand (he’s mentioned Masters of Reality and Queens of the Stone Age in more than one interview, take from that what you will). There are times when it’s clear Weiland’s voice has gone (I’m fairly certain I could detect more than a smidgen of auto-tune shenanigans happening), but it would appear he’s in a good place – his lyrics inspired not by dark times and substance abuse, but by love and about dusting himself off and getting back in the saddle after that whole Stone Temple Pilots affair.
The album itself opens promisingly with the Modzilla and Way She Moves. Both of these have a bit of Stone Temple Pilots about them, too. Modzilla crunches and buzzes away while Weiland tells us he’s still “ridin’ and cussin’ like a rollin’ stone”. Way She Moves sounds like an off-cut from Tiny Music, with a nice 70s influenced shimmy going on. Hotel Rio is a weird tale of espionage complete with handclaps, MI6 and the CIA, while Amethyst recovers from a blatant pastiche of The Who to be one of the album’s stand-out tracks. The guitars here kick in all fuzzy like (and sounding very like Crackerman) and Tommy Black gives Robert DeLeo a run for his money with some nice bass runs. The late Jeremy Brown also delivers a pretty incredible slice of echo-drenched and overdriven guitar solo business. Thank you for that, Weiland & Co. The swampy White Lightning brings Side A to a pretty brilliant close.
Side Two starts with Weiland yacking about an unhealthy relationship during Bleed Out. Now, to these ears this actually sounds more than a little like Nirvana’s Stay Away, before a neat little pre-solo refrain. It’s followed by some new vibes in the form of Youth Quake; Weiland sounding all new romantic-like as he soundtracks some West Side Story reboot when he sings “the westside girls meet eastside boys”. At first I shook my head before slamming my palm against my forehead, but there’s something about it. It’s infectious enough to let Weiland away with it. Same with Beach Pop, where Weiland is all nostalgic about stealing his dad’s car to take his girlfriend to a Monkees show. It’s scuzzy, but there’s a bit of Beach Boys about it and Weiland’s love for his girl here is quite something (just how married is “so married”???). Parachute would have made an ideal album closer. It’s climax is all Tiny Music Beatlesque and Weiland sings, “Look for revelation, hard time with meditation, keep seeking with the spirit of love. Tired of competition, everyone needs a benediction, holding you on a pedestal loving you”. Pretty wonderful stuff. The closing salvo of 20th Century Boy and Circles are probably the two least interesting cuts here. The reading of 20th Century Boy is maybe a tad too faithful to the T. Rex original despite some scuzz and a fine guitar solo, while Circles, reminds me of the likes of Tim McGraw – while there’s some nice sentiment in there, Weiland’s voice is either really gone, or the entire vocal is auto-tuned. Urgh.
Interestingly, the James Iha co-write Blue Eyes doesn’t appear on the vinyl version (listed on the back cover, but not on the record itself), so I had to access that one via the digital download card. At a lowly bit-rate (between 130 and 170 kbps) it sounds a bit more compressed than I imagine the CD version would, but it’s unfortunate it’s not on here. As well as (predictably) recalls both Tiny Music-era Stone Temple Pilots and Mellon Collie-era Smashing Pumpkins, there’s a big slice of the underrated Happy: In Galoshes. Weiland also gets to deliver a line as awesome as “never spoke computer language – always chose communication”. Say what, now?
I wouldn’t say that it’s quite a return to form, but Weiland & Co. have managed to produce a really enjoyable record. It’s loud and, when it’s at it’s best, it’s a genuinely infectious and solid blast of fuzzy and retro rock and roll. Sure there are some moments where songs feel more like sketches and Weiland has some lyrical missteps, but we can forgive them when he’s on this kind of form, right?
… and as you can see, not only does it boast an ace album cover, but it’s a truly great looking record, too. There’s also a sweet inner with lyrics and a bunch of photos. Hurrah!