So, 1999. The Eve of the Millennium. There were a few things I remember well. The biggest thing – and the most bonkers – was the big dark cloud that loomed like the wormhole that opened over Stark Tower. Complete global meltdown. The annihilation of everything that makes the world tick: The Millennium Bug. Folks walked around wondering if they would have functioning technology in a few months. Would the internet break? Would planes fall from the sky? Would we awake to a new, post-apocalyptic existence. Menfolk becoming hunter-gatherers, while the womenfolk sew and throw some food together and the brainyfolk set about reinventing things that we used to take advantage of.
For me, though, the fall of 1999 was all about the return of Stone Temple Pilots. The most awesomest of alternative rock n’ rollers. By this point they’d released two utterly wonderful albums in Purple and Tiny Music … Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, but they still endured a fair bit of criticism. Some of it about their front-man Weiland and his troubles; some of it about them being some second-rate grunge band. For me, Stone Temple Pilots were more than a ‘grunge band’ (or the “Pearl Jam copyists” that some claimed). I’ve often discussed this with friends of mine over the years – especially the ‘grunge lite’ tag, Weiland’s harmonies and the fact that they were a band that were more creative than many of those considered to be their peers. They were more original and dynamic and, quite frankly, there wasn’t a band at that time who had the attack, swagger and hooks they had going on. Anyway, despite all the problems and the madness, Stone Temple Pilots were back with their fourth album, simply titled No. 4. Forget the Millennium Bug, suckers!
From the first couple of seconds of Down it’s clear that this one is a darker album than its predecessor. Likely the result of Weiland’s troubles with addiction and suchlike. He doesn’t sound angry about the trouble he’s been in, but he sounds mighty conflicted. Weiland alludes to his complicated relationship with the drugs when he sings “You can get it if you really want it, but you better off just leave it alone. You won’t forget it if you ever had it, so you’re better off just staying at home” (Heaven & Hot Rods) and “Falling fast but doing all I can. I know the questions but I lost the answers. I got the message and the message stood” (Pruno). While Down was heavy musically, Heaven & Hot Rods and Pruno are possibly the heaviest two punch combo in the Pilots’ canon due to the weight in Weiland’s lyrics and performance (not something you’ll read every day!). Three songs in and Stone Temple Pilots are rocking like a burned-out star. Those same influences are buzzing about, but the texture is all rough and distorted. The psychedelic grooves and bass runs of DeLeo are really pretty special during Church on Tuesday and Sour Girl (about the break-down of Weiland’s marriage).
Not that Side 1 was guilty of slouching, but Side 2 really turns things up a notch. No Way Out kicks things off and rocks that shit up, there’s some more weight in Weiland’s lyrics, too (“I’ve been a walking a lonesome highway. I felt as though I had no home”) but the band really do hit their stride. Sex & Violence thrashes like some metallic serpent as Weiland revisits a past relationship (quite possibly the subject of Sour Girl), before he asks for a bit of faith during the pretty brilliant Glide (“just give me half a chance from throwing it all away”). Glide is awesome – it really is. The riff and the cajoling bass … and even Kretz on the kit! Man, it’s so good. Weiland also sounds pretty excellent on here. Clean, inspired and showing off his range. I Got You is also pretty brilliant. Weiland is lyrically pretty open here – chatting about his troubles and that relationship that he just can’t walk away from. MC5 and Atlanta, though – for so long I put those two tracks back-to-back on every mix-tape I would make. One drenched with the punk influences of the Stooges and, well, MC5, and the other The Doors. Seriously good stuff.
It’s often been suggested that Scott Weiland’s struggles with drug addiction had been the reason that the band never quite reached the highs expected. Those highs, I imagine, being the commercial success enjoyed by the likes of the bands that critics claimed they mimicked following the success of Purple. I’m not so sure about that, though; Weiland is an interesting chap and a key to the band’s sound (listen to Talk Show, Army of Anyone or even Stone Temple Pilots featuring Chester Bennington if you don’t believe me). He’s abstract both as a vocalist and song-writer. His phrasing, delivery and sense of melody are so important to the feel of Purple and Tiny Music … Gifts from the Vatican Gift Shop, and it’s no different here. His lyrics are often poignant and ludicrous (“she walkedin with her alligator sister”, etc), but he delivers them with a tremendous amount of verve and style.
One of the big criticisms of No.4 is the sound (‘brick walled’ – trust me, there’s a lot of gripes out there), though I personally thought it suited the material. Music On Vinyl’s release is cut from a 24 bit / 192 kHz digital master and actually sounds a little different to the CD to these ears. There’s a bit more space and mid-range, but the nature of it hasn’t been altered. The way it was mixed was intentional and one of the main reasons I love this one. It’s claustrophobic and a bit stressed. Maybe how Weiland felt. How the band felt, in fact. Regardless, it’s a big metallic motherfucker of an album and one worth setting aside 40 odd minutes for.