If you catch rock curmudgeon Lou Reed in a less than grumpy mood, he may tell you about the time when he was, in essence, a professional thief. In the early ’60s, Reed, fresh out of college, took a job where his task was to gauge what music was in vogue — be it British Invasion rock or dance crazes — and then write and record knockoffs of those hits, which were released on albums sold in the $1.99 bins at Woolworth’s.
Whether they know it or not, Stone Temple Pilots are heirs to this dubiously noble tradition. The band, originally from San Diego and then transplanted to L.A., took its share of lumps for being Pearl Jam clones on its first album, 1992’s Core, starting with the downturned-smile, Vedderesque angst in singer Scott Weiland’s voice. But wait until you hear their second album, Purple, which might as well be an alternative-rock tribute album.
Want to hear a Soundgarden-style steamroller but without the gnarled twists and turns of the originals? Check out the Pilots’ “Unglued”! Hankering for a more polite, streamlined version of Pearl Jam’s “Daughter”? No problem — here it’s called “Interstate Love Song”! Want to know what R.E.M. would have sounded like if they still made arena-ready albums like Green? Listen to “Silvergun Superman” or the Stipe-like way Weiland’s voice swoops into an “uh-oooh” in “Still Remains”! Unlike other top 10 bands, Stone Temple Pilots don’t look to earlier rock eras for inspiration; they take their cues from the current one.
Comparing a young band to so many others is a cheap shot, right? Of course it is. But not only do the Pilots warrant such comments, they seem to invite them; their retreads are so well done you can barely see the stitch marks. In the space of one album, they have vaulted from being a generic mainstream metal band to an inordinately confident group. Thanks to producer Brendan O’Brien (coproducer of Pearl Jam’s Vs.), they pull off these copycat melodies with supreme skill. Their songs can be disarmingly melodic; the thick-as-flannel “Meatplow” will sound killer on a car radio. In fact, the Pilots are often better at rock conventions — barnburner guitar solos, verse-chorus-verse songs — than contemporaries like Pearl Jam, who seem positively arty by comparison. It’s just too bad Weiland is fond of nouns like “lies” in his grumpy, often misogynist lyrics.
Still, Stone Temple Pilots’ very nondescript nature works against them. Purple is rock & roll utterly without roots or, despite the pseudo-underground sheen, a real, defined sense of time or place. Maybe, like Lou Reed, they will move beyond competent simulations. In the meantime, though, someone should slap a $6.99 (for inflation) sticker on Purple and ship it to JC Penney — and pronto! B-