Album Review: Stone Temple Pilots - 'Perdida'
Throughout their history, Stone Temple Pilots have been, if nothing else, willing to eschew expectations of the band. With their first two albums, the band was widely perceived as, depending on the listener, the successors to or derivative of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But while the band could have steered into this territory, their third album, “Tiny Music…Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop” was a dramatic departure, venturing into psychedelic and classically alternative territory more befitting the band’s Southern California roots.
STP would continue into this more artistically satisfying territory for three more albums with original lead vocalist Scott Weiland, never quite reaching the popularity of their mid-‘90s heyday but never growing stale, as many of their skeptics would have assumed.
Since 2013, the otherwise original lineup has included a rotating set of vocalists. The band recorded and toured with Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington, whose nu-metal roots were not necessarily an obvious fit with a band mostly associated with the 1990s, and in 2018, Stone Temple Pilots released their first full album without Weiland, a self-titled effort with singer Jeff Gutt, who first came to prominence as the vocalist of early-2000s alternative metal band Dry Cell, and later placed as the runner-up on season three of “The X Factor.”
While it would have been tempting to view Gutt to STP as Gary Cherone was to Van Halen, a one-album-wonder with far less fame entering the band as the band’s second singer, that he returned two years later with drummer Eric Kretz and brothers Dean and Robert DeLeo, guitarist and bassist, respectively, suggests the band isn’t simply trying new things for the sake of trying – this is sincere.
With “Perdida,” STP is less trying to regain the magic of their commercial peak and more trying to simply be a band. To expect major cultural importance on par with what they were a quarter-century ago would be foolish, not because they’ve lost their touch, but because no rock bands (and very few artists of any genre) are that ubiquitous anymore.
The album’s first two tracks and first two singles, “Fare Thee Well” and “Three Wishes,” have a classic rock feel through and through. The vocals are rock-solid and the guitar playing is intricate and occasionally pretty, but they are somewhat lacking as earworms, which given their placing as singles and album cuts, it’s safe to assume they were hoping to achieve to some extent. That said, the album’s third track/single, the title track, is a far more unique song. With its slow pacing and quasi-Spanish guitar work, it’s an even less obvious single than the first two tracks, but in it, the band strives for something beyond being the kind of totally acceptable classic rock tune that survives for a couple months on mainstream rock radio and then disappears forever.
The remainder of the album takes on a thoroughly subtle approach, for better or worse. Any listeners picking up their first STP album in decades will surely be thrown off by how distinctly not a rocker the album is. The songs have an easy flow to them, which could hardly be categorized as alternative rock and certainly couldn’t be categorized as grunge. The only particularly noticeable deviation from the formula of slightly-country, slightly-blues, easygoing acoustic rock from tracks four through nine of the album comes in the form of the instrumental “I Once Sat At Your Table,” and its lack of vocals is the only real difference. Even “Years,” sung by bassist Robert DeLeo, fits the bill. The album has an ethereal, indie-pop quality to it, and while their take on this style isn’t exactly innovative, it’s startling to hear from the “Interstate Love Song” band.
The album’s closer, “Sunburst,” is the most epic tune on the album, both by length (though at just under 6 1/2 minutes, it’s not that grandiose) and scope. It is the standout track on the album not because it hearkens back to the band’s younger and louder days, but because it builds on the formula the band spent the first 40 minutes of the album developing. The instrumentation and singing are equally crisp, though the guitars and vocals are given layers that are notably absent from most of the album. The track concludes with a gospel-like keyboard flourish (courtesy of Bill Appleberry, who also contributed to the band’s 2010 self-titled album) that calls back to the opening bars of the album’s first track. “Perdida” completes the circle, though it’s fair to ask what journey was really taken.
On one hand, the album is consistently competent, and it is clear that the DeLeo brothers, who each wrote five songs apiece on the album, with Gutt contributing to the writing on the eight songs on which he sang, aren’t just plugging in songs to logically play alongside “Big Empty” in their setlists. For that alone, Stone Temple Pilots should be commended – most bands in the classic rock world are content to play the hits of yesteryear and never seriously attempt something more.
That “Perdida,” which means “loss” in Spanish, is decidedly less exciting than their previous work speaks to a group primarily in its 50s – the mellow vibe is honest, but that doesn’t always make it interesting. In a macro sense, the lack of excitement is itself exciting – listeners would surely complain about watered-down versions of vintage STP. But with “Perdida” as a whole, it is a largely pleasant listening experience, but its lack of hooks assured I followed up listening to it by playing “Big Bang Baby” on repeat.