Hey did you guys know that the late Scott Weiland, founding vocalist for Stone Temple Pilots, battled drug addiction? Of course you knew that, everyone fucking knows that and nobody needs to be reminded of it five-plus years after his passing. Nevertheless, his former bandmates in STP have passed up no opportunities whatsoever to remind us, ever since the group initially broke up almost two decades ago. The DeLeo brothers (guitarist Dean and bassist Robert) in particular have always blamed Weiland’s volatility for sabotaging their careers (selling over seventeen million records wah wah wah). While there’s no legitimate way to discredit these claims (canceled tours and aborted album sessions at the height of STP’s popularity resulted directly from Weiland’s arrests, breakdowns, and rehab stints), the deluxe reissue of the group’s somewhat polarizing Tiny Music…Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop inadvertently supports a more difficult truth that’s been apparent all along: that STP would have been nothing without their singer.
I’ve certainly had my moments of bitterness towards Weiland myself; the last time I saw him perform, on STP’s 2010 reunion tour, he and the band were so terrible I actually yelled “YOU’LL NEVER GET ANOTHER DIME OUTTA ME!” as I walked out disgusted. (Admittedly, I had little understanding or compassion when it came to drug addiction in those days; I’ve learned a lot since then.) It’s a miracle I even went to that show, as I’d been so put off by Weiland’s oblivious posturing at a perfunctory greatest-hits show in 2000 that I essentially gave up on the band altogether at that point. In 2010 they actually asked fans to vote online for songs they’d like to hear at the various dates on the tour. And then played practically the same setlist every night. And then they couldn’t even competently curate a tidy lil’ nostalgia trip for me and my gen-x buddies. It probably wasn’t until Weiland died suddenly in 2015 that I forgave him.
Of course, I had lied in 2010: the surviving members of STP have gotten a few dimes from me since then. I can’t help it, I love their 1994 album Purple and I had to have it on vinyl. The bonus material from that 2019 reissue wasn’t exactly riveting, but giving fans the “Dancing Days” cover and the KROQ Acoustic Christmas tunes was cool (not that those weren’t already widely available), and there were some other significantly primitive, stripped-down versions of things, plus a live show from that summer when they were pretty much on top of the world. Worth the money? No, not at all, but I wasn’t expecting value and I wasn’t disappointed.
Then I went and fell for it again with Tiny Music. Starting off the first bonus disc: “Press Play (full-length version)”, the sight of which should immediately make any STP fan drool. The opening track of the original 1996 album was an 80-second snippet of this four-and-a-half-minute instrumental jam, itself an obvious attempt at co-opting Pearl Jam’s “Master/Slave” idea. Unfortunately, if you’ve heard the album version, you’ve heard all you need to hear; the full-length version (which still fades out, hmm) if anything reveals a dire absence of imagination in the playing of STP’s guitarists and drummer. It’s just the same pattern over and over with scarcely a novel creative flourish by any of them.
The disc continues in the same track order as the regular album, only with “instrumental” and “early versions” of all the songs. The way you can tell that they’re early is that they sound lo-fi and Weiland’s vocal parts are in an unfinished state; the instrumentalists evidently had zero new ideas from conception to completion, making this disc an inordinately dull listen. Realistically, Weiland’s often-mumbled singing is probably just his way of holding place for in-progress melodies and not indicative of his mental state, but none of these tracks paints him in a particularly flattering light. Ooo, the rhythm guitar is slightly louder during the chorus of “Lady Picture Show” than we’re used to; radical! And there’s no guitar solo, fascinating. On the other hand, there is a relatively weird and stanky guitar solo in “5 or 4 Times” (an early version of “Art School Girl”) that’s possibly the only thing worth hearing on musical merits. Oh, and “Kretz’s Acoustic Song”, not exactly revelatory though at least previously unheard-of.
The release also comes with a live disc, recorded at a show in Panama Beach, Florida in March of ’97, parts of which MTV had used for their annual Spring Break programming (dear God, please tell me they don’t do these any more). Weiland storms out of the gates in “Crackerman” completely off key and promptly fucks up the lyrics to the first verse. That’s how the DeLeo brothers wanted to present this version of their band, huh? They all sound weirdly sluggish in this opening song as well as in “Meatplow”, which drummer Eric Kretz barely keeps afloat; for most of the show, however, they seem to be rushing through the songs as quickly as they can manage, and Weiland frequently sounds barely lucid. I couldn’t say whether or not he was intoxicated at this show; he sometimes played up his reputation through his onstage persona in a show of self-mockery, which certainly doesn’t account for the rest of the band’s disjointedness; there may have been plenty of contributing factors but STP sound like they can hardly wait to get offstage through most of this set.
The funny part is that when I saw the band about a month after this Florida show, they were on fire. Perhaps urged on to greatness by a fierce Cheap Trick opening set, STP was in the best form I’d ever seen them in at the Coliseum that night. So, did they only have access to this lone concert recording from 1997? ‘Cause I could’ve pointed them to a recording of the Madison show I was at that sounds great and does not feature a lead singer who sounds wasted or disdainful of his situation, as he does on this official release.
It wouldn’t fit the DeLeos’ narrative to present the band at maximum power and slaying, though. Whether consciously or unwittingly, they needed to showcase their erstwhile frontman as a wastoid yet again to garner maybe a little more pity. In their minds, the best years were past already in ’97 and I don’t doubt that revisiting this era was painful. They probably thought a lot about wasted potential and whatnot. Even though they came back with another extremely successful album (No. 4) in 1999, they’d probably prefer to forget the years in between, during which Weiland released an incredible solo album (1998’s 12 Bar Blues) and the other guys got a new singer, called themselves “Talk Show”, and released an instantly forgettable self-titled album in ’97 before calling it quits. They must’ve realized in the interim that Weiland’s unhinged creative force was integral to their success. I suppose I can’t blame them for wanting to forget. I can however blame them for doggedly dragging Weiland’s memory through the dirt, and for selling fans a virtually worthless, bordering on insulting, collection of “goodies” and calling it “deluxe”. It’s an unmitigated ripoff. Unfortunately, anybody that was gonna throw down for this package has probably already done so; if you happen to be some STP fan still on the fence, I highly recommend keeping your money. As for me, at least I have Tiny Music on vinyl. And it still sounds as great as it ever did.