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“Stone Temple Pilots’ No. 4 as Postmodern Noise Slab”

Around the time Soul Asylum got dropped from their label for Candy from a Stranger in 1998, or maybe a little before this, everybody’s SNOBBERY factor you might say had skyrocketed a bit. And who wouldn’t have gotten too much truth in the ’90’s? We were basking in the glow, often an oppressive glow, of information via the world wide web, and of a mainstream rock zeitgeist that while earlier in the decade conjoining crunchy, cathartic Fenders with expedited, melodic obliviousness, now formed its tendrils into the folky, the humanistic. Pearl Jam seemed a little sun-scorched by all of this, pontificating that “I wish I was the full moon shining off your Camaro’s hood” in a song so detached and deliberate it’s still hard to imagine anyone topping it, with the possible exception of Raury. [1]

More along the lines of the ’90’s being a bit rated-R, Scott Weiland’s solo album from 1998, 12 Bar Blues, makes explicit mention of masturbation in the very first track. This isn’t really why I stopped listening to it, though (I mean everybody’s heard “Spank Thru”), never to revisit it; to be honest, to me, the music just wasn’t there. Granted, Weiland isn’t entirely below the juxtaposing of summiting melody and aimless noodling (see “Big Empty,” akin to Radiohead’s dimorphous “You and Whose Army?”), but I already missed the Deleo brothers, to be honest, and could be caught spinning Talk Show’s “Peeling an Orange” on mixtapes in the dark in a closet.
Now I am BA in English holder with one third of coursework toward a master’s done, and to be honest I still don’t know EXACTLY what postmodernism is. Luckily for me, neither does anybody else. They just had to make up a new style, when everybody realized there was never going to be British novel greater than Brave New World, or an American novel greater than The Catcher in the Rye. It’s the early ’80’s, MTV and the computer are infiltrating millions of homes worldwide, Madonna is sweeping the nation with a coned bra… yes, just when everybody is just dying for a new LITERARY style. As Salinger himself would say, that’s rich.
Nevertheless, I think STP, having already issued Purple, with the blisteringly contrapuntal sequencing of “Interstate Love Song,” “Still Remains” and “Pretty Penny,” fully warranted a full-fledged we’re-never-going-to-top-THAT type disposition toward compiling Mr. Subsequent Album. But does that mean they’re going to stop having FUN? Well, simply consult the laughter sound byte at the end of “MC5,” that should answer your question. [2] [3]
“Pastiche” is one attribute of postmodernism, which essentially means “pasting,” melding together different elements of different times into one current amalgamation (though you could make the argument that Romanticism was already a pastiche of the multifarious anatomy of the baroque, and the nationalistic optimism of the Renaissance). The rock album in 1999 of a band with a high budget offers a unique platform for pastiche, the kind that the rock-splitting mayhem of “Down” is perfect to kick off, when you’ve got Beatles-caliber pop songs like “Sour Girl” and “Glide” in tow. [4]
So does the extent to which No. 4 is a playable album, for a gloomy fall day, front to back, actually DETRACT from its postmodern tenets? Well, what you have to remember is that 1999, or the late ’90’s in general, was a salad day of rock and roll. Our standards had been set exorbitantly high, Soul Asylum’s employment failure a case in point. These songs taken individually now suit the palette quite nicely (americansongwriter.com handpicked and showcased “Sour Girl” for their tribute this weekend), though not quite matching the blissful interplay of the band’s previous efforts like “Plush” and “Lady Picture Show.” No. 4 is a walking embodiment of the death of the album, in the burgeoning day of digital sharing.
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[1] I was looking for a housemate in Cicero one time and the hispanic owner had Yield on vinyl, and busted into an impromptu “Wish List” karaoke performance for me free of charge during my tour.
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[2] And guess what folks, Yield and No. 4 were both produced by the inimitable, blindingly ingenious Brendan O’ Brien, who also worked on Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire, summoning the most inconsequential of sounds to life, pitting vibration against motif in perfect balance, and most importantly, administering Pearl Jam’s “Red Dot” song.
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[3] Also, how’s this for a practical joke: Stone Temple Pilots’ worst album by far, Shangri-La-Dee-Da, coincided perfectly with digital downloading’s rise, so their crappy album acted as a sort of fu**-you to all the tightwad fans out there, like, you get what you pay for. In 1999, I remember seeing a sticker on a CD, which was being displayed prominently at our Barnes & Noble (which is still open but no longer furnishes compact discs), depicting some critic saying something like “With No. 4, Stone Temple Pilots just may save rock and roll.” I thought to myself, yup. A couple weeks later, my friend said to me something like, “That new Stone Temple Pilots, I heard that’s trash,” I by this time having already purchased the album with my Wolfie’s Sub Shop money. I thought to myself, eh, yup. Neither opinion seemed grossly deviant from logic at the time. But, No. 4 is if nothing else disconcerting.
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[4] I even had “Sour Girl” playing in the car one time and this dude in the back seat, not knowing who it was, goes, “The Bay-tles?”, in a mock British accent.

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