Stone Temple Pilots’ album Purple, their second effort, was released on June 7, 1994, two months after Kurt Cobain purportedly committed suicide and one year before the Internet began. It was a somber time frame for the entire alt-rock world, but it was also the beginning of summer, which should be the most hopeful time of year. The album cover depicts this bizarre-looking and bizarrely happy sort of androgynous fat Asian baby flying through the air on a mythical mutant dog with a small cluster of quasi-Buddhist gods looking on from in the distance. The CD itself is an aesthetically handsome cluster of disarmingly beautiful flowers, rendered in impressionist paint and replicated imprints.
It’s an album that has every right to have a conscience, a sophomore effort by a band magnanimously popular and magnanimously hated (the idea being that this “grunge” thing had warped into a sort of selfsame blueprint for imitators, as which STP was largely pegged their whole career). It’s got every right to whine and mope about the world. Yet, right off the bat, the discourse is disarmingly grounded and motivated, the music, as well as the mood itself, being full of a kinetic swagger that seems to say, hold up, despite all this heartstring-pulling malady around me I still happen to be kind of a “bada**,” you know. LP opener “Meatplow” tackles the incessant quandary of springtime LA horniness with the metaphoric cool of which few are capable. “Vasoline,” then, the band’s first real bout with what feels like a holistic, sympathetic look at the world, moves along with uncompromising power, rather than moping in some helpless ballad ennui like those whiners Blind Melon and Gin Blossoms.
In general, the singles like “Vasoline”; “Interstate Love Song” and “Big Empty” all help to make Purple a classic and STP’s best record (followed behind with curious punctiliousness by No. 4 and Weiland’s solo album Blaster), each of which tracks, mind you, sounds boundlessly better when seated in a full-album listen. Then there’s “Lounge Fly,” whose reverse-cymbal, almost-despicable-but-memorable-for-its-sheer-weirdness introduction landed itself on MTV News as the show’s predominant theme song, or theme jingle, as it were (I think the audio clip typically lasted about 12 seconds or so). It’s baffling for its own strangeness and it’s baffling as well, for its singularity within STP’s catalogue, and even Brendan O’Brien’s catalogue. But then, in both of these entities we’re talking about figures with a restless zeal for freaking you out, for keeping you on your toes and ensuring that, if nothing else, your music listening experience is anything but regular. I was looking for some info on how that exact production technique came about and I didn’t find anything specifically listed, uncovering instead the insight that Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers played on the song’s final guitar solo. Well, Leary uses those exact same backwards cymbals on his band’s Electriclarryland tune “Pepper,” so I’m going to do the math here and say it was his handiwork, that sonic effect in the introduction that landed them on MTV News. O’Brien, for all his mastery, a perfectionist, is by and large a fairly conventional producer and primarily a sound man (he stepped in for mixing duties on Pearl Jam’s Binaural, having left production rights to Tchad Blake for that LP). Why Leary would decline enjoyment of the production credits for “Lounge Fly” here is a little curious: maybe he just didn’t want to be pigeonholed in the industry as that gimmicky backwards-cymbal guy, as cool, if grating, as they can be.
Ironically, the guitar solo in “Lounge Fly” does stand out, but not for its technical skill. Rather, it’s got this incredible, undeniable way of fastening itself to the rest of the song, wailing out the exact sonic correspondent to the indescribable lament that Weiland already constructs, vocally. The guitar solo opens with this peal of wah-wah-laden guitar, fashioned into this hypnotic blues riff. Unlike the virtuosic “Silvergun Superman” in which I think Dean DeLeo kind of rips off “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (that still might be my favorite song on the album), “Lounge Fly” seems to slip in and out of your consciousness in trippy surreptitiousness, in its instrumental second half. By the time the song is done, situated as it in between two permanently hummable and cathartic radio singles, it leaves your brain a complete mess, a condition compounded by the impossibility of judging it objectively provided that you first heard it on MTV News, which I did, being 10 years old at the Purple release date.