You might know the Stone Temple Pilots from their brief stint in the 1990s of giving music critics atomic wedgies of the aural variety. In my youth, to hear cuts like “Interstate Love Song” and “Lady Picture Show” — a fine ballad with a sad tinge pertaining lyrically to a female victim of a gang rape — was to be transported into a nuclear vortex of alternative rock rarely achieved this side of Counting Crows or Pearl Jam.
As far as arguing what might be their best album, I don’t think, personally, that there’s any question of the supremacy of Purple (1994). Purple was released, in the middle of 1994, within a veritable hurricane of dangerous, depraved ’90s culture. One Kurt Cobain had just done himself in a couple months before on the strength of what seems like an endless spree of heroin usage and interpersonal rancor and atrocity. We had Nancy Kerrigan getting attacked that previous winter and any number of opportunistic pi**ants proceeding to make fun of how she reacted, in an apparent dearth of original comedic material, or urgent craving for Rebecca Romijn’s naked body, more accurately.
Through all this, amidst all the competition from classic albums like August and Everything after, Superunknown, Vs. and Mellow Gold, Purple still found a way to debut at number one on the Billboard charts, an undeniably impressive feat. Now, what’s even more amazing to me about this is that, in my opinion, the material on the album was egregiously mishandled by the record label, at least from an artistic standpoint.
Now, I certainly know that nobody in America has more money than Hollywood, and selling a song to a film distribution company is obviously a lucrative development. I’ve never seen The Crow, am an endless devotee of STP (maybe I need to take in more high-budget Hollywood movies to achieve the cultural sophistication of Brent Dicrescenzo), and I can tell just by 10 seconds of the “Big Empty” video that the song and the movie have nothing to do with each other and encompass an awkward artistic foil. (This is especially tragic since, typically, shooting music videos was a forte in terms of the band, especially in the cases of “Vasoline” and “Lady Picture Show”).
Is Purple a classic album? I’ve always found the inclusion of “Lounge Fly” at track three to be a tad awkward, and the last song downright weird and unneeded. Still, this is undeniably an LP that can be imbibed in full and internalized as an anatomically sound statement in alt-rock, if done right. I think that songs have astrologies and “Big Empty” is not one of spring — not one of renewal and possibility, and so, in this way, makes an incredibly awkward lead single. The people at The Crow apparently just fell in love with the unplugged version, again, a staggering thought seeing as the Brendan-O’-Brien-led Purple version beats the pants off of it, with that electric guitar climax in the chorus providing the perfect muscular platform for Scott Weiland’s ingenious vocals. And honestly I was 10 in 1994 so I’m not really an expert but I don’t ever remember anyone talking about The Crow when it came out — slacker comedies like Benny & Joon and Reality Bites were all the rage, with Pulp Fiction obviously then taking over the world, as it had every right to.
Still, from a financial standpoint, it was almost certainly a lucrative move for STP’s label to sell the song for usage in that action film. But as a music snob who’s just not that into movies like a lot of people are, I just can’t help but wonder at what might have been if the contents of Purple had been handled in a way that were more artistically sound.
So let’s think. You’ve got this STP album coming out. The sheer amount of people who hated the band and wanted to verbally pi** on them in newspapers and magazines will lend you an automatic 100,000 in sales.
I would have led with “Unglued” — a straight-ahead, high-octane rocker with a dumb, fun and infectious riff and anthemic lyrics which suggest drug-usage (something sure to sell amongst the masses, as we’re certain). Shoot a video of a bunch of dudes dune-buggying out in the desert, something dumb and fun. It’s rock and roll, for Christ’s sake.
From there, your spoils will be infinite when you release “Interstate Love Song” in July or so, as its melancholy, reflective disposition will provide the perfect aural backdrop for that sedated time of year.
Drop “Big Empty” is September and it absolutely SLAYS on radio — people would be putting it on instead of “Jingle Bells” all the way through December. What’s more, don’t even shoot a video for it. The song possesses a climactic, cinematic essence in and of itself. It’s better than cinema.
What’s more, it’s a sad song, a song about isolation, about the kind of loneliness that arrives in the company of another person, of trying to make it work with someone you love and finding out how hard it is to pour yourself out for that cause on an everyday basis. That busy, fancy, ostentatious set of The Crow was a gross misfit for “Big Empty” and its elegant, spare sense of desolation.
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