High-energy Stone Temple Pilots lack power on 'MTV Unplugged'

February 02, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Once a rock group arrives at a certain level of success, it's pretty much a given that it will turn up on "MTV Unplugged." Most of the time, that works out to the act's advantage, since an "Unplugged" slot usually results in added status, star power and legitimacy (not to mention the odd platinum album).

But not every act is flattered by the format, as Stone Temple Pilots make plain in their "MTV Unplugged" appearance (which debuts tonight at 10 p.m. on MTV). After watching the band amble through five songs from its debut album, "Core," most viewers will feel that "Pull the Plug" would have been a more appropriate venue.

A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Pilots' sound isn't particularly suited to acoustic guitars. Part of what made "Core" so exciting was the dense intensity of the band's heavily amplified attack, treating the sheer heft of the guitar sound as if it were a hook in itself. That kind of sound is a no-no on "Unplugged" (though a solid body electric bass seems acceptable, since that's what Robert DeLeo is playing), and that puts the STP songbook at a distinct disadvantage.

"Creep" holds up well enough -- no surprise, given the semi-acoustic nature of the original recording -- with singer Scott Weiland's dark, nasal voice recalling Michael Stipe's world-weary tone on the chorus. But "Crackerman" seems gruel-thin with tinny acoustics in place of the powerchord roar of the guitars on the electric version. Worse, Weiland's muttering delivery is even more mush-mouthed than usual, making the first verse almost impossible to decipher.

That's better than "Sex Type Thing," which the band remakes in what Weiland describes as "a swing-y kind of version." What that turns out to mean is that instead of the churning overdrive of the album arrangement (something that no doubt would have been impossible to do credibly on acoustic guitars), what we get is a shuffling, bluesy treatment not unlike the way Eric Clapton re-invented "Layla" for "Unplugged."

But "Sex Type Thing" is nowhere near the song "Layla" is. Worse, the band's unswinging ineptitude makes the tune sound so cheesy that Weiland's vocal -- putatively a put-down of sexist, aggressive males --comes across as some sort of lounge lizard act. Yuck!

Overall, the only time STP seems to come out ahead in this performance is on "Plush," where the band's lean arrangement and low-key delivery underscore the song's melodic strengths. It isn't just the degree of nuance Weiland brings to the vocal line; where the song truly sparkles is in the lush chord changes of the bridge and the dramatic cadences of the chorus.

One song in five, though, isn't exactly a winning average. All things considered, the Stone Temple Pilots' appearance on "MTV Unplugged" is likely to leave even devoted fans struggling to convince themselves that this band has much going for it beyond a couple of singles and a lot of luck.

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