Stone Temple Pilots graft their craft on other bands' sounds Unoriginal sin?

June 07, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Originality really is overrated, particularly in rock. That's not to say fresh ideas have no place in the music -- obviously, they do, else everything would still sound like Elvis and Chuck Berry -- but let's face it. Whenever adjectives like "radical" and "innovative" are bandied about, most pop fans begin to suspect that something awfully unlistenable lurks in the wings.

By rights, then, being unoriginal ought not seem such a great sin. Yet no sooner did Stone Temple Pilots make a dent in the alternative rock market than the band was pilloried for being overly imitative -- or, more specifically, for having stolen Pearl Jam's sound lock, stock and barre chord. Worse, everybody from Eddie Vedder to Beavis and Butt-head had something to say about the similarity.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that STP's sophomore effort, "Purple" (Atlantic 82607, arriving in stores today), sounds a lot less like Pearl Jam. True, STP singer Scott Weiland sticks with the same sonorous baritone that made his vocals sound uncannily like Vedderisms, and Dean DeLeo's guitar lines -- particularly on such songs as "Still Remains" and "Unglued" -- bear a more-than-passing resemblance to the tunefully hypnotic riffage of PJ's Stone Gossard.

But there's nothing particularly Pearl Jammy about the slow-grinding sound of "Meatplow." Its dense textures and dark, droning powerchords owe far more to Alice in Chains, while Weiland's vocal, with its self-conscious blue notes and lounge-lizard vibrato, seems more a parody of Glenn Danzig than anything else.

Or take "Lounge Fly," this album's update on the debut's "Sex Type Thing." Although the churning tom-tom patterns give the song the percussive power of a Nine Inch Nails raver, its guitar arrangement -- particularly the way the acoustic bridge dissolves into a wailing electric slide solo -- seems ripped straight from the pages of the Led Zeppelin songbook. Not entirely original, granted, but not copped from Pearl Jam, either.

Besides, does the amount of mileage on STP's ideas really matter that much? No matter how much the song "Vaseline" might owe to Alice in Chains (check the harmony vocals) or Soundgarden (the verse's sledgehammer central riff), there's no denying that the combination is a catchy one -- however derivative it might be.

Likewise, as much as the bluesy mope of "Big Empty" evokes the eloquent moodiness of R.E.M. (particularly when the electric guitars kick in), it's difficult to say whether that similarity adds or detracts from the overall effect.

Stone Temple Pilots, after all, may not be great originals, but they are solid craftsmen, and that carries a lot of the weight here. Rock's appeal, remember, has little to do with the sort of virtues rock critics are likely to champion -- such things as stylistic innovation or literate, allusive lyrics.

What draws most people to the music is the idiot bliss of loud guitars, propulsive rhythms and simple, singable melodies. And those STP has by the truckload.

So it hardly matters that "Purple," for all its sonorous singing and well-played guitars, is ultimately as vapid as a beauty queen's acceptance speech. After all, it's not like anybody gives points for originality these days.


To hear excerpts of the Stone Temple Pilots' new release, "Purple," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6236 after you hear the greeting.

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