Seattle Pilots Move to Milwaukee

It’s tough being a Stone Temple Pilots fan. The constant drug arrests of singer Scott Weiland aren’t the problem; every musician has drug problems. It just seems most people don’t give STP their due. The band has zero rock-critic or postpunk/indie-rock respect, and the band’s new No. 4 album, out just a few weeks, is already plummeting down the charts. A lot of suspicion against STP probably results from their image as a “hit grunge band,” when really they’ve been upholding a pretty traditional hard rock sound. And in 1999—when most groups seem intent on being more hip-hop, electronic, and/or oogy-boogy weeeiiird than actually rocking—traditional hard rock is a rare and fine thing.

When STP first hit, with “Plush” off of 1992’s Core, people screamed “Eddie Vedder impersonator” at Weiland. There was a certain mental-patient persona shared in their videos, and a certain mental-patient bellow shared in their voices. “Sex Type Thing” switched things up a bit; some said it was industrial-rocky, others said Alice in Chains. It took a couple of acoustic hits (“Creep,” “Plush” unplugged in MTV’s studio) for cynics to drop some of the “rip-off” claims.

The Pilots’ second record, Purple, changed a few more minds, thanks to the Sabbath-punker “Vasoline” (drummer Eric Kretz’s shining moment), the radio-smashing “Interstate Love Song” (guitarist Dean DeLeo’s biggest hook), and the short and tight “Unglued.” (The line “You’ll eat the lies and you will . . . ” in “Vasoline” reminded me of that old joke: How do you keep an idiot in suspense? I’ll tell you next issue.) Still, for some haters, more STP success just entrenched contempt. The band got a bit stranger on Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop (the liner notes didn’t thank the Pope specifically, although they did thank “everyone”). “Big Bang Baby” was fluffier and poppier than anything anywhere, “Tumble in the Rough” jammed The Fall and Black Flag into Sabbath’s back pocket, and the calypso tinges in “And So I Know” helped make for one of the prettiest songs of the decade. Some of the artier material dragged, though: especially the love songs to Duran Duran (“7 Caged Tigers”) and packaging materials (“Adhesive”).

STP defies most artiness accusations by having concise, user-friendly album lengths in the CD era. No. 4 packs 11 songs into 42 minutes. The bad news is it rehashes old STP like crazy and is their worst album; the good news is it’s very good, regardless. The rehashes are vibrant and unlabored, hybrids of the most enjoyable elements of their back catalog. The best fast songs are the first three; the best mellow songs are those on what, in the vinyl era, would’ve been “Side Two.” “Down” kicks hard, an interpretation of Core‘s “Dead and Bloated” that’s both faster and less grim, since it’s vaguely about a girl whereas the older tune was vaguely about a corpse. “Heaven and Hot Rods” glues “Unglued” smack-bang onto “Big Bang Baby.” In “Down,” Weiland’s “waiting for my Sunday girl”; in “Hot Rods,” “she walked in with an alligator sister/trying to get to heaven on Sunday.” So you can say No. 4 is a real Sabbath album—in the Christian sense.

A couple songs later, we find “Father’s always smoking/and your mom’s at church on Tuesday/and your brother’s always tripping [drinking? tricking?] and dying.” The way Weiland adds “I’ll find a way back to you someday” recalls Bob Dylan’s old feelings of loss and chaos. The next song, “Sour Girl,” is also about losing a lover; a weedy, clipped acoustic guitar riff suggests Neil Young’s “No More,” while the chorus reaches an expansive high: “What’ll you do/What’ll you do if I follow you?” No tributes to stalking here; the protagonist’s conclusion is too resigned, upfront, and confessional: “She was a happy girl the day that she left me.”

In “I Got You,” he leaves her instead. Despite country-rock flourishes, the ’60s-pop lilt owes more to the Stones’ “Down Home Girl” than to “Dead Flowers.” And while Jagger’s girl would put roses on his grave, Weiland’s just paints roses on his headstone. Femmes fatales are getting chintzier.

“Sex & Violence,” the album’s weakest song melodically, nevertheless has a harsh, fast attack, like Joy Division’s “Failures” gone nuts. After several listenings, I still can’t figure out what it’s about, however (and besides, I’m more into sex-type things than sex-&-violence-type things). Likewise, “MC5” isn’t about the MC5. (If people are gonna name songs after random musicians for no reason, I’ll suggest some ideas for prospective songwriters: “David Lee Roth,” “Sib Hasian,” “Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly.” Hope that helps.) At the end of “MC5,” DeLeo breaks a string. How do you know? He says so. Ringo Starr had blisters on his fingers, and Dean broke his string.

“Glide” is soaring and lovestruck, and “Atlanta” is even prettier—so pretty that it’s difficult for me to listen to. By which I mean I always play it three or four times in a row. It’s goddamn beautiful. And it kills me, just a little bit, every time. (Roberta Flack knows what I’m talking about.) It’s a waltz with an acoustic riff, similar to the Allmans’ “Melissa.” But it’s much more than that, with orchestra and vibes adding a powerful conclusion. The effect definitely isn’t over the top; at five minutes, “Atlanta” is a model of brevity. “The laughter’s all gone but the memories are mine/The Mexican princess is out of my life.” Does this refer to Weiland’s estrangement from his part-Guatemalan wife? “She lives by the wall and waits by the door/She walks in the sun to me.” A sad prospect, paralleling his own current situation, surrounded by prison walls. Inside, looking out.


Softcore Techno

Sex in American music videos is limited to jokey or “social commentary” snippets. But some Brits at Palm
Pictures have just put out a
real porno, Suck It and See, complete with soundtrack CD on Pussyfoot Records. Oddly enough, there’s not much suck (i.e., oral), and palms aren’t
focused on.

Palm calls the film an “homage to 1970’s softcore porn classics,” probably due to its semblances of plot—nowhere to be found in ’90s porn, which uses more
advanced concepts such as
Internet cameras in toilets.
The Girl with cute flippety hair arrives at airport, is leered at by The Sleazy Businessman, who looks like a cross between Kraftwerk’s uncles and nuclear power mogul Mr. Burns. TG is met by a squirrelly Backstreet Boy lookalike. The Boy has a chauffeur so he can fornicate The Girl in the car, saving
valuable time. The Boy swims naked in a pool while The Girl and The Blond Girl have sex in a sauna—hey, as non sequiturs go it beats The Magical Mystery Tour. TB, TG, and TBG go to a motel so sleazy that the pages of their Gideons are stuck together. We soon see they’re constructing integrated circuits. No, they’re doing
volunteer work for the Red Cross…okay, okay, they’re bonking and filming it. The
sexiness deteriorates from here. I don’t mean to sound shallow and horny, but it is porn, right?

Most of the film’s music is
on the second disc of the soundtrack CD, but the first disc’s straightforward house jacking is better. Daddy longlegs’s “Atomic Fuck Machine” sounds like a party with some annoying robot host stopping the music to shout “blleeee-ee-ee, brprprprpr, whir-rr-rr-rr, ee-EEEE.” Fantastic Plastic Machine’s “Green Door” has an ethereal white–Soul II Soul quality. But “Only If It Hurts”
by Howie B. is the track I’ve
listened to most, thanks to freaky-assed jerky computer barks and clanky percussion. And it’s on during the steamy all-girl sex scene.


Shake Your Bodega

If Fun Lovin’ Criminals were the Ramones, their Þrst album’s “King of New York” would’ve been titled “Gotti Is a Don,” and their new album’s “The View Belongs to Everyone” would be “The Return of Gotti and Paulie.” They don’t believe in lyric sheets (I don’t either) so their words get pretty confusing for foreign fans putting together Web sites. Hell, I’m from Virginia and the only reason I’ve heard of Hackensack, Bensonhurst, and WNBC is due to Billy Joel, Lordz of Brooklyn, and Howard Stern. My favorite FLC mondegreen comes from the Websiter who thinks the ramblin’ tough guy in “Back on the Block” is wielding a “shake” in his hand. Granted there’s some pretty dangerous dairy products out there, all that fat and cholesterol, that sandy yogurt garbage at McDonald’s, but I still think the word is really shank. As for what “running kosky-mooskered to the LIE” means— I get the expressway part from Seinfeld reruns, need help with the Þrst bit.

Still, there’s lots to like about these guys whether you liked their hit “Scooby Snacks” from a couple years ago or not (I did), and even if you’re one of the people who confuse them with Fine Young Cannibals. For instance, no explanation is ever given about why keyboardist-trumpeter Fast is called Fast, much less why he’s called Fistynuts sometimes, much less why
vocalist-guitarist Huey once had to choose between a jail sentence or the marines (for whom he injured his leg in Saudi Arabia). And the clincher is that Huey also owns a garbage-
hauling business that’s advertised in both CD booklets . . . or actually, the clincher might be that they sampled Lynyrd Skynyrd and recorded with Echo and the Bunnymen.

Forget the jokey platform-heeled­and­hip-hugged funk kitsch exploited by— well, every band of the last 15 years. FLC aren’t just white thugs with guitars yelling about beating heads and calling it rap-rock; they’ve got blue-eyed souls. They tell stories. “10th Street” is about buying bad grass on 10th (Dutch tourists, plan your vacation accordingly). The chorus sounds like the Damned’s “Looking at You,” but the song goes country-hopping on the verses, and a distorted solo adds a Ween feel. A bunch of cop cars arrives during the solo, and the song’s hero is forced elsewhere to buy, maybe Lexington 125.

100% Colombian (the title is supposedly a coffee reference, yeah right) also has a dead-on Santana jam, transparent Boz Scaggs and Barry White allusions, an actual blues with B.B. King sitting in, a partying-in-L.A. put-down with a fantastic coda rearranging Marshall Tucker over drunken gospel organ, and the best pet song since “Marie Provost” by Nick Lowe (unless the Shop Boys count). So if you think sedate, versatile rap is a bad thing, maybe you should just let DMX or Master P shout at you over boorish beats and computer bleats instead. FLC even include an advertisement for Atlantic Avenue Limo Service— is this a DiFontaine Hauling Company tie-in for Huey? Do they haul trash in the limos?? (I understand Janice from Paul’s Boutique is the receptionist at Atlantic Limo now.)

“Korean Bodega” marks the CD’s shift away from soul-rock, into Thorogood/Diddley. Huey has helpfully informed outsiders like me that “‘Bodega’ is kind of a slang word for a store, and ‘Korean’ is a guy who owns a store.” And here I was thinking “Korean” meant Korean! The song was reportedly written to pay off a $2 tab owed to Huey’s local bodega, making it the cheapest song ever (though then again, I heard Desmond Child gave “Angel” to Steven Tyler for a gum wad and some pencils).

Sometimes Huey goes Taxi Driver on us: “They’re all bums, girl/livin’ in their fucked-up places/I’m talking murder/I’m talking blackmail and jazz/and guys with burnt-up faces.” Surrounded by wahwah crunch, he says a murdered woman had her face disÞgured too, so faces don’t fare too well in this particular song— “Southside,” the band’s most metallic ever. The only facial horror missing is a shout-out to Camilla Parker Bowles.

But Fun Lovin’ Criminals go straight from that one into “We Are All Very Worried About You,” their mellowest cut— the chorus resembles “We’ve Only Just Begun,” while the verses are like “Midnight in a Perfect Oasis” by DJ Shadow Muldaur. Huey said he felt proud to write lyrics from a loser’s point of view . . . until the rest of the band congratulated him for writing words so obviously autobiographical. When he sings, “If you þy high again/they’re gonna bag you up,” you know he ain’t talking about the bodega checkout counter.

Fun Lovin’ Criminals play Irving Plaza February 10.