You’ll have to excuse the next paragraph or so. I’m a little wound up, and I’m going to try to approximate the feeling.
HOLYGODDAMFUCKINGHELL!! A TORNADO!! LIKE, A REAL ONE!! LIKE, A MILE FROM HERE!! ON THE GROUND, KNOCKING OVER SIGNS AND SHIT!! HOLYMOTHEROFGOD!!
Yeah, I saw my first ever tornado. It touched the ground a few miles from the office where I work, and whoever described those things as the finger of God wasn’t far off. It took down the big sign in front of the local Burger King, it whipped up dust and dirt in a visible spiral several hundred feet off the ground, and it was accompanied by winds and hail the size of quarters. We all watched it form, hit the ground and slowly dissipate from our flimsy shelter in the pressroom. It was totally fucking cool, and I never want to do it again.
We got some great pictures, though. I’ll post some if I can.
Anyway, a little jittery today, but jacked up and ready to write this puppy. We now join your regularly scheduled column, already in progress.
Stone Temple Pilots are a better band than they have any right to be.
Riding the Seattle wave of the early ‘90s, this California band aped Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains so perfectly that they fit right in on the burgeoning alternative radio scene. Their debut album, Core, sold extremely well, despite ringing hollow from first note to last. If you asked me then, I’d have suspected that their only claim to fame would have been as one of the bands responsible for the three songs named “Creep” that shared the airwaves in ’92. (The other two were by Radiohead and TLC.)
In fact, if you’d postulated in 1993 that STP would outlast bands like Alice in Chains and Soungarden, you’d have been laughed right out of Lollapalooza. The grunge wave self-destructed along with its most important bands, chiefly Nirvana, but lo and behold, Stone Temple Pilots keep soldiering on, and growing artistically while they’re at it. Their fifth and best album, Shangri-La Dee Da, is playing right now, and I must confess a steadily growing respect for it.
I have to say this right up front, though, and I’d be interested to know if anyone out there has had a similar experience. The truth is, I have the album playing right now because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to review it. Ten minutes after I shut this record off, I won’t remember a note of it, I guarantee you. STP is the only band I really like that doesn’t stick in my memory at all. I glanced at the track listing for Shangri-La Dee Da before pressing play, in fact, and I found I couldn’t hum a single one of the tunes, even though I’d heard the album six times before.
To tell you the truth, I can’t remember a single song off their last two albums, either. I remember their names (Tiny Music and No. 4), and I remember a couple of song titles, but if I were to dig them out and listen to them again, it would feel like I’d never heard them before. STP has an odd facelessness about them, one that probably comes from mimicking so many styles so well.
Let’s back up.
Round about their third record, STP expanded their range of influence, taking a little bit from Zeppelin, a little from Bowie, a little from the Beatles, and a lot from the good, solid rock of the time. They fashioned a more classic rock sound that was leaps and bounds above their first couple of efforts in composition, style and texture. Tiny Music was good, or so I wrote at the time. As I’ve said, I don’t really remember it. I do remember thinking that nearly every element had changed, especially Scott Weiland’s voice, which now seemed to fluctuate with the type of song they were emulating. Tiny Music was a mix tape with almost no identity attached.
Shangri-La Dee Da (and I have to say, I love that title) is a better mix tape, but there’s still no identifying Stone Temple Pilots sound to it. Every song, though, and I mean every song, is more melodically complex and well-crafted than you’d expect it to be. “Dumb Love” is pure rock, “Days of the Week” is Matthew Sweet-style guit-pop, “Coma” works some nifty production touches around a powerhouse melody, etc. There are standouts (the lovely “Wonderful,” the epic “Hello, It’s Late”), but there are no weak links.
In a way, though, the whole album is a weak link, and I’m not really sure why. I’m on track 12 now (“A Song for Sleeping”) and I barely remembered enough about tracks one through five to write the above paragraph. If STP played simple, disposable pop, I could perhaps explain my inability to commit their tunes to memory. They don’t, though. Shangri-La Dee Da is a decent, well-written album that wisps away like smoke the second it’s over.
I can’t for the life of me think of what the band should be doing differently. While Shangri-La Dee Da is playing, it’s borderline extraordinary. I’d explore this strange phenomenon in greater detail, except the last track just ended, and I can’t remember enough about it (or the other 12) to keep writing.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there are those bands you hear once and never forget. I discovered one of those this past week. I’m randomly flipping through music video channels, right, and I come across this dark, moody-looking clip that catches my eye for a second. All of a sudden, I hear Jeff Buckley’s voice coming out of the body of Trent Reznor, and he’s singing this unbelievable song, and I just have to get this disc. Now. Tonight. Without delay.
The band is called Ours, the CD is called Distorted Lullabies, and it’s at least as good as I hoped it would be.
For all intents and purposes, Ours is one guy, and his name is Jimmy Gnecco, which explains why he didn’t use it. Sweet Christ, though, can this guy sing. He alternately sounds like Buckley, Bono and some unique combination of the two. He also writes these sweeping, dramatic songs that implant themselves in your consciousness after just one listen. The song with the moody video clip is called “Sometimes,” and you will never forget it. The rest of Distorted Lullabies is just as good.
I wasn’t too surprised to see that this record came out on DreamWorks. I don’t know where they find these artists, but as I mentioned earlier, they’ve filled their roster with true musicians, as opposed to marketable radio fodder. Nothing about Distorted Lullabies says “major label debut.” Everything about it says “labor of love,” and God bless DreamWorks for finding it and releasing it as is.
The second half of this album is among the best material released by anyone this year. I almost feel like I should be harder on Gnecco for sounding so much like Buckley, both vocally and compositionally, but here’s how I look at it: Jeff Buckley was so supernaturally talented that you’d have to be nearly that talented yourself to pull off a good imitation. Distorted Lullabies is more than a good imitation. It’s almost a reincarnation, and it packs enough originality and majesty that you’re carried away in the sweep of it all.
I hope this record isn’t a fluke, and that Gnecco gets to enjoy the long, artistically satisfying career that Jeff Buckley never had. Even if that doesn’t pan out, though, Distorted Lullabies is the musical find of the year so far.
Next week, a guitar-filled double feature with live records from Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.
See you in line Tuesday morning.