“Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true!”
So said Aesop’s Fablesand then learned Stone temple pilots following the release of their 1992 multi-platinum debut album Nuclearwhich simultaneously made them the biggest and most hated rock band in the world – while living up to their critical reputation.
To be fair, they gave the critics a good bit of cannon fodder on their first run.
The core of Stone Temple Pilots dates back to 1984, when bassist Robert DeLeo moved from Montclair, NJ, to Los Angeles with a head full of dreams. He quickly met Scott Weiland, a singer with macho, frat-boy energy and a devilish wild side. DeLeo joined Weiland’s band Soi-Disant, also featuring guitarist Corey Hickok, and they soon added drummer Eric Kretz and renamed themselves Swing.
Weiland, DeLeo and Kretz eventually sought a replacement for Hickok, and DeLeo invited his older brother Dean—a former aspiring musician working as a contractor and pushing 30—to come up from San Diego to cut some tracks.
“I played a few solos and I think that was then and there where Scott really looked at what he wanted the future to be and what the guitar area of what he was doing was going to be,” Dean DeLeo told UCR in 2021. “It wasn’t too long after that they asked me. They said, ‘Hey, do you want to be in the band?'”
With a soon-to-be-classic lineup in place, the reconstituted Swing changed their name to Mighty Joe Young. The band cut a demo and toured Los Angeles and San Diego heavily in the early ’90s, eventually catching the eye of Atlantic Records A&R head Tom Carolan during a gig at the Shamrock in East Hollywood. Carolan offered them a record deal and suggested a name change, resulting in the Stone Temple Pilots, a tribute to Weiland’s childhood infatuation with STP motor oil and lubricants. (The band allegedly shot down his first suggestion about Shirley Temple’s Pussy.)
Stone Temple Pilots entered Los Angeles’ Rumbo Recorders in late 1991 to begin work on Nuclear with producer Brendan O’Brien hot on the heels of engineering Black Crowes‘ Shake Your Money Maker and mixing Pearl Jam‘s Ten. They emerged from the studio in early 1992 with a dozen red-blooded, all-American alt-rock anthems designed for rock radio and MTV supremacy.
Watch Stone Temple Pilot’s ‘Plush’ Video
It wouldn’t take long for them to fulfill their destiny: Nuclear hit shelves on Sept. 29, 1992; by the following summer it had peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and earned a platinum certification from the RIAA. The LP spawned a No. 1 hit on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock Airplay chart in the megalithic pop-rock stomper “Plush” and a No. 2 hit in the brooding acoustic ballad “Creep.” But along with its meteoric success, Nuclear also received scathing reviews from critics who wrote off Stone Temple Pilots as grunge clones.
They specifically targeted Weiland and set up his baritone howl Eddie Vedder cosplay and his twangy, touched croon to Kurt Cobain adore. STP’s original sin, it seemed, was coming from sunny California rather than doom and gloom grunge capital Seattle.
None of that mattered. The more critics slammed Stone Temple Pilots, the more records they seemed to sell, and Nuclear ultimately moving more than 8 million units in the US alone. The schism was most evident when Rolling stones voted STP Worst New Band in their 1994 critics poll, while fans voted them Best New Band in the same issue.
In retrospect, critics might have been too harsh, but they weren’t off-base. Nuclear is far from a flawless debut. Its album cuts tend to meander (“Sin”, “Where the River Goes”) or thrash without much melody or nuance (“Naked Sunday”), and the minute-and-a-half interludes “No Memory” and “Wet My” Bed ” is unnecessary filler. During the LP’s best moments, however, Stone Temple Pilots can go toe-to-toe with the biggest and best bands of all time. Songs like “Plush,” “Wicked Garden” and “Crackerman” pack super-sized hooks and smoldering guitar riffs, while “Dead & Bloated” and “Piece of Pie” serve up obliterated slices of alt-metal à la Alice in Chains.
“Sex Type Thing,” with its singsong vocals and falling guitar riff inspired by Led Zeppelin‘s “In the Light,” contends for catchiest song on Nuclear — and was also its most misunderstood. Weiland sings the song from a rapist’s point of view, delivering lines like “I’m a man, a man / I’ll give you something you won’t forget / I said you shouldn’t have worn that dress.” The lyrics are meant to be a clear rejection of sexual assault, but critics who took the song at face value (or simply had an ax to grind) instead accused Weiland of glorifying rape culture.
Watch Stone Temple Pilots’ ‘Sex Type Thing’ Video
This dissonance became apparent at shows as the “Sex Type Thing” gained traction and the Stone Temple Pilots’ star began to rise.
“The story that it was an anti-date rape song was well known,” Weiland said Spin in 2011, “but there were a couple of shows where I wanted to wear a granny dress from the ’60s and these big giant jocks were on. They didn’t even notice the message in the song … So it’s really bummed me out when I see people moshing to that song. It’s basically the opposite of what we had in mind when we wrote it.”
Stone Temple Pilots worked hard to shed their baggy and copycat labels and turned down an opening slot Aerosmith‘s mammoth Pull yourself together turn to embark on a more intimate run with alt-rocker veterans Butthole Surfers and Firehose. It was less a display of integrity than a successful bet on itself: by the end of 1993, STP was headlining arenas and amphitheaters around the US.
Though Nuclear transformed them into rock ‘n’ roll heavyweights, Stone Temple Pilots were massively crushed by the critics and carried a chip on their shoulder when they re-entered the studio to begin work on their second album in 1994, Purple. The record, which topped the charts six times platinum, found STP trading in their macho posturing and brooding riffs for shimmering, neo-psychedelic guitar passages, infectiously poppy melodies and an aesthetic more indebted to ’70s arena- rock giants than their grunge contemporaries.
Now widely regarded as one of the best albums of all time, Purple began STP’s long, arduous process of rehabilitating their image with critics – but for some close-minded listeners, the band’s story would always begin and end with Nuclear.
Stone Temple Pilots Albums Classified
During their run with original singer Scott Weiland, they created one of the most unique and underrated catalogs of their era.
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