Stone Temple Pilots’ sophomore album, Purple (1994), is a direct sequel to 1992’s Core; maintaining the earlier album’s grunge foundation while adding a more diverse, unseen side of STP. Purple heralds a lighter, more upbeat era for the band, yet raises the question of whether or not they will maintain the deep, rough feeling that defined Core and grunge as a whole.

Robert DeLeo’s bass answers this question immediately with a resounding “yes!” in the album’s first track, Meatplow. The first four beats of the album immediately dispel any notion that STP has strayed too far from the path, and it is a welcome reassurance to any fan of their first album; it also sets up the rest of the tune as a dirty, down-to-earth, typical grunge piece that runs on pure bass. The rest of the song plays off of the initial tone, using it as a harmonic centering point not only for the other sections of the song, but also for the next tune in the album. 

If Meatplow runs on bass, then Vasoline runs on drums. The intro is reminiscent of their debut album’s Naked Sunday, except that it sets up a driving rhythm rather than a driving melody. That driving rhythm is a grouping of 3 beats over a 4/4 time signature, and along with paradiddles and other rudiments on the drums, dominates the song and serves as it’s defining characteristic. Weiland also has quite the presence here, with his typical grainy, grungy voice singing lyrics that are both accessible and meaningful, a staple of his lyricism demonstrated prominently in Sex Type Thing. The song is centered around drums and repeating rhythmic ideas; from the verse (led by a 3/4 polyrhythm on the guitar) to the chorus (built on paradiddles from the drum set), this song is very rhythmic.

Lounge Fly enters with a reversed audio track, which establishes its identity as one of the trippier songs on the album (if you listen closely, you’ll find that the reversed track lasts throughout almost the entire song). Backed by a constant but interesting tom-heavy drum groove, the bass takes a backseat at the start of the song, adding only subtle harmonic changes to build tension; until the chorus, that is, where it takes on rhythmic and melodic duties in exchange for its harmonic presence. This song includes an iconic “STP Acoustic Interlude” which is followed by a solo that really benefits from the interlude’s harmonic contrast. Another chorus, another, shred-ier solo piloting a fadeaway outro, and we are now ready for one of STP’s greatest hits.

Interstate Love Song. It’s no wonder this song gets so much airtime, as it provides a level of accessibility to mainstream audiences that seems ludicrous compared to how complex the song actually is. Also, it happens to be one of the more upbeat songs on Purple, which of course means that the lyrics have to contrast that. And they do, talking of drug addiction, lies, hopeless love, long-distance relationships, and all the things an unsuspecting listener wouldn’t expect. Besides great lyrics and a great title, Interstate Love Song has plenty of unconventional phrasing: the main riff spanning an unusual 3 bars, a 2/4 bar remainder that bridges the verse to the interlude, and a 10 bar chorus ending with a bar of rest; all that niche complexity and nuance is diffused in such a way that the average listener is not overwhelmed by it, and in fact, is intrigued by it – that could be why this song did so well on the charts. 

Next comes Still Remains – a sweet song that has great atmosphere and harmony, not to mention the occasional tambourine. Honestly, this song isn’t much without the vocals, but they really deliver – long, drawn out syllables providing a main melody and consistent presence so as to maintain the listener’s attention and let the background instrumentation serve humbly. The lyrics are still a bit sad, but this time they really fit the feel of the song and give depth to the constant vocals.

Pretty Penny shines as the pinnacle of STP’s diversity on this album, straying from the pack by bringing all acoustics and some lovely poetry. The percussion is of particular note, sending forth a gentle bongo groove to ground the tone of the piece while calling on intricate cymbals to elevate the piece when necessary. Pretty Penny also speaks to the band’s newfound confidence in the wake of Core’s success not only through what they play (acoustic guitar, bongos, tambourine, etc.), but how they play it (confident consistency, slow progression, soft tone, etc.); STP established themselves on great riffs and a solid percussive backbone to create their identity in the grunge world, and Pretty Penny sees them defiantly stray from that, as if to say, “you know who we are, we have nothing to prove, and we’ll play what we want.”

Silvergun Superman wastes no time introducing itself as a traditional grunge piece, using distortion and washy cymbals to dispel any doubt that this is anything but a typical grunge anthem. Yet any doubt would have been well placed, as the piece rapidly gains depth through the chorus, comprised of a distinct harmonic shift, a switch to clear, bright cymbal playing, another tambourine, and an uncompromising distorted guitar that shows its range by sticks around to complement a much more upbeat section than it initially signed up for. The patented “STP Acoustic Interlude” makes another appearance, this time setting up a bomb-ass solo section right after a couple bars of verse & chorus. And the solo section is “bomb-ass,” not only standing up on its own shred-y merits, but metamorphosing into an incredibly well executed and musically impressive shift of rhythm and tone to close out the piece.

The album’s ballad, Big Empty, also proves to be quite the shift of rhythm and tone as it enters with the slowest, most drawn out start we’ve seen on Purple yet. This dragged laziness is all part of the act though, and it sets up the chorus perfectly; a chorus that is impressive in its lentitud poderosa, that is to say, its “powerful slowness”, that ebbs and flows yet permeates the whole piece. Big Empty also has another very nice “STP Acoustic Interlude” that crescendos quickly and smoothly to set up the final chorus, which radiates feelings of longing and melancholy, finishing the piece just how they started it.

Youthful energy flows from Unglued like a fountain: the strong, loud vocals, the simple yet punk-esque drum backbeat, simple chord changes, and a fast, distorted main riff – not to mention the lyrics, which, upon further inspection, support the “youthful energy” diagnosis wholeheartedly. This song is the shortest one on the album, exploding onto the scene and vanishing into thin air quicker than might be expected in contrast to the other songs on Purple

Army Ants opens with a heavily distorted strumming pattern that lasts 8 bars, preceding a 2 bar silence, preceding a bunch of bars of awesome music. Seriously though, this song has a great upbeat grunge feel that follows Unglued very naturally; this time, however, STP speaks on conformity instead of impulse control, comparing close-minded, follower-type people to “army ants.” This song has lots of great drumming and solos that perfectly maintain the punk-grunge feel without taking away from the expected melodic and rhythmic complexity. Like Unglued, this song is short and catchy, but also has the privilege of preceding one of my favorite STP songs of all time.

Kitchenware & Candybars – what does that mean? I’m not sure anyone knows, but you’ll certainly have time to think about it during this song; by opening with a repeated acoustic guitar riff and soft vocals, K&C makes it known that it is a more unconventional STP tune than the last two. Despite its unconventionality, the song follows a similar pattern to Big Empty by setting up powerful choruses with soft yet interesting verses – verses which progress in musical complexity as the song does, I might add. Many strings also accompany this tune, appearing in the chorus, interlude, and bridge sections to add a bit of unexpected classical flair to the already atypical song. Atypical except for the fact that the solo shreds super hard, of course, and also that it precedes a final, hard hitting chorus… that precedes a Richard Peterson song?       

Yes, My Second Album, the 12th song on Purple, isn’t an STP song at all! It’s a song about, you guessed it, their second album (and Peterson’s), and it is certainly a different tune, with all the big-band staples like piano, trumpet, strings, and, of course, a classy crooner (give it a listen, it’s great).

Purple remains one of the greatest grunge albums of all time, and, in truth, my favorite grunge album of all time; everything about it shines from its confidence to its competence, and it is a great way to follow up the amazing Core. As I said, I consider this a true sequel to their debut album, and anyone who’s given a listen to Core knows what a tall order that is because it’s not easy to reproduce perfection.

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