There are some records that deserve a reevaluation. Maybe they just came out at the wrong time, or suffered from genre fatigue. Maybe they were such a different sound for an artist that fans were turned off, or maybe it came from a band whose reputation was less than cool. Whatever the case, I’d like to submit an album for your reevaluation, one that fits somewhere in those last pair of reasons.
Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop by Stone Temple Pilots.
Though I came of age in the grunge and post-rock/modern-rock era, raised on a king’s feast of mainstream radio, STP was never really my bag. I was a Pearl Jam guy, and the Stone Temple Pilots were looked at as posers, sweeping in to reap the benefits of an industry catchall. I won’t lie though: Those first two records were everywhere, and I knew the songs. I’ll blame my naive palate, the same one most of you all had in your teens. Don’t act like there isn’t a Hootie or a Bush in your closet, as well. But, the farther I got away from the era, the more disdain I found for the group. We had become different people, and they weren’t my people anymore. But there was one record that I just couldn’t shake…
Tiny Music is different than the rest of the band’s catalog. If I had to guess, most fans probably even like it the least from the group’s initial run. It’s weird. It’s brighter. It veers from pop to jazz, before it wraps back around to alternative. Even those songs carry a shiny smile. In comparison, the two albums that preceded it are hard rock. They have songs with titles like “Meatplow,” “Dead and Bloated” and “Big Empty.” This album has “Lady Picture Show,” “Big Bang Baby” and “Art School Girl.” There’s an acoustic instrumental with a Caribbean lean. This is the band getting its Beatles on. Hell, sometimes the band is getting its Monkees on. Why? How? This was Scott Weiland letting his inner good-time guy out for the world to see. Whatever he was, and whomever he had portrayed, as it turns out, there was someone very different just waiting to burst through. But, at the time it was released, 1996, we were all staring at our feet with a pensive sway and calling it dancing. Actually, we weren’t calling it anything. Titles were… whatever, man. But, while we were checking out the ground, this band went and wrote one of the best pop albums of the decade. And I mean this in all seriousness: This is a Pinkerton. Absolutely. Just like Weezer’s initially-panned oddball, Tiny Music excels at highlighting what the rest of us geeks were up to. We weren’t watching “Beavis and Butt-Head” (anymore). We were tuned in to “Daria.” We had “Mystery Science Theater 3000” on. And, apparently, so did Weiland. In fact, he would go even deeper down the well with his first solo LP, 12 Bar Blues, two years later, a record even more chock-full of askew detours. It works as a really great companion to Tiny Music, and proof that, had the world let him, had the critical support — and money — followed, he may have had a very different career. Maybe he’d still be here.
One of my biggest career regrets is not going after an interview with Weiland when he came to Louisville a couple years back. It was right before he died, and he was playing a small room in the same week his ex-band was playing The Palace with a fill-in singer. He had his pickup band called The Wildabouts. They may not have produced anything memorable, but they were a nice salute to T-Rex, which should buy them at least some credit. Anyway, I slept on the request, and he passed away, taking the possibility of glimpsing that weird side of his musical prowess ever again.
But some of it is there for anyone to hear on Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop. It’s not a perfect record, and it should be said that there is still some of the old STP lurking around within it. But in the grand scope of this rock-‘n’-roll game that we all play and subscribe to, it’s an album that was unfairly pushed to the side and forgotten about. Do yourself a favor and follow the directions of the first song, “Press Play.” Maybe even dance a little.