From day one, despite achieving mammoth levels of success during the grunge and alternative explosion of the 1990s, Stone Temple Pilots have been damned if they do and damned if they don't. Scott Weiland's throaty growl and bug-like sunglasses? How very Layne Staley of him. The band's riff-heavy sound on Core and Purple? Completely derivative of bands like Pearl Jam. The entire Tiny Music... experience? Hey, we all enjoyed it better the first time when it came from The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. No. 4? Ah, so this is what happens when you cannot carve out your own artistic niche and are forced to go back to the alternative rock anthems that got you on the map in the first place ... the same ones people criticized you for because of their lack of originality. Shangri-La Dee Da? More like I don't want to touch this with a 10-foot pole. And on it goes.
By Brian Palmer
Sometimes you just can't catch a break even when you catch a break, and haters are always gonna hate anyway, so either you deal with it or you implode. Weiland decided early on that imploding was the best idea ever, as his various run-ins with the law and struggles with substance abuse -- to say nothing of his diva-like behavior and the constant bickering that typified his relationship with the rest of the band --can attest. Despite being one of the singularly most interesting characters in rock 'n' roll, a dynamic singer and undoubtedly the biggest star of the band, he has been a constant distraction for them and has done more harm than good throughout their time together. Most of Elizabeth Taylor's marriages were less dysfunctional than STP's time together was, for crying out loud.
So what do you do when your lead singer is forever out of control and your band hasn't been a blip on the music radar for more than a decade (their 2010 mess of a self-titled comeback record absolutely does not count) unless it has been to talk about Weiland's latest meltdown? Why, you fire your current singer, get a new one and reinvent yourself, of course. This is what the rest of the band did when they replaced Weiland with Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington and renamed themselves Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington, a move that was borne out of necessity as Weiland is currently suing them for misleading people into thinking that STP can actually be STP without Weiland. The band's decision to finally move on from Weiland is the best one they could possibly have made.
Replacing Weiland with Bennington is an upgrade of epic proportions for the band. First, there is that small issue of replacing one of the biggest egos in rock 'n' roll with a singer who has his head on straight. Bennington isn't about to go off on a power trip and isn't in danger of having run-ins with the law at any given moment, so there is stability there. And the rest of the band knows that Bennington is still committed to Linkin Park as well, so when it is time for them to record again, there won't be discord about creative differences and lack of commitment to the band. Some people think drama and destructive behavior are more interesting to read about, but if you actually give a rip about the band, then Weiland was -- oddly enough -- the weakest link and had to go, and Bennington was an excellent choice to replace him because he has more than enough chops and presence to fill his shoes.
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Second, Bennington is playing with house money here. He has no other reason to be involved in any incarnation of Stone Temple Pilots than for the fact that he simply wants to fulfill a youthful dream of his -- being the band's vocalist. He achieved international rock 'n' roll stardom a decade ago with Linkin Park and has continued to be one of the most uniquely recognizable rock singers in the world ever since. He's having the time of his life, the band is happy to have someone new at the helm and for the first time in God knows how long, it's really all about the music. There literally is no pressure here for everyone involved, and that has to be refreshing.
And finally, there is the music itself. Full disclosure here: High Rise, the debut EP from Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington, is not the best thing I have heard this year. Not even close. But it's not bad, and more to the point, it's not necessarily what you would expect from an STP release. And that's the point. They can crank out a rip-roaring single like "Out of Time" just to prove the DeLeo brothers still know how to craft some of the best hooks in the history of rock 'n' roll and that Bennington's vocals are not out of place on an STP record, but they don't have to stick to that formula. It's hard to miss some of the bluesy riffs that populate tracks like "Black Heart" and the thick production and crunchy rock sound of "Cry Cry" is straight out of the Jet playbook, so they aren't afraid to try and give their songs a bit of a kick in the ass from time to time, and that's a good thing because it has been far too long since you could honestly say that about an STP track.
Look, no one is disputing that Weiland is an iconic rock 'n' roll figure. It is impossible to expect to replace that kind of talent and charisma without there being people who think the world is coming to an end and the band is never going to be the same again. In a sense they are right, the band is never going to be the same again because they now have a fresh, healthy band dynamic and Bennington isn't trying to be Scott Weiland Version 2.0, but this is exactly the sort of change that has brought this band back from the dead. Bringing Bennington makes all the sense in the world and STP -- whether it's the old version or the new one -- is better off because of it.