Some bands get no respect, no matter what they do, but Stone Temple Pilots suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune more than most. Some of this was brought on by themselves, particularly in the early days when they sounded like a mix of Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains and relied on macho bluster in their videos, but critics and rockists singled them out as the one band that typified how the establishment was going to sell out the alt-rock revolution that Nirvana kicked off in 1991, the year punk broke. By their second album, 1994's Purple, they had not only gotten better and weirder than expected, they'd also had the benefit of being surrounded by bands that really were corporate alt-rock rip-offs. So not only had they gotten better, but circumstances made them seem better too, even if many critics still clung to their blind hatred of the band. Then, as the music continued to get more interesting, Weiland began his descent into drug addiction, cycling through jail and rehab innumerable times. There was a brief parting of the ways in 1997, as Weiland recorded a solo album and the remaining trio formed the short-lived Talk Show, but the group soldiered on into 2001, cutting solid records, yet they were ultimately derailed by Weiland's addictions -- which, in a charming display of empathy, made some of the band's longtime critics gloat.
But, as the years pass, the turmoil gradually fades away (even though Weiland was arrested for DUI weeks before the release of this album), and the music stands at center stage, and it's best heard on Thank You, a 14-track collection of the group's hits (the album clocks in at 15 tracks, but "Plush" is repeated in a widely popular acoustic version). Though each record found STP trying different things and each has a clutch of good album tracks, they were at their best as a singles act, since that's where the strengths -- DeLeo's knack for catchy, monstrous riffs, Weiland's insanely hooky neo-psychedelic melodies, the band's tight, propulsive rhythms, Brendan O'Brien's clean yet intricate production -- lie. Although they seemed rather cookie-cutter at first, thanks partially to the clobbering grunge of "Sex Type Thing" used as their debut single, the jumbled chronology of Thank You forces the listener to see each track as its own work and judge it on its own merits. And, based on that, it's clear that Stone Temple Pilots were one of the great singles bands of the '90s. Single for single, they had a dynamic mix of crunching hard rock and sugary, slightly trippy melodies, underscored by a real sense of urgency and perfect production by O'Brien, where each track unfolded with layer upon layer of sonic detail and no song outstayed its welcome. This was alt-rock played as classic rock -- it played by the rules of '70s album rock, but its amalgam of sounds and styles, where STP poached from metal, glam, bubblegum, the Beatles, and album rock in equal measure, was purely a creation of the '90s, where postmodern aesthetics became part of the mainstream. And, within the mainstream, nobody did it better than Stone Temple Pilots. Yes, their peers certainly had more indie credibility, but great pop music isn't about credibility; it's how the music sounds, and STP made music that sounded great at the time and even better now.
With a few exceptions -- the most notable being the charting singles "Unglued," "Hollywood Bitch," and "Pretty Penny," though cases could be made for their acoustic cover of Zeppelin's "Dancing Days," Weiland's spin-off "Mockingbird Girl" (not STP, but it fits musically), and the album tracks "Tumble in the Rough" and "Church on Tuesday," but that's nit-picking -- Thank You contains all of their great songs, and there are many: the hazy, murky cavalcade of imagery in "Vasoline"; the swelling, mournful "Creep"; the neo-glam crunch of "Big Bang Baby"; the eerie, desolate late-night dread of "Big Empty"; the majestic "Plush"; the candy-coated rush of "Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart"; the silly but effective Alice in Chains homage "Wicked Garden"; the heavy, heavy monster sound of "Down"; the sighing cinematic "Lady Picture Show"; the effortless, incandescent power pop "Days of the Week"; the matter-of-fact, heartbreaking resignation of "Sour Girl"; and, best of all, the timeless travelogue "Interstate Love Song," as great a driving song as has ever been recorded. These are the songs that have been classified as guilty pleasures by alt-rockers too consumed by conventional definitions of good taste, but ten years after STP's peak, this music reveals itself as some of the best singles of the '90s. Scoff if you want and call them the Guess Who of the '90s, but this music has stood the test of time and this collection is nearly perfect. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine