Contraband Album reviews.
Release Date: 06.08.04
Record label: RCA Records
Rock-Hard Pop for the Grown-Up Kids
by: matt cibula
You know what this is, right? It’s the result of a stoner conversation from twelve years ago that actually came about: “You know what would be cool? Like, if Axl quit Guns N Roses and they replaced him with Scott Weiland! That would rule.” And then lots of giggling and being really really hungry.
Well, 2004 and here we are, it’s magically come to pass, and it’s not bad but it’s not world-beating either. Slash is still probably in the top 10 rock guitar players in the world (even though he’s just basically repeating the same stuff he did in G-N-R), Duff is still the most underrated funk bass player in the world, Matt Sorum is just a great powerful drummer, there’s another guy I don’t know named Dave Kushner who plays guitar, they are a good tight band that can play everything Scott Weiland throws at them.
So what does he throw? Well, here’s the thing. I wasn’t the hugest fan of Stone Temple Pilots but I always managed to cut them slack because a) they had Jerry Cantrell, which means they did that song about his dad being a rooster, which rules so hard on every single one of my brother’s mixtapes (or wait, was that Alice in Chains? I can never remember since they were both "we're not Nirvana, honestly!" bands... so I guess there's only one reason I loved STP...) b) they were, for a brief moment, the best pop band in the U.S., because Weiland is just a great pop songwriter who understands how to sustain a mood and how to put a couple of cool-ass hooks together to make a song that you can’t help remembering even if you hate it, which I often wanted to do because Weiland has written some of the most godawfully pretentious lyrics of all time. I love pretentious lyrics, but some of that STP stuff was just plain stoopid. And yet I remembered the songs anyway, found myself singing them in my awful voice, and it dawned on me what was going on.
But Weiland doesn’t want to be a pop guy, he wants to be a ROCKER. Hence the self-loathing, hence the drugs, hence the legal troubles, hence him breaking up his band with erratic behavior—because that’s what a ROCKER would do, right? And hence these songs all trying to be tough and hard. Weiland’s spitting out F-Bombs and MF-Bombs right and left, he’s singing how hard his big ROCKER life is, there are references to bitches and dope and porn and aliens, it’s all very much “dude I ain’t no pop singer I’m a ROCKER!!!!” (Kurt Cobain had this syndrome. It took its toll on him too.)
But see, here’s the thing: Weiland, surrounded by the three best members of one of the world’s best rock groups ever, is still writing great pop songs. Despite all the alienating surreal wordplay (WTF with “Somebody raped my tapeworm abortion / Come on motherfuckers and deliver the cow”? or “We’re all running from the goose, she’s high on cocaine / There’s a noose swimmin’ between her legs to her brain”?), he is still writing great pop songs.
“Illegal i Song,” which makes no sense at all, brings this home with its iconic riffy chorus: “Just look and you’ll see me / Lying there / Lying,” which could easily be kickin’ it in an old self-pitying doo-wop song or Wings album track. “Fall to Pieces” is a power ballad that even Whitesnake could love: “I keep a journal of memories / I’m feeling lonely, I can’t breathe”. And you’ve heard “Slither,” which just tears up the radio with some klieg-light power chords and more-Metallica-than-Metallica-has-been-in-a-while crunchy trickery—are you trying to tell me that’s not just a great pop song, sung by a great pop singer, in a metal disguise? Don’t waste your breath, you know I’m right.
I guess I should talk more about how the band sounds, but they sound great just like you’d figure. I should also mention how they end with a kind of Bowie tribute (“Loving the Alien”) that accidentally sounds like Let’s Active, or how “Dirty Pretty Thing” sounds almost exactly like “Sucker Train Blues” except if Sweet played it, but I won’t. And I know I should either rhapsodize about this or damn it to hell for its predictability or its lyrical confusion, but I won’t. I’ll just say that this is a lot better than it has a right to be, but it’s not by any means “the alien infection, it’s the coming of Christ”. It’s rock-hard pop for the grown-up kids and there’s nothing wrong with that. 07-Jul-2004 7:40 PM