Album reviews: New releases from the Stone Temple Pilots & Smashing Pumpkins

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Stone Temple Pilots never earned the respect showered upon fellow grunge-era acts such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana. But thanks to a deep understanding of rock-radio principles (and to frontman Scott Weiland’s bad-boy tabloid appeal), they did earn something arguably more valuable: money.

Nearly a decade after the band’s last studio disc, STP’s hits remain staples on stations like L.A.'s KROQ-FM, and a reunion tour in 2008 drew huge crowds at venues including the Hollywood Bowl.

That commercial instinct is still in evidence throughout “Stone Temple Pilots,” which sounds like it could’ve come out mere months after 2001’s “Shangri-La Dee Da.” In fact, given the legal, professional and medical turmoil Weiland has experienced over the years since the band’s original breakup, it’s surprising to hear how upbeat most of these dozen tracks sound.

“First Kiss on Mars” shimmers with glittery glam-rock guitars, while “Between the Lines” layers the singer’s familiar sneer over a peppy pop-metal groove. In the latter tune Weiland references his troubles with heroin, but does it in a way that’s almost cheery: “You always were my favorite drug,” he sings, “even when we used to take drugs.”


Of course, the shape of the Top 40 has changed significantly since the early ‘00s; these days there’s far less space than there used to be for white guys with guitars. So although some of these songs feel like hits, their success seems far from guaranteed.

Billy Corgan sounds resigned to that marginalization on “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Vol. 1: Songs for a Sailor,” a new Smashing Pumpkins EP that collects four tracks recently released for free on the Internet. (In a typically audacious move by the only original Pumpkins member still in the band, Corgan plans to issue 11 such EPs under the “Teargarden” rubric.)

Where 2007’s “Zeitgeist” found the frontman attempting to revive the hard-pop splendor of “Siamese Dream,” here he’s more interested in exploring his music’s jammy, psychedelic side, with winding song structures, lyrics about endless seas and astral planes, and buckets of circa-'70s guitar fuzz. “A Song for a Son,” the EP’s six-minute closer, could be the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” mashed with “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin.

That fixation on headphone-trip arcana doesn’t mean the new songs lack hooks: “A Stitch in Time,” for example, opens with a folky acoustic figure that openly echoes “Disarm,” one of Smashing Pumpkins’ biggest hits.

But unlike “Stone Temple Pilots,” “Songs for a Sailor” seems indifferent to what’s happening on the radio right now. It’s a blast of arty alt-rock escapism, short and not so sweet.

— Mikael Wood

Stone Temple Pilots
“Stone Temple Pilots”
Two and a half stars (Out of four)

Smashing Pumpkins
“Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Vol. 1: Songs for a Sailor”
(Martha’s Music/Rocket Science Ventures)
Two and a half stars (Out of four)

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