STONE TEMPLE PIRATES? : Critics Say STP Mimics Everyone From Pearl Jam to Zeppelin, but No One Denies They're a Hit

Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition

Selling records has never been a problem for Stone Temple Pilots. But the band, which has ties (albeit tenuous ones) to the Orange County music scene, has been less successful when it comes to ducking the verbal brickbats of critics and some of its musical brethren.

When it played at Irvine Meadows last year on the KROQ "Weenie Roast" bill, STP was the obvious crowd favorite. But that didn't prevent the band from getting razzed from the same stage by another act on the bill--the Posies, who lampooned STP for its undeniable appropriation of the bankable Seattle grunge-rock sound.

Another fuss broke out last year when Stone Temple Pilots' debut release, "Core," was voted album of the year at the San Diego Music Awards. Grass-roots rockers on the San Diego scene questioned STP's right to be considered a local band, and they didn't seem at all eager to welcome the hot new band as a neighbor.

The abuse continues in Pavement's "Range Life," one of the most widely heard songs from one of the year's most critically adored bands.

Stone Temple Pilots, they're elegant bachelors.

They're foxy to me, are they foxy to you?

Another line from the same song hints at why Stone Temple Pilots have suffered such a chilly reception in the hippest alternative-rock circles: "Hey, you gotta pay your dues before you pay the rent."

STP, which returns to Irvine Meadows on Saturday, didn't go through the alternative-rock boot camp of independent label releases, hard-mileage touring in smelly vans, and long-haul cultivation of a grass-roots following. Band members Scott Weiland (the singer who hails from Huntington Beach), Robert and Dean DeLeo and Eric Kretz did knock about on the O.C., L.A. and San Diego club scenes, under the name Mighty Joe Young. But a large sum in mandatory dues went unpaid when STP quickly landed a major label deal with Atlantic Records and saw "Core" turn into an instant success (the album has sold more than 3 million copies).

With its canny redeploying of sounds and attitudes previously heard on successful albums by the Seattle bands Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, STP was an easy target for charges of musical theft. What may have truly rankled alternative rock purists was the fact that "Core" stood as irrefutable proof that grunge rock was no longer alternative at all, but merely the new arena rock. Proponents had hailed grunge as a raw, adventurous, rebellious departure (in fact, with Nirvana as the shining exception, it more often was a dull, monolithic and dauntingly inarticulate recycling of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath riffs and Doors-like darkness). With Stone Temple Pilots cloning the most accessible elements of grunge with lucrative results, grunge admirers could no longer deny that the music had turned into a recyclable formula. "Core" inadvertently announced that this episode in musical rebellion was over. Stone Temple Pilots got rich, but they also got ridiculed as the bearer of the bad news that grunge was a spent force.

Now STP is back with its second album, "Purple," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. The Pearl Jam and Soundgarden mimicry is downplayed; instead, Zeppelin-derived mystery and grandeur are more pronounced, and the stylistic borrowings are more omnivorous ("Lounge Fly," for instance, is an episodic song that echoes darkly psychedelic Beatles, rap-happy Red Hot Chili Peppers and Led Zeppelin in its acoustic folk-Druid mystical mode).

The result is a form of rock-for-the-masses that may not be original or insightful (STP's lyrics are as vague as they come; the general emotional thrust typically allows for a glint of hopefulness embedded in the mandatory '90s-rock ditch of dejection), but it is admirably crafted.

Stone Temple Pilots have an ear for hooky riffs and melodies, and their palette of sounds and range of dynamics are broad enough to hold interest even when you have no idea what the band is driving at. As arena rock goes, it beats the heck out of the Bryan Adamses, Journeys and Def Leppards of the past. The grunge-alternative rebellion may be over, but it did leave us with a better form of mass-appeal, big-gesture rock than we had before.

The truly alternative spark in modern rock was lit during the pre-grunge 1980s, and it lives on in Meat Puppets and Redd Kross, two veteran bands that turn up on STP's under card at Irvine (also appearing is Rust, a young, grunge-influenced band from San Diego; Wiskey Biscuit, a promising Orange County band previously announced as the fourth act on the bill, will not play at Irvine, but will appear with Stone Temple Pilots, Meat Puppets and Redd Kross at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles).

Meat Puppets have paid enormous dues. From 1982 through 1990, the Arizona trio released album after album on the independent SST label. It signed with the majors at last in 1991, and this year's "Too High to Die" finally has exposed Meat Puppets to a wider audience (the album recently reached No. 62 on the Billboard chart; a guest appearance by band members Curt and Cris Kirkwood on Nirvana's "MTV Unplugged" session didn't hurt). Success has not been paid for with artistic compromise; the band's hallmarks remain its dream-state lyrics, homespun harmonies and picturesque guitar journeys that convey a sense of magical, excursionary motion through wide-open spaces.

Redd Kross, which hails from the Beach Boys' hometown of Hawthorne, can even claim seniority over the Meat Puppets. The band members were in their teens when they debuted in 1980. Like both Stone Temple Pilots and Meat Puppets, Redd Kross has a brotherly connection, with singer Jeff McDonald and bassist Steven McDonald having anchored the band from the beginning. Redd Kross' signature style, much evident on its latest album, "Phase-shifter," combines an obsession with pop culture as a song subject, a sweet tooth for juicy, Beatles-inspired harmonies and melodies, and a taste for the aggressive guitar buzz of punk and psychedelic rock.

Who: Stone Temple Pilots.

When: Saturday, July 16, at 7 p.m. With Meat Puppets, Redd Kross and Rust.

Where: Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine.

Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway (405) to Irvine Center Drive exit. Turn left at the end of the ramp if you're coming from the south, right if you're coming from the north.

Wherewithal: Only $15 tickets are left.

Where to call: (714) 855-6111 or (714) 740-2000 (Ticketmaster).

MORE POP

IN COSTA MESA: NEVILLE BROTHERS

The flagship band of New Orleans R&B; is one of the bright spots in the Orange County Fair's ho-hum musical lineup. The Nevilles bring their funky stuff to the Pacific Amphitheatre on Friday, July 15. Admission to the 8 p.m. show is free to fair-goers. (714) 708-3247.

IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO: ADRIAN BELEW

Belew's distinctive guitar distortions have led to sideman credits with David Bowie and others, and he is preparing to resume his slot in the reformed King Crimson. But this show will focus on his own pop-loving stuff. Belew plays at the Coach House on today, July 14. (714) 496-8930.

IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO: LEE ROCKER'S BIG BLUE

The Stray Cats bassist emerges as a front man for the first time, with the emphasis not on rockabilly, but on barroom blues and R&B.; The trio, which has just released its debut album on Black Top Records, plays at the Coach House on Friday, July 15. (714) 496-8930.

* POP LISTINGS, Page 13

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