The next chapter in one of the truly epic stories in rock history is about to be written. Someday it’ll make a great movie. Will it be a cautionary narrative, or a tale of redemption?
The story of Stone Temple Pilots is fraught with highs and lows, peppered with drama and drugs. It’s a dream of rock stardom come true that lurched into a nightmare of discord before collapsing into a pile of legal briefs.
Could this story have a happy ending? Just a few months ago, that seemed impossible. How would the band replace the brilliant but troubled Scott Weiland, one of the most iconic vocalists and performers of his generation? Newly christened Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington, what would the band sound like with the Linkin Park frontman at the helm? With the October 8 release of the band’s new five-song EP, High Rise, we’re about to find out.
Let’s dig into High Rise, track by track:
1) Out of Time – The band opens with a full-throttle, lightning-fast riff, with Bennington establishing his presence over top. The song starts as a battle cry, and then injects tuneful melody and harmony into the mix before plowing back into the main theme. Despite elements of familiarity, Out of Time is a departure from anything STP has done in the past. Released as a single in May, the song was well-received, reaching number 1 on both the Active Rock and Mainstream Rock charts.
2) Black Heart – Fans who are only casually familiar with Bennington’s work won’t know what hit them. They’d likely never imagined Bennington as a melodic pop/rock singer, but that’s role he plays on Black Heart. It’s a style that comes to him so naturally, it’s hard to believe it isn’t his claim to fame.
Here, Bennington sings a clean melody over a vibrant, stomping beat. A juxtaposition of bright harmonies and dark lyrics, Black Heart bounces along and then rolls into an irresistible, harmony-laden break, leading to a tasty, country-fried solo by guitarist Dean DeLeo. Like any great pop tune, Black Heart seems to end almost too soon – and leaves the listener longing for a repeat.
3) Same On The Inside – Here the tone shifts dramatically; the band drives an urgent riff as Bennington’s vocals take on an almost angelic quality. It’s a beautifully unexpected marriage of music and lyrics, with the band providing an intense backdrop as Bennington plaintively questions, “When do we stop pretending that we’re all the same on the inside?” It ends with a dreamy, melodic guitar solo that is pure magic.
4) Cry Cry – The band displays masterful dynamics on this number. It starts with a swampy guitar riff, and then shifts into a gentle verse, which gradually builds with shimmering guitars. Bassist Robert DeLeo stands out here, as he hangs back during the verse, and then swoops in as the song explodes into its dramatic, hard-rocking chorus. Of the five songs on High Rise, this one sounds the closest to classic STP.
5) Tomorrow – Featuring intricately layered guitars, this may be the best tune on High Rise. Bennington’s vocals build slowly, then soar like a bird taking flight. Eric Kretz’s drumming is masterful here, his fills popping like fireworks during the song’s bridge.
What is the main takeaway from High Rise? Chester Bennington is definitely a different flavor from Scott Weiland, but taken on his own merits, he will surprise many skeptics. On High Rise, he proves himself a terrific, almost understated lead vocalist with a great sense of melody. He’s well known for his high-voltage performances with Linkin Park, but equally effective here in his new role. Not only does he make it sound easy, but Bennington seems to inherently ‘get’ STP, a band that he grew up idolizing and dreamed of fronting. He’s a natural fit here.
Critics will say that High Rise doesn’t sound like STP’s earlier work, and that’s true. But upon further review, no two of this band’s first five albums sound alike. Their 1992 debut, Core, was a huge success. It would’ve been easy for STP to churn out another straight-forward, heavy rock album.
Instead they recorded 1994’s Purple, a bright, trippy mix of diverse rock tunes interwoven with unforgettable melodies and sparkling musicianship. Interstate Love Song remains a staple of rock radio, with its iconic, signature guitar licks.
Purple’s success was followed by another total departure, 1996’s jazz-infused, downbeat Tiny Music – Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop. Next came the polished, driving hard rock of Number 4, and the experimental Shangri-La-De-Da. To the untrained ear, those five albums could easily have been recorded by five different bands.
The unifying theme of STP’s past is the band’s penchant for unpredictable, adventurous, rock with irresistible melodies and brilliant musicianship. Using that as a standard, High Rise fits in well. It seems the incredible story of Stone Temple Pilots is far from over.