Stone Temple Pilots's eponymous new album is said to mark the beginning of a new chapter for them, one in which frontman Scott Weiland is free of the heroin addiction that beleaguered him throughout the '90s and the group is free from the pressures of major-label contractual obligations—and from being cheaply tagged as Pearl Jam-lite. Oddly enough, despite courting a number of mottled musical influences, the band never strays too far from their fundamental sound. After indulging in a nine-year hiatus, they return with Stone Temple Pilots, which finds the San Diego quartet employing the same punchy guitar riffs and howling vocal melodies for which they're known.
Given his tumultuous relationship with drugs and alcohol over the years, Weiland's powerhouse vocals here come as a welcome surprise. As the DeLeo brothers strut through a rich mélange of influences and genres while incorporating their über-distortion veneer, Weiland continually adopts different guises and takes to each sound with aplomb. If "First Kiss on Mars" is his confident Bowie appropriation, "Bagman" sees his vocals sweetened with '60s rock harmonies, and lead single "Between the Lines" profits from his gravelly delivery for a middle eight that unashamedly apes Nirvana's "Stay Away." Regardless of whichever particular groove that his bandmates espouse, Weiland offers consistently compelling vocals that suit each style faultlessly.
Despite drawing from a number of influences, Stone Temple Pilots retains its sense of cohesion through the group's loyalty to their teeming hard-rock riffs and screeching solos. Faithful fans wouldn't bat an eyelid had they stumbled across the likes of "Peacoat" and "Huckleberry Crumble" on the group's first couple of records, such is Dean DeLeo's dogged commitment to markedly distorted, crunchy guitar work. "Take a Load Off" expands on this crunchy sound somewhat, coupling typically fibrous verses with an ecstatic power-pop refrain in which Weiland truly excels.
It's difficult to find fault with what the band has served up here, a solid rock n' roll record that not only indulges in nostalgia of the ensemble's halcyon days, but explores enough new avenues to suggest there is indeed more mileage in this revitalized outfit. Stone Temple Pilots exhibits a group whose members work terrifically with one another, with Weiland's vocals seemingly tailor-made for the DeLeos' caustic rock riffs and spiky compositions. It's not groundbreaking stuff, but it surpasses all expectations for a group who've spent almost a decade apart. Of course, there's no telling whether Weiland's turbulent lifestyle will derail the group's progress (we are, after all, talking about a man who changes his band almost as often as his underwear), but to do so after delivering such a colossal collection of performances would be a crying shame.