The Stone Temple Pilots second album is titled, “Purple.” The strange fact about that title is that the word “Purple” is only written as a Chinese character on the cover, and noticeably absent anywhere else on the albums art. “Purple” is not on the back cover, the spine, the inside or on the disc itself. When asked about the title in an interview, Scott Weiland replied: “It’s my favorite color. It’s the color of bruises.”
As 1994 arrived, Stone Temple Pilots were on a hot streak, generating hit after hit from their debut disc Core. Yet with all the success, there were still a few detractors who felt that they were late comers to the grunge movement capitalizing on the path laid out by those who came before them and specifically making comparisons to Pearl Jam. By the time the band finished promoting their sophomore set, Purple, those detractors were largely silenced.
Prior to the release of Purple, bassist Robert DeLeo told Guitar Player, “It’s a shame for the press to have opportunity to base our existence on one album. It’s not fair to any band, and I’m not worried that 12 songs are the only thing we’re going to do. We’re all growing as people and musicians — just give it time and things will branch out.” And branch out they did.
Emboldened by the experiences that had occurred over a difficult few years for the band, vocalist Scott Weiland channeled some of the tensions and self-reflection into the lyrical content, while the remaining band members upped their game providing the musical portions and expanding the group’s sounds.
Weiland told RIP Magazine, “I’m so confident with the songwriting of the people in this band, the people I play music with, that I’m not going to let any person try to judge me as a person or songwriter, because I know where we’re at. I’m not saying we’re better than everybody else, but we’re a completely different entity than anyone else. I’m satisfied with this album, and I hope that we continue challenging ourselves and progressing as songwriters.”
The band had already started the ball rolling when the Purple album arrived on June 7, 1994. By virtue of their success, the group had been sought out to contribute the soundtrack of The Crow, one of the early box office successes of 1994. The band delivered a moody, bluesy track called “Big Empty” for the film, and as it fell in the vein of their final Core single “Creep,” the song served as the perfect bridge to Purple. At one point, “Big Empty” carried the title “Only Dying,” according to Robert DeLeo in an interview with MusikExpress, but the band changed it after the death of actor Brandon Lee while shooting The Crow film.
The band performed the song live for the first time during the taping of their MTV Unplugged special, but the track was initially left out of the edited special. However, with the song bounding up the charts (it peaked at No. 3), MTV began to air the Unplugged performance of the song that would serve as the video for the track.
In June of ’94, with the album landing on shelves, Stone Temple Pilots moved forward with the driving rocker “Vasoline.” The aggressive intro came about when Robert DeLeo decided to try something different, channeling his bass through a wah pedal. As for the meaning of the song, there have been a few interpretations. On VH1’s Storytellers series, Weiland stated that it was about feeling like an insect under a magnifying glass. Robert DeLeo told MusikExpress that it also dealt with the feeling of how the band was being delivered to the media. And Weiland would later state in his autobiography Not Dead and Not for Sale that “Vasoline” was penned about his drug habit. Specifically he stated, “It’s about being stuck in the same situation over and over again. It’s about me become a junkie. It’s about lying to Jannina [Weiland’s first wife] and lying to the band about my heroin addiction.”
The singer added to RIP Magazine, “I guess for myself, the person who writes words, I feel comfortable writing about my own experiences and feelings, so I guess they’re a lot more introspective as opposed to … there may have been more observations of the outside on the last record, where this, I think is extremely personal. [The lyrics] make references to other things, but a lot of times, references to other things are nothing more than a scapegoat to try to hide from dealing with certain things inside.” Fans grasped onto the personal nature of “Vasoline,” as well as the rest of the album, and the song would climb all the way to No. 1.
Oddly enough, Stone Temple Pilots were so hot during the Purple cycle that the only act that could knock them from No. 1 was themselves. “Interstate Love Song,” the third single from the album, did exactly that, and then held onto the No. 1 spot for 15 weeks. According to Blender, the track started with a bossa nova beat delivered by Robert DeLeo and eventually evolved into the great rock track that fans know now. Much like many of the other tracks on the album, Weiland took a long hard look inward for the lyrics. In his autobiography, the vocalist admits that the track deals with honesty, or lack thereof, when it came to his drug habit. He had told his girlfriend at the time he was not using heroin when he was and penned the opening lines of the song about what he felt she must be thinking.
And while “Big Empty,” “Vasoline” and “Interstate Love Song” have become the major hits off of Purple, several other tracks have remained prominent favorites amongst the band’s fans. There was the jangly “Pretty Penny,” a track that showed some of the variety and range of the band within the Purple disc. The interplay of the Indian-sounding drums, the acoustic guitars and the rhythmic patter of coins, keys and tambourine stand out to the ear amongst the driving rock songs. Weiland told RIP Magazine, “It was actually an introspective thing. It’s easier to write in an allegorical sense-third person-when it’s something you have a hard time looking at. It’s probably one of my favorite songs on the album. I think people are going to either love it or hate it.” The song would hit Top 20 at rock radio.
“Unglued” also got some radio love, and the band performed the track while appearing on The Late Show With David Letterman. The driving rocker would prove to be one of the heavier songs in the band’s catalog. And there were also the tracks “Lounge Fly,” featuring a late song guitar solo from Butthole Surfers’ Paul Leary, and the more psychedelic “Silvergun Superman” that have become fan favorites over time.
“I think this album’s much more satisfying,” observes Weiland. “Musically, sonically, lyrically, everything feels better to me. It feels like we were able to be much more honest, yet still vulnerable in a sense.” Now, over two decades later, Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple is a classic album and can be viewed as the disc where the group truly began to establish their musical identity.