I miss Scott Weiland. The Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver frontman passed whilst on tour for his album ‘Blaster’ in 2015 and it wasn’t unexpected, considering his struggle with narcotics.
That lifestyle clearly caused difficulties for those who worked with Weiland and yet he produced regular, top-quality music. That music was both with bands he fitted in with and made more, plus on his own.
Those latter albums can be overlooked. Gladly, this now isn’t the case.
12 Bar Blues
Named after the musical staple, clearly ironically, as this album is nothing like 12-bar Blues (understanding, of course, that most music is based on 12 bar Blues) and also very different to the Classic Rock and Grunge of his main band, the STPilots.
This is sparse, airy, angular and very in thrall to an influence, David Bowie (he will cover ‘Fame’ on his next, even better, solo album and the video to lead-off track ‘Barbarella’ is very ‘Man Who Fell To Earth’) but with angry musical maelstrom moments.
This sounds like a man following his inner music and locking himself in the studio, even if there were a rolodex-worth of people playing on the album.
What I suppose I mean is that this album sounds like nothing Scott Weiland worked on before or since;
Not like Stone Temple Pilots
Not like Velvet Revolver
Not like any of his other solo albums or projects
This stands alone. But then all his solo albums do.
12 Bar Blues has it. It takes self-confidence to decide not to reach for drums and bass to lay the foundations. Scott doesn’t do that much here at all, what he wants is percussion, a thin and itchy groove.
He then takes a piece of wire wool and roughens up the guitar used here so that if you come within 10 feet, it will cause abrasion.
Allow me to give an example. You’d usually expect an opening song to kick open the doors and shout ‘We’re here and we’ll be taking control’ but ‘Desperation #5’ opens things with a basic, simple drum pattern and grooving percussion, which certainly adds to the worry in the plaintive verse, until that dangerous guitar fills a rather grungy chorus. It’s a shock. And a wonderful one.
And The Rest?
‘About Nothing’ sees a Fab 4 melody in the middle of a fully working industrial musical setting, ‘Cool Kiss’ Glams up the guitars but don’t be surprised if it also fuzzes up hugely later on and then tries to harmonise that away; actually, ‘Jimmy Was A Stimulator’ tries to get fuzz to talk to fuzz and finds that they don’t quite get on.
This album might sound difficult to listen to, but nooooo, and that’s because of Scott Weiland’s knowledge of groove and dynamic; the heartfelt talk of ‘Son’ with its sliding guitar and harmonised bridge, the differently heartfelt need to be heard in ‘Barbarella’, asking us ‘Can’t you see it’s a disease’ whilst the absolute bone weariness of the feel in the song is a stunner.
So much of this album does what so many others don’t – it understands that there has to be an atmosphere, not all the time, but songs are sequenced to create a feel.
It’s something we don’t have any more, really. That’s because playlists from streaming are in the ascendant and the songs don’t really link together – mix tapes used to do this, as anyone who has read or seen ‘High Fidelity’ will attest to (great movie too. And book.) as the choices show who we are and who we want to be.
Some bands still take the time to choose the track positioning with care to foster emotions and even create a journey; Weiland is masterful here, Glam laid next to the almost waltz of ‘Lady Your Roof Brings Me Down’, adding a little Grunge with an accordion to the feel of heavy Summer afternoons, next to the purest Pop of ‘Mockingbird Girl’ – the waltz is just there to bring you from Glam to Pop. It’s almost peerless.
As this is the 25th anniversary of ’12 Bar Blues’, Rhino gave it a vinyl debut for Record Store Day in April and remastered the music, just bringing out more of the sparseness, plus adding demos and a couple of unheard tracks from the sessions.
Of those tracks, ‘Lazy Divey’ sucks the air out of the room, then opens the windows for some late 60’s Beatles chorus work, whilst ‘Chateau Mars’ sneers and an off-kilter Acoustic helps.
The demo tracks aren’t revelatory, as ‘Desperation #5’ has very little deviation from the finished article, but ‘Barbarella’ keeps the oddly wonderful slide guitar solo but allows bongos to bolster it.
An Extraordinary Album from Scott Weiland
Perhaps it’s because of Scott Weiland’s well-documented struggles with substances, but this album has a thin, worried feel and loneliness which is almost crushing.
At the time, Rolling Stone said;
–12 Bar Blues isn’t really a rock album, or even a pop album…Weiland, out on his own, has simply made an honest album – honest in its confusion, ambition, and indulgence. It was worth the risk.’
It was. And this isn’t even my favourite Scott Weiland album and yet it is unlike anything else he did. That should be celebrated.