Scott Weiland - Looking Forward and Backward (6/12/98)

Scott Weiland, 12 Bar Blues (Atlantic 1998) - Scott Weiland, the former lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots, wants to be a rock star in the glam, over-the-top style of John Lennon and David Bowie. With 12 Bar Blues, Weiland has released an album that matches the hype associated with STP.

Thus, 12 Bar Blues is anything but the bar blues. Rather, it covers a broad territory, ranging from rock, pop, dance, techno, and all points in between. In addition to singing and songwriting, Weiland provides guitar, piano, vibraphone, beat box, and other percussion.

12 Bar Blues was produced by Blair Lamb (known for his work with Sheryl Crow), with additional production assistance from the esteemed Daniel Lanois. Rounding out the cast are brother, Michael Weiland, who plays percussion on several songs, Martyn LeNoble on bass, Peter DiStefano on guitar, Brad Meldau on jazz piano, and drummer Victor Indrizzo, whom Weiland refers to as "my Mick Ronson."

Weiland's problems with heroin have been widely noted, and led to the breakup of STP after three multi-platinum albums. When 12 Bar Blues was released, Weiland claimed to have been clean for a year: then came his drug bust in June 1998 at a housing project in New York City, which derailed his tour in support of the album. (For more information, go to the "Weiland Solo" page at: http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Underground/7640/

With its layers of feedback and guitar rock, the new album brings to mind Love & Rockets or the prime Jesus & Mary Chain.

The album is constantly changing, as "Where's the Man" has a contemplative ballad feel (Weiland says he wrote half of the songs on 12 Bar Blues while he was still using), and "Divider" has a cool, bossa nova feel. Still changing, "Cook Kiss" is a synth-driven alternative number, while "Jimmy Was a Stimulator" brings to mind the pop-period of Purple Rain.

All told, Weiland has created an inventive and challenging album - alternative in the best sense of the word. And Weiland enjoys being the mutating, dangerous rock star. "I'd suck dick for fashion" he proclaims with a flickering smile. "And there was a time when I'd suck dick for a crack hit." The smile widens. "But I never had to. I'm rich."

12 Bar Blues may not go down as a masterpiece, but it is one of this year's most intriguing releases.

Mike Watt, Contemplating the Engine Room (Columbia 1997) - Grunge rocker, Mike Watt, returns with his second solo album, Contemplating the Engine Room.

The disc is styled as a concept album, tracing twenty-four hours in the lives of three men in the engine room of a large naval vessel. With its mix of jazz, punk, and grunge, Contemplating the Engine Room is a challenging listen.

Now seventeen years into his recording career, Watt was a founding member of the Minute Men and also fIREHOUSE.

Watt's first solo album - Ball-Hogg or Tugboat? (1995) - featured guest appearances from no less than 48 persons. By contrast, Contemplating the Engine Room is a return to the three-man lineups of his previous outfits.

On the new album, Watt draws from his hometown, the port city of San Pedro, California, as well as stories gleamed during his father's 20-year career as an enlisted man in the U. S. Navy. Says Watt, "Each song is a piece of the day, starting just before dawn and ending 24 hours later."

The lineup for Contemplating the Engine Room finds Watt on thump staff and all vocals, Stephen Hodges (noted for his previous sidework with Tom Waits and L. A. bluesman, James Harman) on drums, and avant-jazz guitarist, Nels Cline (who toured with Watt in support of "Ball-Hogg or Tugboat?" and now plays with the Geraldine Fibbers).

Explains Watt, "The songs are linked with such nautical noises as crashing waves, foghorns, and ship's bells. I also played the whole album with the top bass string detuned from E to D, because I wanted to force myself to do things differently."

Watt also learned from his recent stint as the tour bassist with Porno for Pyros. Adds Watt, "Being a sidemouse, having to do what they told me - I mean they had me wearing pajamas on stage and shit - really helped me be a better leader."

Watt has an idiosyncratic voice, and the first half of the album (with such songs as "In the Engine Room," "The Boiler Man," and "Top Siders") contain elements of funk, jazz, and industrial-strength rock. Somewhere in mix are hints of the Doors' moodiness and Frank Zappa's willingness to experiment.

The second half of the album (with such songs as "Crossing the Equator" and "Wrapped Around the Screw") delve more into grunge guitar noise before concluding with "Shore Duty," as the album begins and ends with the same bass figure.

Watt has earned his stripes as one of the originals in the world of flannel-based rock, and is widely respected in the industry. Challenging and offbeat, Contemplating the Engine Room will hold your attention.

- Randy Krbechek © 1998

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