Stone Temple Pilots' 'Tiny Music' Turns 20

Album showed Scott Weiland at his darkest yet most creative

Stone Temple Pilots - Tiny Music

With the release of Core and Purple, Stone Temple Pilots were accused of copying Pearl Jam and Nirvana. With their third album, Tiny Music… Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop (Atlantic), STP sought glam-rock stardom. Now at 20 years old, it serves as a tragic crystal ball to singer Scott Weiland’s death in 2015 at age 48.


Caged Tiger

Tiny Music was an ironic title. The effects-enhanced guitars and bass by brothers Dean and Robert DeLeo, the glittery drumming of Eric Kretz and the obtuse lyrics from Weiland’s drug-soaked brain aimed for the cosmos.

Lead single “Big Bang Baby” nodded to the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, with an Iggy Pop sneer. Tiny Music craved lineage to Low and Lust for Life, with its inelegantly wasted self-loathing.

“In many respects, Tiny Music is a dark record,” Weiland wrote in his 2011 autobiography, Not Dead & Not for Sale. The book’s name came from the defining verse in the tempestuous “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart.” Weiland admits his defenses – against drugs; against the intoxication of fame; against his wife at the time, Jannina – were weak. He’d been in and out of rehab 13 times prior to the album’s release. And it would later be revealed that he battled bipolar disorder.

“I am, I am, I said I’m not myself / But I’m not dead and I’m not for sale,” Weiland sang defiantly. “Hold me closer, closer / Let me go / Let me be, just let me be.” In the same stanza, the rocker was pushing away loved ones, though he yearned for their support.

It was his veiled plea, his mantra that crept into numerous other Tiny songs— on his self-proclaimed “most depressive moment,” “Adhesive”; on the Led Zeppelin-esque “Ride the Cliché.”

To borrow a modern cliché, much of Tiny Music boasted “Sorry, not sorry.” The proto-punk stomper “Tumble in the Rough” layered Weiland’s sloppy drunkenness underneath unrepentant showboating.

“I made excuses for a million lies / But all I got was humble kidney pie,” he droned, coaxing the listener (or his band mates) into forgiveness— until he added, “So what?”

This demagoguery led to a roller-coaster relationship with the DeLeos and Kretz until Weiland was ultimately fired from STP in 2013.

"When you've got a person like this in your life, it's hard,” Dean DeLeo told Rolling Stone in 1997. “You've been granted all the things in life you want to do, and when one person pulls the rug out from under you, it's the worst.”

Weiland wrote in Not Dead that it was the three other members who betrayed him when they cut short the Tiny Music concert tour due to another one of his relapses.

“Next thing I know, my own Stoned Brother Pilots call a press conference and cancel the gigs, telling the world, in essence, that because of their junkie lead singer, the tour can’t go on,” he railed.

It would be three years before STP would reconvene. In the interim, the DeLeos and Kretz formed Talk Show with Dave Coutts, and Weiland released the spacey solo record 12 Bar Blues.


Redemption Song

As feral as “Trippin’” was, Weiland considered it a reflection of “my hunger for redemption,” as he wrote in his autobiography.

The line about the “diamond noose” was – to quote another Tiny track – “Pop’s Love Suicide.” It tackled the martyrdom of rock icons who had died young at their own hand. The loss of Kurt Cobain loomed over the alternative nation in the mid-’90s. Joy Division’s Ian Curtis remained a morbid hero a decade after his passing. Weiland wanted a taste of that figurative immortality.

He and the Pilots wanted to transcend the media’s labeling of them as grunge wannabes. Tiny Music was their chance to evolve.

“I’ve always looked at us as – first off, the bands I’ve been in – as rock ‘n’ roll. But I’ve always looked at us also as bands that change from album to album and morph into different sounds,” he told Live in Limbo in 2015. He namedropped Bowie – as he did in so many other interviews – as his greatest influence.

Weiland wanted to be alt rock’s Thin White Duke. One can hear it in his vacillating baritone— the difference between his voice on “Big Bang Baby” (scratchy but limber) and on 1992’s “Sex Type Thing” (guttural and barbaric) rivaled the distance between Bowie’s “China Girl” and “Space Oddity.”

The DeLeos became Mick Ronsons on Tiny Music, emerging from the drop-D doldrums of grunge and catapulting themselves through pedal-board wormholes. For example, Robert’s leads on “Adhesive” sounded like a Salvador Dalí painting. And the two instrumentals (the jazzy “Press Play” and the “Creep”-like “Daisy”) felt like interludes in a contemporary Broadway musical.


Tiny Legacy

Producer Brendan O’Brien was the thread that strung Tiny Music to STP’s back catalog. He found a happy medium between the experimentalism of Sir George Martin and the pop-punk attitude of Jerry Finn. Without O’Brien, the magnificent “Lady Picture Show” or the daffy “Art School Girl” might not have been as seamless as they were.

Though Tiny Music was at best a modest hit, selling 2 million copies, it was Stone Temple Pilots’ most daring release. It is a miracle it exists at all, considering Weiland’s unpredictable drug abuse throughout the band’s tenure. And with his 2015 death, the album serves as a harrowing look at the beginning of his end.