Although it would have seemed unimaginable in the Nineties, the decade when Stone Temple Pilots rode the grunge wave to the top of the charts with Big Riffs and Scott Weiland’s Bigger Voice, the band seems to have entered an awkward “Jethro Tull phase” on their eighth album, Perdida. Yes, there’s flute. Yes, there’s acoustic guitar and string accompaniments. What’s missing from the formula, though, is witty, cutting lyrics and well, some excitement.
Perdida is the Spanish word for “lost,” and it’s hard not to see the title as some sad irony as the group plays a set of overly sincere acoustic tracks. New frontman Jeff Gutt, a former X Factor contestant, has a good voice, and you can hear him try and curl his melody lines in a Weiland-esque way, especially the “can this be loo-oo-oove” line in lead single “Fare Thee Well,” a jaunty soft rocker about the end of a relationship. But it’s also those moments where he’s sounding like he’s performatively doing a Weiland impression, and it jars you out of what might otherwise be an interesting song. When the late Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington stepped up to the mic with STP, fronting the band between Weiland and Gutt, he still sounded like Chester Bennington; unfortunately Gutt doesn’t have enough of an identity beyond his work on the band’s 2018 self-titled LP to make him stand out.
In fact, Gutt’s lack of personality is one of the biggest drawbacks to Perdida. Where his bandmates wrote intricate, Zeppelin-esque tapestries of acoustic guitars, Gutt opts to sing straight-ahead lyrics about love or lofty psychedelic bids that are so over the top they’re laughable. On the ballad “You Found Yourself While Losing Your Heart” (a title that, by itself, is already a cliché), he sings the lines, “We don’t need to love for all we know/we could just pretend that everyone is made of stone.” Huh? This is in between one-dimensional abstractions like “Please forgive me if I seem out of line” and “Here’s another kiss before you go.”
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Unfortunately, by going acoustic — even with a wide palate of instruments like the keyboard, Marxophone, and, of course, flute — Stone Temple Pilots have made an album that’s generic. The title song sounds more like an Andrew Lloyd Webber showstopper than an echo of albums like Core and Purple. It’s hard for a band like STP to change and grow, especially after the losses of two iconic frontmen, so perhaps Perdida will function more like a steppingstone to something greater. But for now, they sound like half the band they used to be.