Love him or hate him, no one can claim that Scott Weiland isn’t adaptable. Since first appearing on the alt-rock radar with Stone Temple Pilots in 1993, the singer has changed his artistic focus with the same kind of regularity that most people have in changing their socks; he rolled through a series of compositional shifts with STP (from alt-rock to hard rock to re-examinations of seventies glam) before discovering ProTools and making his cut-and-paste solo debut 12 Bar Blues, bridging the two sounds together in his work with The Magnificent Bastards on the Tank Girl soundtrack and then allying with the cast-off members of Guns N’ Roses to form Velvet Revolver.
At each of those moments, Weiland has completely embraced each new artistic view to make the music work but, because the changes between happened so quickly, it became hard to tell if Scott Weiland was rich with musical inspiration or simply scatterbrained. That same question has come up again now that Weiland has become associated with The Wildabouts, and now the release of Blaster upholds the singer’s tradition of “change above all”; once again, the sounds surrounding Scott Weiland are different from everything fans have become accustomed to hearing from him, but the upside is that THIS change suits the singer better than most of the others.
While it’s being touted as “no nonsense, indie garage rock,” the truth is that Blaster rings closer to the epic/classic sounds that Marc Bolan was making with T. Rex around the release of Electric Warrior. That fact is made obvious and unavoidable the second Jeremy Brown’s guitar slams out a sludgy, glammy progression on “Modzilla.” There, listeners who are familiar with Weiland’s track record will be able to pick out all of the earnest moves that the singer always swings through when he’s breaking in a new band (his vocals are a little barky and hoarse as he attempts to get some field commander-style respect, and the lyrics focus largely on contrasts between fashionable ennui broken by arena-ready calls to arms like “So come one/ Come all/ Cuz the circus back in town”). But they’ll take it with good humor because, this time, the music just crackles with nervous energy; these guys don’t have the star power that Weiland’s former bandmates did, so this crew is working hard for it here and it sounds good.
After “Modzilla” wins some ground with even the most skeptical listeners, Brown, bassist Tommy Black and drummer Danny Thompson just keep pushing themselves (add Weiland too – because no singer likes to be out-shined) to make sure they’re remembered by those who happen upon Blaster. Granted, not every track’s a winner (the lighter and less rocky the songs get – like “Blue Eyes,” “Youth Quake” and “Beach Pop” – the more steam they lose), but it needs to be said that the ambition and effort put in helps some of these songs reach a genuinely infectious pitch.
Particular standouts like “Hotel Rio,” “White Lightning,” “Parachute” and “20th Century Boy” (which is in fact a T. Rex cover, and draws in the hard line which connects this album with its inspiration) all feature some sleazy and crunchy guitars and, coupled as they are with the great, guttural bass figures supplied by Black and some of Weiland’s better vocal performances over the last ten years, these songs rank as some of the best in Weiland’s career to date. Make no mistake, they’re not hard-nosed like STP could be and nowhere near as flashy as Velvet Revolver, but they’ve got the right energy to make a better and more lasting impression than any of those acts ever did.
The kind of praise for Scott Weiland’s work on Blaster is most definitely hard-won (from me – I’ve never been a fan), but there’s no question that it is deserved. Blaster is a truly great work, and that it is so good is part of what makes Brown’s untimely demise [the guitarist was found dead the day before the album’s release] so heartbreaking; the guitarist’s death means that the chemistry of The Wildabouts may be irreparably altered. Without meaning to sound too crass, that Weiland may have to go back to the drawing board again after such a positive result here is really unfortunate but, as a bitter pill, at the very least this record made it out. It should be heard.