“I saw Stone Temple Pilots this weekend. I liked them better the first time around…when they were called Pearl Jam.” –David Spade on SNL, 1992
Stone Temple Pilots have fought off critics and controversey almost as long as they’ve been making music . Although Core, their debut album has sold over 8 million copies to date, Weiland, the Deleo brothers, and Kretz had the misfortune of breaking into the limelight a few months after Ten and Nevermind turned rock on its ear (and cut its hair). Core‘s first single “Sex Type Thing”, was labeled a glorification of rape, though lead singer and writer Scott Wieland claimed his intent was the opposite. The second single, “Plush” was their breakout hit, but that’s where the Pearl Jam comparisons started. If STP had released “Crackerman” instead, they might have established their image as more “speed grunge” than brooding angst.
I don’t listen to much metal, and this song could be considered among STP’s heaviest. What they prove here is that distorted guitars and raw, aggressive vocals need not lack a hooky melody. The track opens with a single drum beat, not much of a warning for the sonic assault that comes next. Unlike some of the most main-stream metal (“Enter Sandman” for instance), there’s no build up to the blast. Here it’s like that first drum pop means “GO” and it’s full speed ahead until the fade out. That makes this ode to “roamin” perfect for running, especially as a Nike Plus “power song” on the iPod. It’s the one I always use for the last 100 yards of a jog to get one last boost of adrenaline. Verse two’s description of the Crackerman is embedded in my favorite hook of the song. All inside that same driving beat, Weiland spits those syllables in rapid fire, setting up the next turn into chorus two.
Lyrically, we’re well into psychotic dream territory. While there’s no discernable story, lots of lush imagery paints a trippy landscape. Indeed, “trippin'” seems to be the source of these images as Weiland’s roaming narrator tries to outrun whatever is chasing him. While he’s kicking in his sleep for verse 1, that specific image of mud underneath makes me think of those dreams where I can only move in slow motion. Verse two is devoted to the song’s namesake, a gender-ambiguous reference to Johnny Cash’s “Boy named Sue”, and “Crackerman he’s a man he’s a woman too”.
I wish I had more songs like this in my collection. It’s powerful, without trying too hard. No screaming, no gruesome or shocking imagery. In fact, it’s rather fun in a nightmarish sort of way. If you’ve got something similar you think we should all hear, drop a comment. And finally, if you meet a boy named Sue, it’s probably a good idea to get away without thinking too much.