Stone Temple Pilots – ‘Sour Girl’: A Case Study

Early in their career with the release of their debut album ‘Core‘, the Stone Temple Pilots (STP), were firmly considered part of the grunge movement, but unlike their compatriots Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, their evolution into other genres with each album is discernibly traceable. Over their long career they delved into Psychedelic Rock, Classic Rock and even shades of Bosso Nova. The underlying genre concurred upon by most critics today however, is one of Hard Rock blended with Alternative Rock. Famous for their massive live performances reminiscent of the Stadium Rock legends of the 1970’s, it was their compelling lyrical melodies and catchy guitar riffs that saw them sell over 35 million albums during the 1990’s.

Unlike my previous case study undertaken due to its value as a reference for my Whiskey and Speed EP, this analysis of the bands song ‘Sour Girl’ from their No. 4 album (1999), was chosen as it is one of my favorite tunes from a band that had a profound effect on me throughout my twenties. filmclip imageUnlike their usual dynamic, distorted guitar driven stylings, ‘Sour Girl’ is a speculation into a placid, acoustic space where lead singer Scott Weiland delivers a heartfelt narrative of his failings with his first wife. The music video accompanying the track was directed by David Slade (The Twilight Sage: Eclipse,  Hannibal), featured the actress Sarah Michelle Geller and was nominated for ‘Best Cinematography’ at the MTV Music Awards in 2000. However, one of my favorite renditions of the song featuring a string quartet (who always accompanied the band on tour), was performed on the Jay Leno show (2000), and appears below:

Band Members

Current

  • Jeff Gutt – lead vocals (2017–present)
  • Dean DeLeo – guitar (1989–2002, 2008–present)
  • Robert DeLeo – bass, backing vocals (1989–2002, 2008–present)
  • Eric Kretz – drums (1989–2002, 2008–present)

Past

The Song

  • Bpm: 104
  • Key:  F major
  • Song Length (radio edit used here): 4.17 mins

As mentioned above, the lyrical content of this track describes the demise of Weiland’s first marriage and is a sombre reflection on how his addiction and at times dubious behavior drove her away from him. The song was the most successful on the album ‘no.4’ and Billboard ranked ‘Sour Girl’ at #88 on its list of the 100 Best Rock Songs of the 2000s. It is written in 4/4 and follows a recognisable song structure of: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Verse, Outro. The song is really a contrite ballad to lost love and is one of the the most soft, melodious tunes the band ever recorded, further showcasing their ability to write and perform memorable tunes in any style.

The Musical Elements

Drums

The drums play a gentle support role in this song however the snare is still snappy with some reverb applied and a short delay. The exception to this overall description are the snare hits that appear every second bar on beat four from the second verse and reappear in every verse from there. This is a solid crack that is heavily treated and almost sounds like a tennis ball being struck. There is substantial reverb applied to this snare hit and it is in the centre of the stereo field in the middle of the mix. The kick is unassuming but present with the low rich boom of the floor tom (around 100Hz), being favored in its place is several areas. This can also be said for the snare, as the floor tom hits solidly ‘on the beat’ where you would usually find the snare in parts of the track particularly in the verses. The floor tom is 50% right being balanced by the tingling hi hats slightly left. These hats are definitely a sonic feature of the track along with the cymbals and are used frequently, including syncopated drum rolls being deployed and many strikes with the hats in the open position throughout. They seem to be presenting at around 4-5k on the frequency scale. The cymbals are used consistently with generous reverb applied complimenting the airy feel of the song. There is also a tambourine jingling away on the beat in each chorus.

Guitars

Steering away from the usual assault of heavily distorted guitar sounds synonymous with STP, the guitars in this track are soft and mellow. An acoustic playing predominately chords down the centre is operating around 1 – 1.5k throughout the whole track and is joined in the chorus by a sweet melodic electric which plays counterpoint melodies each panned to one side creating a deep stereo image. Little effects are applied to the guitar sounds but some reverb is present. Dynamically these guitar elements are unassuming and regular, playing second fiddle to the vocal melodies which are the focus in this track.

Bass

Along with the drums the bass in this song provides the rhythmic foundations however the bass plays more of a starring roll with its consistent frolicking presence down the middle of the mix between 80Hz and as high as 400Hz. Its rhythmic support to this song consists of it playing single quaver notes throughout the track with many ‘slides’ up and down the fret-board accentuating its dynamic presence. It is rare in this genre to hear the bass so central in the mix and allowed to play ‘mini’ solos and I believe it suits the track beautifully. The bass gives the song a feeling of traveling on a journey with its warm, reliable and perpetual presence, fingers plucking strings for the duration.

Unplugged
A critically acclaimed live performance: ‘MTV unplugged’ 1993 (acoustic)

Vocals

Plenty of reverb applied to the vocals here both in the verses and chorus. The lead vocals have been meticulously tracked and are supported in the verses by unassuming backing vocals in key places. The chorus however features several harmonies that are as dynamically forward in the mix as the lead vox. It definitely sounds like Weiland (for the most part), has laid down these vocal harmonies with backing vocalist and bassist DeLeo in support. The harmonies are panned tastefully to imbue the stereo image which particularly in the chorus is quite wide with the frequency range between 1 and 1.6k. The wall of complimentary vocal parts in this chorus endorses the dreamy feel of the track and the lyrics “What would you do? What would you do if I followed you? What would you do..? I’ll follow”, Honors Weiland’s obvious regret about his actions in promoting his failure with a woman he obviously adored.

Other Elements

To my dismay, after seeing STP live with the deployment of their string quartet, a synth was used in their place on the album version. This synth comes in at the beginning playing a counter melody to the guitar and is panned 100% left. It reappears in the lead up to other verses and is always hard to the left. There is modulation applied to this synth. The only other element I identified is a triangle with decent reverb applied. It is subtle and appears in the bridge with its own syncopated rhythm with the player using his hand to cut off the ring on certain notes.

Conclusion

A beautiful song sonically with a rich stereo field and angelic vocal harmonies. All the musical elements work together in the mix and are clear, apart from the kick but this is obviously intentional. ‘Sour Girl’ showed critics once again that STP were no ‘one trick pony’ and the musicianship and composition skills of the band are clearly evident. The honesty and candid lyrics with regard to Weiland’s shortcomings and regret over his history with a woman he dearly loved are also endearing. One of my favorite tracks from the band. After listening to this offering (without the context of their other work), one would seem surprised that Metal Injection rated them no.9 in their Top Ten Heaviest Grunge Bands list (2017)!

 

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