A song like Big Empty by Stone Temple Pilots summons nice memories of an era of music that was a lot freer than more recent genres. They were free to scratch along a warbly guitar, free to write lyrics that mixed sleaze with perfection, free to go from quiet introspective to bridge to chorus without following – or even knowing – the rules of music.
That era was grunge/garage, started in the 1990s in the crucibles of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and even Smashing Pumpkins. Music was finally willing to chuck the bone at big record producers and just play and sing what they wanted to play and sing.
It was one brief, shining moment in music history, lasting just long enough for some oily record executive to figure out how to make money from this creative firestorm.
Orbiting the barycenter of this giant moment in music was Stone Temple Pilots.
Big Empty is a very involving song, one I never turn down or turn off, and one I enjoyed playing again and again as I thought about this moment in music. No synth. No drum machines. No “millennial whoop.” They just jammed.
Excellent writing, concise review, and agree 100 percent with your assessment. I’ll be posting my own piece on this classic song.
Stone Temple Pilots have rapidly become one of my favorite bands, partly in retrospect, partly in response to what they are still capable of doing. “Big Empty” from 1994 is one of their very best songs, if not their best.
STP has been around since about 1990 but didn’t hit the big time until their 1992 album Core, which is an awesome slab of garage rock goodness (I hesitate to call it grunge, though it got lumped in with that genre, somewhat unfairly.) Right after Core, they released Purple in 1994 – two rock masterpieces that have more than stood the test of time. (Their third album, Tiny Music, isn’t quite as good, but No. 4, from 1999, is their third masterpiece.) “Big Empty” was originally released as a single pertaining to the 1994 film The Crow but ended up on Purple and became one of the record’s standout musical moments.
It’s deceptively simple, beginning quietly (in typical grunge fashion) but then blowing up for a big bridge and chorus before hitting us with the powerful refrain: “Conversations Kill.” The guitar work is messy and chaotic yet also restrained, and there are atmospherics that suggest a “big emptiness” all around the verses. I haven’t a clue what the song is actually about, though I suspect it has more than a little to do with drug use. Doesn’t really matter. It’s an emotional trip, powered by big-ass guitar riffs, killer drums, and a strong vocal by Scott Weilland.
Purple is an excellent rock album period, also boasting the magnificent single “Interstate Love Song,” which is just about as good as “Big Empty,” if not better. Amazingly enough, years after the death of Weilland, STP hired a new singer and came back in 2018 with a self-titled LP that’s just as engaging as the first two albums from the early Nineties. I strongly recommend it.