The RockAtlantic Guide: Placebo

In this week’s RockAtlantic blog I want to try a new post idea. Recently I have been focusing on writing reviews of new releases, but part of the joy of reviewing music is being able to pick out gems from the past. With this blog post I want to give a brief overview of a band’s entire career, providing a general guide for their discography whilst picking out highlights and critiquing where they fell short. The band I’m going to start with is one that has been circulating my iPod over the last fortnight: Placebo.

Placebo (1996) – Overall: 7/10

Placebo’s eponymous debut album is responsible for breaking the band into the public eye, most notably with the single Nancy Boy. The album also spawned four other singles, which alongside the rest of the record, portray themes of sexuality, drugs and gender that would later come to define the band. Musically the album mixes the heavy and dense guitars of post-grunge with the spunk and melody of glam within an alternative rock format, which when combined with Brain Molko’s intelligent, yet teen-appealing lyrics, makes Placebo an intriguing affair. Unfortunately the final two tracks of the album lose focus, which there are also brief hints of throughout the other three non-single tracks. Nevertheless Placebo was a strong debut album and still has the intended impact.

Without You I’m Nothing (1998) – Overall: 5/10

Without You I’m Nothing contains the darker side of Placebo, meaning some of their second album gets bogged down in mundane, depressing marches and whiny vocals. However, within this darker atmosphere are tracks like Every You, Every Me, Pure Morning and Scared of Girls, which shine with infectious melodies and introverted lyrics. Without You I’m Nothing also contains much more diversity than its predecessor, with punk-inspired blasts and depressing ballads gracing the same track listing. However, the album contains fewer highlights than Placebo and despite its many successes, it felt like a step in the wrong direction.

Black Market Music (2000) – Overall: 8/10

If Without You I’m Nothing focused on the darker side of Placebo’s sound, then Black Market Music concentrated on the more experimental aspects of their repertoire, pushing the band further into the alternative rock arena. With tracks like Special K and Taste In Men, Brain Molko made his lyrics less cryptic (in some occasions) and embraced wider influences, including glam, rap and electronic music. Because of this Black Market Music comes across as a vibrant record, despite the album’s numerous dark themes and the heavily drugged-up status of the band members at the time.

Sleeping With Ghosts (2003) – Overall: 8/10

Sleeping With Ghosts is the final album in Placebo’s transition from the post-grunge of their debut to the alternative rock label that they are usually given. The album also saw the band mature, taking a more measured approach, both musically and lyrically. One of the album’s strengths is the lack of filler; each track serves a purpose and doesn’t get stuck in overly-pretentious lyrics or stagnant song structures. Even the singles are more considered, providing a more deeper experience than the immediate gratification that is often expected from a band in the mainstream eye.

Meds (2006) – Overall: 10/10

Meds took the maturity learned on Sleeping With Ghosts and combined it with serious themes of alcoholism and drugs, in addition to documenting the most turbulent period of the band. As is often the case, with great hardship comes great artistry and Meds offers some of the best music the British trio have ever recorded. Infrared and Meds are infectious, straight-up rock tracks, whilst Follow the Cops Back Home and In The Cold Light of Morning take the listener down the deepest, most depressing thoughts of Molko’s psyche. The album flows excellently and provides just the right amount of variety, whilst maintaining a distinct sound throughout – it’s Placebo at their finest.

Battle For The Sun (2009) – Overall: 6/10

In contrast to the dark and subdued Meds, Battle For The Sun is a bright poppy affair, which flips the band’s outlook on life on its head, celebrating love and relationships. Sure, the odd moment of melancholy appears and makes its voice heard, but nevertheless Battle For The Sun remains Placebo’s most optimistic musical observation. The album is also packed with great ideas: For What It’s Worth has swagger and lush instrumentation, whilst Julien and Kings of Medicine experiment with song structures in a creative way. Unusually it is where the bright and sparky formula disappears that Placebo trip up on this record; Come Undone plods along aimlessly, Happy You’re Gone is dominated by an annoying whiny vocal and Devil In The Details feels too repetitive to enjoy it fully. In addition to this some of the album’s poppier moments fall flat with repeat listens, making this adventure into positive thinking fall into the ‘neither-here-nor-there’ category.

Loud Like Love (2013) – Overall: 7/10

Placebo’s most recent outing is combination of the last two albums. The accessibility practiced on Battle for the Sun is combined in many parts with the sadder tones from Meds, although brighter moments are allowed to shine through, making Loud Like Love a very diverse record. Unusually the album’s second half is stronger than the first, as it is filled with honest moments of worry and regret, such as the emotional Bosco and A Million Little Pieces, which vastly outshine the bizarre lyrics of tracks like Rob the Bank and Too Many Friends which try too hard to recapture their past. Loud Like Love is a snapshot of a band trying to redefine their sound now that the band are no longer in their twenties and on drugs, and it provides a promising outlook for their future.

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James

RockAtlantic’s last three album reviews:

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