I want to write music reviews, but it can be hard knowing where to start. I don’t usually follow the most current trends. That being the case, I decided to begin with what I know. One of my favorite bands is Placebo. So I’ll talk about them now.
I am transported back to a place soaked in gin and cigarette smoke. Dark rooms that smell like ether. Crawling on the floor towards the silhouette of someone you’re sure will be your savior. Knowing absolutely what love is and throwing my gauntlet in its face at every turn. A time of concerts and parties, lost friends and ones that showed up unexpectedly out of the rubble. We owned that town and we were no one. Trying desperately to find an identity for ourselves, wanting our little experiences to matter in a bigger way. All the time not knowing what it meant to actually have something matter, like trying to speak a language we had only heard of. We romanticized our exploits and chased them like an increasingly dangerous animal through the forest, and some of us didn’t make it out.
Placebo didn’t make us act like this. I actually was one of the few people in my circle of friends who listened to them, and the only one who was such an outright fan. We were mostly punk rockers with a smattering of goths thrown in for good measure. And that is a good start on how to describe Placebo, except I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the glam rock overtones that are make a more complete package. I feel, though, that describing them as a band is somewhat irrelevant, seeing as how they have been internationally famous for over 15 years now.
There is something I hear in the progression of their albums that I don’t think has widely been touched upon. One can almost identify a particular cast of characters within their albums. Beginning in their self titled album form ‘96 we hear a very young voice struggling to find its way through. This is most obviously shown in the songs Nancy Boy and Teenage Angst, but I found it clearly visible throughout. 1998’s Without You I’m Nothing gives us a voice more sure about his place in the world that our hero has carved out for himself. He no longer seems like the newcomer. There is a new intensity, though. With establishing himself there are more clear lines of friends and enemy. The emotions are more focused. There is also a sense of loss, possibly from leaving behind a part of life that is no longer compatible. The next albums carry on exploring this life and the themes of loss, redemption, and soul searching. Also maturing this entire time has been the bands musical style, adding in more layering of sounds and electronics into the mix. Musical experimentation to go along with the social experimentation that they are singing about.
When the band replace drummer Steve Hewitt after Meds, though, I lost some interest. Their followup album Battle For The Sun did not carry the same weight for me. I found it more of a return to the more rock oriented sound of their early work and not the stylistic step forward I had been expecting. After songs like Space Monkey and Post Blue from Meds, I found myself skimming through BFTS without much interest. Maybe its me that changed, though. I’m definitely not in the same place I was in those years gone by. Whatever the case, they have made an indelible mark on my life and I wouldn’t put them away because of one album I didn’t quite care for as much. They are going back into the studio to record a 7th album soon and I will be waiting eagerly for its release.