When Placebo appeared in the mid-90s I wasn’t fond of their music. I cannot remember why, and more importantly, I cannot understand it now.
In the beginning Brian Molko (vocals, guitar), Stefan Olsdal (bass, keyboard) and Robert Schultzberg (drums) called their band Ashtray Hearts but later changed it to Placebo.
After their debut album “Placebo” Robert Schultzberg was replaced with Steve Hewitt and the three of them released 4 more albums.
An interesting fact is that you find three different sexualities among its band members. Molko is bisexual, Olsdal is homosexual and Hewitt is heterosexual. But the band is most associated with Molko’s androgynous image, which became the centrepiece of the band’s appearance as well as song lyrics.
The music is mainly about simple guitar play and Molko’s singing which is too American to be British and too British to be American. This may have to do with the fact that he has an American father and a Scottish mother.
Labelled as Alternative Rock they released “Placebo” in 1996. Their second single “Nancy Boy” became a big success and established the band. Alternatively to the UK they found a huge following in France.
I find some of the songs very catchy, especially their singles, but other songs on the album are too slow and depressing without going anywhere.
The second album “Without You I’m Nothing” was released in 1998. I don’t consider this album to be a musical progress, as I can’t see a development from the first album. They released four singles (five if you include Burger Queen Francais). With the exception of “Every You Every Me” I can find better songs on this album though, such as Allergic (To Thoughts Of Mother Earth) and Brick Shithouse.
In fact, Every You Every Me is the song that got me into Placebo. Believing it was on their third album I bought “Black Market Music” which was released in 2000. This is their best album to date. There is not a single song on it I don’t like. While it may remind you of their first album I’d say they have stopped growing up and matured. I consider it their peak. They still mix rocky guitar songs with slow depressive material but much deeper than on previous albums. It also seems the focus isn’t much on the androgynous image anymore but on the music Placebo stands for. Four singles were released.
In 2003 they released “Sleeping with Ghosts”. While it is catchy rocky as usual the slower songs seem just … slow and depressing. Four singles were released and especially “Bitter End” is worth listening to.
In 2006 they released their fifth and recent album called “Meds”. According to the band it’s their best album so far. I still think it’s not as good as Black Market Radio and maybe even not as good Sleeping With Ghosts. Two of their four singles though, “Meds” and “Song To Say Goodbye”, are probably the best songs they’ve ever made.
In 2007 Steve Hewitt left the band due to musical and personal differences.
I do not like to criticise or analyse song lyrics because I consider lyrics to be poetry. Poetry is never bad because it reflects the feelings of a person. Most poetry or song lyrics are metaphors and everyone perceives them differently, i.e. I leave it to the artists as to what they want to bring across.
Besides, would you like Britney Spears’ music better if her lyrics were deeper than a puddle for once? Thought so.
Or do you think singing about love and hurt is very meaningful when the artist is 18 and has been engaged four times?
Placebo to me is musical beauty in simplicity. Nothing flashy, no showing off. I like it how they can change a song’s atmosphere with the combination of their instruments. Listen to Meds and you know what I mean. I also like how bass and drums get their opportunities to shine as well. Listen to Song To Say Goodbye in which the bass guitar and drums clearly set the tone of the song.
Molko’s voice is incredible and the trademark of the band. You could not mistake them with any other band.
The intervals of the release dates of their albums (two to three years) indicates that Placebo want to sell quality rather than quantity. Compare that with manufactured bands who seem to release a new album every other day.
I possess all their albums and they’re worth the money. I have seen them in concert and was amazed by how they suck you into the atmosphere they create.