Then and Now: Placebo

A new feature wherin I pull up a band / artist’s early material alongside their latest to ponder either ‘where did it all go wrong?’ or ‘how the hell do they keep getting better?’

Then: Nancy Boy

Placebo arrived on the ‘scene’ way back in 1996 with their self-title debut  – I think I swapped a copy of Nevermind with someone to get a copy at the time (I must have had more than one as I’ve never been without Nirvana’s sophomore) – and their ‘Bruise Pristine’ single.

Placebo and the band’s second album Without You I’m Nothing rank among the best alternative records of the 20th Century.

Brian Molko’s deliberate androgyny, the buzzsaw guitars and almost nasal-whine vocals with lyrics about bisexuality, drugs and casual sex (“Eyeholes in a paper bag/greatest lay I ever had”) propelled ‘Nancy Boy’  and Placebo into the mainstream. Continual rotation on MTV2 when it launched and music videos were still played and heavy radio play meant ‘Nancy Boy’ and Placebo – with their basic guitar / bass/ drums setup – provided a breath of welcome fresh attitude and air to the increasingly stale Britpop and ‘lounge-act indie’ that was chocking the ‘alternative scene’.

Several albums and drummer rotations later….

Now: Too Many Friends

Save for a one-off single in 2016, Placebo haven’t released a new album since 2013’s Loud Like Love. I haven’t listened to that album, I’d tuned out since Meds (solid, slight return-to-form fifth album) and the departure of drummer Steve Hewitt but when I heard ‘Too Many Friends’ on the radio… I knew it wasn’t worth hearing more. It’s a slip into the hammy self parody lane with catchy and original lyrics replaced with forced rhymes – I only needed to hear the first opening lines to know something was wrong:

“My computer thinks I’m gay
I threw that piece of junk away
On the Champs-Élysées
As I was walking home”

Aside from shoehorning in a Paris avenue for a rhyme… really, Brian? You were walking home with your computer out when it – somehow – decided you were a crafty butcher? What happened to making snide jokes about sexual hangups? In the same verse, ‘gay’ is also rhymed with ‘communique’ and ‘superhighway’. Oh, and ‘say’.

I don’t know where it all went wrong. Perhaps the band should’ve called it a day a few albums back and pursued over avenues… either way, there’s only so many times you can plumb the same vein and it seems Placebo reached the bottom of that barrel. A shame, really.