One fluid gesture, like stepping back in time… Five from Placebo

The French love their language and have laws to protect it. The Toubon Law, from 1994, mandates its use not just in official government comms (which you’d kind of expect) but also in the likes of adverts – most of which seem stuck in the 1989/1990 vibe anyway – and other commercial communication.

This extends to radio, with an oft-rebelled against rule that 40% of the songs that are played must be performed in the French language. I guess the thinking is that if ‘the kids’ only hear Americans singing about California they’ll forget their own language. Now this isn’t always a bad thing as there’s plenty of good French music out there lately – see my last post for an example – but it also means that if, like I did and – signal permitting still do – listen to, say, RTL2 for any protracted period you’re likely to hear too much ‘chansons’ music.

So where am I going with this…. well, the French love a bit of Placebo as Belgian-born Brian Molko speaks the language fluently. It also means they can play Placebo’s ‘Protège-moi’ as part of the aforementioned quota while also playing a contemporary international band. Hearing this version of ‘Protect Me From What I Want’ along with cuts from their latest, Never Let Me Go, has given me the impetus to run up a few of that band’s best and revisit since shaming them some time back in a ‘Then and Now‘ post.

Placebo formed in London in 1994. They’re currently made up of just the two members – singer / guitarist Brian Molko and bassist / guitarist Stefan Olsdal and missing a drummer. It wasn’t always this way: their longest-serving drummer, with whom they recorded their better albums, left in 2007.

Teenage Angst

From Placebo’s self-titled debut 1996 album.

You Don’t Care About Us

Without You I’m Nothing, Placebo’s second album remains their crowning glory if you ask me. It’s damn-near faultless and remains on regular rotation nearly 25 years on.

Without You I’m Nothing feat. David Bowie

Their second album is so good I’m throwing in another cut, the title track, albeit with a version that differs from the album version as David Bowie approached them to collaborate after the thing was recorded and released. /p>

Meds

Skipping a couple of albums – Black Market Music and Sleeping With Ghosts – where they went off the boil a bit to 2006 and the title track from their last album with drummer Steve Hewitt in which they seemed to have rediscovered some drive and consistency. While not their strongest it was their best in eight years.

Try Better Next Time

Getting in the DeLorean for an even bigger jump this time to 2022 with a song title seemingly taken from my response to the albums they’ve dropped in the last sixteen years… Never Let Me Go oddly feels closer to Meds than anything between. It would seem that the six years they’ve had between albums has allowed them to rediscover a spark that was missing for quite a while now, the songs are leaner and pack more wallop and there’s not a lyric as disastrous as ‘my computer thinks I’m gay, I threw that threw that piece of junk away, on the Champs-Elysées’ to be found anywhere, thankfully.

Bonus tune…

Johnny and Mary

Yes I’m throwing in a cover. Back in the days when singles were something other than an individual stream, Placebo would add either a couple of cracking b-sides or covers. While their take of ‘Running Up That Hill’ gets the most plays we’ve probably all heard enough versions of that one lately so I’ve gone for their cover of Robert Palmer’s classic that accompanied ‘Taste in Men’, the lead single from their third album.

Midweek spins

Here we are on the downhill stretch to the weekend once again and I thought it an opportune time to pull up a chair, pour a mug of the caffeinated stuff and take a butchers at those tunes that have been on repeat this week.

Elliott Smith – Let’s Get Lost

My wife recently added Air’s instalment of Late Night Tales to the record collection and that – as if I needed one – was a prompt to dust off From a Basement on the Hill this week and enjoy the gorgeousness of Elliott’s last (albeit posthumously released) studio collection.

Tad – Trash Truck

Tad loomed loud and large at the heavier end of the Seattle scene spectrum. Flicking through the racks in a charity shop a few weeks back I found an original copy of 8-Way Santa (before the couple on the cover found it and threatened to sue) still with its shrink wrap for a measly £8 (considerably lower than current market rate). Had to be done.

Metallica – Sad But True

Sticking with the heavy for a moment – with the album’s 30th Anniversary pushing a lot of attention toward it, I’ve had Metallica’s ‘Black’ album hammering away in the car for a few days this week, it’s one of those landmark albums from a period in 1991 that was just dripping in classic albums.

Placebo – Beautiful James

A couple of years ago I thought it was curtains for Placebo – their newer stuff was approaching the bottom of the barrel. On the evidence of ‘Beautiful James’ which harkens back to their Meds sound I’d say the layoff – seven years since their last album – has done them some good.

The War On Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore

More proof, if needed, that the next War On Drugs album is gonna be a good ‘un.

My Morning Jacket – Regularly Scheduled Programming

Apparently, in summer 2019, MMJ played a set of shows that were to be their last for some time and were going to be calling it quits for a bit with whispers of retiring the band. Instead those shows reinvigorated them and they decided to get back to cutting great music together. Somewhat sidelined by the pandemic, that new music is finally here and I’ve had ‘Regularly Scheduled Programming’ on repeat this week.

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.