Big day out "Brian Molko", Dec'00


Part of the Placebo effect is to cause an anti-reaction in certain rather silly parts of the British press. Their target, lead singer Brian Molko, offers a brief response and then tells Mike Gee what he thinks of music 2000.

Brian Molko is an articulate and intelligent musician. He is also cleverly enigmatic and smart enough to know how to create and shade image and appeal. With Placebo, he's crafted a lovely mixture of glam, androgyny, thinly-veiled eroticism and rock bravado mixed with an equal talent for songwriting and a strong tune.

And, of course, he's also drawn a few enemies. Not the least of which is the NME; again, in 2000, the weekly ended up trying to slag him off, and not for the music - ostensibly the only real reason a music writer has for dropping the axe.

Molko doesn't like talking about NME - his point being that to do so just gives the paper unwarranted space and publicity. However, he's angry enough to say, "It's best to get that out of the way at the beginning of a campaign so it gives British press something to write about for the rest of the campaign. I think a lot of people are looking for scandal. Circulation is dropping a lot as can be seen from the news that Melody Maker has been absorbed into NME. To be honest I don't read them anymore.

"Obviously I'm not the only one. I think people have lost a lot of respect for some of those publications. It's quite sad really in that there is a real opportunity for one of them to be the publication of the day or the time but they seem to have lost the ability to observe, report and even analyse intelligently that once made them so much better."

Certainly, Melody Maker, NME and Sounds (which closed several years ago) were almost imperious in the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies with writers as exciting, talented, well-researched or outspoken as Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent, Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill to name just four. Since then it's been a slow decline to the kind of knee-capping that now most predominantly marks the general operating ambit, particularly of NME.

Freshly returned from Istanbul where Placebo has ended this particular leg of its sold-out European tour supporting their third and well-received album, Black Market Music, Molko also turned 28 on the stroke of midnight post-gig.

And while it was a reason for a party, that's been the exception rather than the norm since the album's release. "At the risk of sounding incredibly disappointing it's been a fuck of a lot of playing. Just heads down and work. A lot of travelling. The playing's been amazing. The show's an hour-and-a-half plus and there really hasn't been that much opportunity to get yourself into trouble. That could be a good thing or bad thing depending on how you look at it.

"Rock'n'roll time is a bit like dog years. Something that only happened in the Northern summer can seem like a year ago. It gets both compressed and elongated and memories are always hazy. They get mixed up with different places and different situations and can end up quite a muddle really."

What he is happy about is the reaction to record. Yet to be released in the US, Black Market Music debuted at #1 in France giving them their first chart-topper and followed with three weeks in the prime position in Greece and a high of #4 in Germany. Elsewhere it sold healthily right across Europe and charted strongly in both Britain (#6) and Australia.

It was also one of a bunch of strong albums from British bands that indicated the revival of the country's rock and pop scene outside of the endless dredging for - and brief display of - ornamental fixtures for the charts: girl and boy bands with little talent except for a smile and a predictable sexiness (if canned beauty can be called sexy). Coldplay, Doves, Badly Drawn Boy heralded a new attack of classic songwriting combined with strong harmony and melody - and a healthy counter to not only the predictable pop ephemera but the endless - and mostly uninventive - plethora of UK dance, club and Ibiza-fuelled acts.

Molko, however, remains relatively unimpressed by the British revival finding the afore-mentioned acts quite safe. "The bands this year that have energy to me have come out of the States," he says. "Queens Of the Stone Age and particularly At The Drive-In. I went to see them the other day in London and they were very energetic and full of passion and soul. Very stripped down and full on rock'n'roll band. Lots of energy and really, really happening. There's a couple of British bands I really like including Idlewild [from Scotland] and Six By Seven. The rebel rock thing in the States though is very interesting. Queens Of Stone Age is a very hedonistic band - very primal seedy rock."

So what does he think of the Constellation bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor! and its various offshoots like Do Make Say Think. "Oh, very good. I've been a Mogwai fan for a long time and there's an Australian band called Hungry Ghosts [very fine, indeed] and I've been a fan of Dirty Three for years. So they are part of a style of music which I really enjoy. Very, very contemplative and a lot about space and a lot about the space in between notes. I admire the sparseness of it and the dynamic. It's music which is challenging. It actually requires concentration. It's not a quick fix. It requires you to sit down and listen to it. And I like a band called Sigur Ros, as well." Aaah, my album of the year. "It's quite magical.

"At the moment the big thing is like Limp Bizkit and Marilyn Manson and that stuff. That's the mainstream and I find that quite strange." And Radiohead's Kid A? "I fall in the 'love it' category of that debate," Molko says. "I can hear the influences. It's quite Aphex Twin in places. I think it's admirable to decide to fuck around with what people's preconceptions of you are and to deliver something which is least expected - because you can. And to get away with it is totally admirable. Again, it's a another contemplative record. I like minimalism and I like those sounds in other artists. I know they are going to release another record next year [and that has been confirmed now] and a lot of people say it's like their out-takes record. Well, it's like the most interesting out-takes record I've ever heard. And it's actually quite moving. To me, it displays a real disconnectedness. It's like modern society and technology and the confusion of our politics and things like that. I think its a very human record and it doesn't tell you all these things. They are just things you feel from it."

The same could be said of some of Placebo's latest work: songs such as Peeping Tom or Passive Aggressive. "Yes, there's a certain amount of abstraction involved, particularly in Passive Aggressive." Molko says. "I think that's really good. It allows people to feel a lot more because there is space for the imagination. Strangely enough, it's become a serious sing-a-long and is going down as the live favourite from the album. We did a gig in Spain where we couldn't hear ourselves over the audience and they have a tendency to clap as well but clap out of time which makes it much more difficult in the very precise quiet bits. It's like 'please clap in fucking time please' because it makes it hard to know where you are otherwise."

The best compliment to Black Market Music though is that it is an album which reveals itself over a period of time: the more obvious capers such as Taste Of Men, Special K and Spite & Malice have been replaced as favourites by the afore-mentioned duo and especially the beautifully moody and lyrically-strong Narcoleptic (Molko at his best is a fine songwriter). "That also means that we succeeded in what we set out to do," Molko says. "If you can continue to discover - after having lived with the album for a while - a freshness within it then it means we've done something accomplished. We wanted this record to be quite timeless, to have a long shelf life.

"As far as the future goes though, no crystal balls. I can't imagine where we are going to go from here but, to be honest, I can't imagine any huge calculated complete direction change a la Kid A. I think we feel very strongly about being an organic rock band and the best stuff we create is from the three of us playing in a room together. Our approach is always organic."

And long may it stay so.