Top 40 "Spiked And Ready", Oct'00

by Jason Curtis

Placebo made the trip down south last year to tumultuous applause and ever-grateful fans. Just over one year later the band returns with their third and by far their most ambitious album yet.  Black Market Music. Twelve tracks of dark reality with no-holes barred is one of many descriptions of the Paul Corkett production, inspired and groundbreaking is another. Brian Molko, Stefan Olsdal and Steve Hewitt are, after all, three of the UK's most obtuse, yet brilliant purveyors of rock culture bending convention at every opportunity.  And who's complaining when new music this good courses through the veins of all who seek liberation from laborious pop.

Over time Placebo have found their own voice and vocabulary, owing very little to the then burgeoning trends of Britpop that they had to endure during their humble beginnings.  Rather their music has always and still is today about sharing a common stomping ground as in the likes of Sonic Youth, mixed with the aspiration to match the naked confessional qualities of PJ Harvey and the emotional edge and roughness of Tom Waits during his finest hour. The result then on each new record has been utter originality coupled with compelling and magnetic music that is reserved for the select few to pen and perpetuate amongst the millions screaming out for an eclectic edge in modern rock.

Stefan, the lanky bass player and occasional keyboard player of the adrenaline rush of testosterone otherwise known as Placebo, took time out between cabs and caffeine-induced profile exercises to chat exclusively to TOP FORTY.  From their Bruised Pristine beginning that grew to become Nancy Boy, Pure Morning and the David Bowie collaboration on Without You I'm Nothing to the group's current Taste in Men, Black Market Music has never sounded so good.

"The new album is the one we are most proud of," Stefan comments in opening.  "It is also the first one where we sort of take a production credit.  We did the production with a guy called Paul Corkett who did the engineering in the second album. We just had a really good time recording it as well," he admits.  "We sort of laughed our way through this one.  I think if there was one thing we wanted to do with it, it was to have more fast tracks and slow tracks, but nothing suffered from having a divided energy."

Fans the world over who daily warm to the possibilities which across a trio of releases show the fact that with each new album they are privy to get another dynamic of the personality and talent housed within the Placebo machine.  "With the first album, it felt under-produced," Olsdal critiques.  "The second album felt as though it was overproduced," he smiles.  "Also our relationship with our producer on the second album wasn't great, so we just wanted to get away from this producer with a big "P".  We just got on very well with Paul as a person.  He is very humble and a very experienced person and could capture a bigger rock sound.  We also moved on as songwriters and players.  It felt right from the word go.  It took a lot longer than the second album it's a bit like a baby.  Fertilization in October and nine months later, three proud fathers."

Molko and the band lived a life many times over in between the release of Without You I'm Nothing and Black Market Music.  The band toured extensively, as well as playing and recording with the likes of David Bowie.  They added their name to the list of credits on the soundtrack to Velvet Goldmine with Marc Bolan's 20th Century Boy, all of which became essential reference points when writing and recording the songs proudly placed on the latter.  "We didn't write that much on the road," Stefan recalls.  "Most of this album was written after we toured South Africa.  Your country was one of the last places we played before we began work on the new album.  So I think the progression comes more from having greater confidence in our playing than in ourselves as musicians."

"We played together and toured for such great lengths of time with Without You I'm Nothing that we have become a tight unit, both personally and musically.  I think we were all a great deal more focused when we went in to record this album.  We knew from the outset what we wanted this album to be.  We went through a lot and I'm not sure if you remember, but I broke my wrist at the Johannesburg show, so I think we came off the road quite bruised.  Brian got acute tonsillitis after South Africa.  When we arrived in Australia he landed up in hospital on antibiotic drips, so we had to cancel a couple of festivals because of that.  So we were a bit worse for wear after the tour, but the recovery time needed made for some great songs.  I think this album is a bit more outward looking.  It's not as introverted as the second album.  We got a lot of that out of our system on that record.  We got through feelings of self-pity and sort of started watching the news more and reading the papers and ultimately used that time to grow up a little, I suppose.  We are all fast approaching our thirties, which has allowed us all to come into our own and mature along with the process."

That said, however, at the time of the interview Placebo had just returned from a trip to Spain and Portugal where things as ever got a little out of hand.  "Well, Portugal is the only place on the continent where you can buy absinthe.  So we landed up having one too many of the old absinthe and it's as though we never learn, sort of like 'where is my brain?!' and a bit of blind panic, and for what?"

With Placebo now well and truly entrenched in the psyche of all self-respecting music fans, the band no longer have as much to prove to the world that they are indeed worthy of the respect they now so rightly demand.  Creating the best possible product is still foremost in the mind of the three, but with Black Market Music, Steve and his cohorts are learning to take in the scenery and smell the roses of their collective success.  The new album is therefore a great deal less stressed and a new, relaxed Placebo is evident on tracks like Days Before You Came, Spite & Malice and Blue American.  "In some ways this album feels like a new beginning,"  Stefan explains.  "It feels in some ways like our debut.  It's a great, great feeling really.  We are just enjoying the whole process more than we ever have before.  The shows we are taking on the road are going to be bigger and incorporate a greater level of visual elements.  We have short films that are based around the songs.  It will be a total audio-visual experience for the fans to enjoy and perhaps help them get behind what each of the tracks are about.  It's always a plus for any band when your audience are able to relate to the music in nearly the same way we do and did in creating it."

With drug references aplenty throughout Black Market Music from Special K to Narcoleptic, do not take this band literally as the likelihood that it could engulf you is good.  Choose rather to listen and learn from a group that have walked the tightrope of life and made it through to the other side and who now chose to document the events through song, right through to Commercial for Levi.  A track not about the brand, but rather an ode to a roadie who once saved Brian from sure death, it's not all about excess, rather Placebo are a band enjoying themselves all the while offering a hand to those who wish to join the journey of continual reinvention.  Enjoy the ride.