Daily Breeze "Placebo's latest album is good medicine", Oct'06

Oct 20, 2006 
by Sara Farr

After more than a decade together, Placebo has released their fifth studio album, "Meds" (Astralwerks), the long-awaited follow-up to 2003's "Sleeping with Ghosts" (Virgin).

Known as much for their androgynous stage show and frank sexuality as they are for their crunchy guitar riffs and electronic experimentation -- they were once labeled the "glam" Nirvana -- Placebo first broke into the mainstream music consciousness with singles such as "Nancy Boy" and "Bruise Pristine," both of which were Top 10 hits in the U.K.

The British band also has benefitted from the support of David Bowie, who invited them to perform at his 50th birthday bash in 1998 in Madison Square Garden and then performed with the band a year later at the Brit Music Awards.

Now, Placebo has stripped down to the bare rock bones on "Meds," an album that tries to make sense of the many different ways that people mask their pain. Its similarity to Marilyn Manson's "Mechanical Animals" is obvious both on songs such as "Space Monkey" and with its album cover art, but, as usual, Placebo can neither be pigeonholed nor written off as flatterers.

Once again, they have twisted the whole of pop culture into a rock 'n' roll record that sounds unique and timely.

Rave! caught up with Placebo bassist Stefan Olsdal at his home in the U.K. right before the band, scheduled to play Sunday at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, was about to embark on a world tour in support of "Meds." 

Q: "Meds" is your first album as a group in nearly three years. What did you do during those years?
A: We toured for about three years on "Sleeping with Ghosts." It was the more old-fashioned way of promoting a record, you know, taking the music to the people around the world. The last tour took us to South America and this one will take us to Romania, Korea and China, which are new places for us. Q: When did you start recording songs for "Meds"?
A: There's a couple tracks on "Meds" that are six years old and a couple that are two months old, so it's a continuous process of writing. Songs just pop out when the time is right. The songs that were good were the ones that ended up on the album. There was no particular time span or conscious theme. 

Q: Why did you choose to work again with producer Dimitri Tikovoi, who worked with you on Placebo's cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill"?
A: He's a friend and we've done B-sides and a couple of cover versions of songs that turned out so well that we thought it was stupid not to use him for a whole album. At first, we thought it would be easier working with a friend, but it was actually harder because he cut us no slack. He was like, "OK, you guys are doing your fifth album now, and you're probably getting a bit lazy and formulaic in your way of working and relying too much on computers, so I'm just going to tell you to shut up and get in the room and play," which is basically what we did. 

Q: Indeed, a lot of people have said this is your rawest- sounding album to date. Do you think that's accurate?
A: I think so. I think this is the album where we put less distance between the listener and the band; there's not as much production going on. 

Q: What was it like working with U2's mixer, Flood?
A: He's my favorite mixer; I admire his work so much and to work with him was a sheer pleasure because he was very nonproducerlike. He just said, "I really want you to be here when I mix your album," whereas a lot of mixers say, "OK, band, you've played, now [expletive] off and I'll mix." It was a really good experience and I'm very happy with the outcome. 

Q: Michael Stipe puts in a guest appearance on the song "Broken Promises" on "Meds." Can you talk a little about how that collaboration came about?
A: We've known Michael for about 10 years now, since we were in a film that he produced in the late '90s about glam rock, called "Velvet Goldmine." When this song came up, we wanted a second vocal on it and thought it'd be more interesting to have a male vocal than a female vocal. The song is about adultery, which can exist as equally between two men as it can between a man and a woman. So we felt that was quite special, and we're very pleased with him wanting to sing a song that deals with homosexual adultery, basically. 

Q: Is there a particular song on the album you feel an attachment to?
A: I'm very proud of "In the Cold Light of Morning." I think that's taken us to a different place. There's darkness, but there's musical intricacy and a vocal range for [singer/guitarist] Brian [Molko] that he hasn't used in a very long time. 

Q: Sexuality and androgyny have always been a part of your band. Do you find that certain cities in the U.S. respond better to your music than others do?
A: I'll tell you what; we toured the Bible Belt a couple of years ago. You'd expect the most homophobic reactions from that part of America, but in reverse, it was actually an advantage because I think there's so much repression there. The fact that it's quite conservative doesn't mean that people are any different. There's many homosexuals, it's a human thing, it even exists in the animal kingdom, and people just have to accept that there are homosexuals in the world.
On that issue in that part of the States, we had a really great reception because I think people had finally got an outlet for a lot of the stigmas and the rules society had set upon them in those areas of America. 

Q: On that note, do you feel a kinship with an artist like Marilyn Manson?
A: I definitely admire him for what he's doing -- taking on organized religion, gun culture, everything that conservative America is afraid of. But what people should really be afraid of is conservative America and the government of America. 

Q: You've been together as a band for quite awhile; what's left to prove?
A: Well, when we go in the studio, we put the pressure on ourselves. As artists and human beings, we want to evolve, better ourselves. We're very aware of the fact that you're only as good as your last album, and we know our fans are intelligent, concerned people, so you can't really fool anyone, least of all yourself.
So it'd be almost a sin to throw this opportunity away, when we've reached a certain point in our career, artistically and commercially. We almost have a duty to not repeat ourselves and try harder and make something superior to our last work. 

Q: So you view each album as a challenge?
A: Absolutely. We're all searching for meaning and purpose and we all change. It'd be very disturbing if we were the same people today that we were 10 years ago. And there's a lot of uncertainty, but if you have an optimistic outlook on life and if you see the positive side, if you find things that give you drive to go on, then you're halfway there I think.