The Music "Love and Despair", Sep'13

Mark Hebblewhite

Placebo are back with their first album in four years. Frontman Brian Molko chats to Mark Hebblewhite about the dangers of the virtual world and being attracted to the “melancholic aspects of existence”.

"We’ve all been very aware that’s it’s been a while since we did a full album but this time around we were determined not to rush anything. We really wanted to focus on the quality of the record without feeling like we had to compromise on what we were doing.”

So what have Placebo been up to since 2009’s Battle For The Sun? “Well of course we released the B3EP last year – and that was really just to give the hardcore fans some new sounds to tide them over until we finished the new album proper,” says Molko.

“But really what we did was put our heads down and tour the world. After Battle For The Sun we were on the road for 18 months. After that I really wanted to take some time off and focus on parenting – so I took a year off to be with my son – and then after that we signed a new deal with Universal Records for the latest album which we’ve finally finished.

“The break was really good for me. I find parenting to be the perfect antidote to the crazy whirlwind, sometimes fulfilling but often superficial, world of rock’n’roll. My son is eight now and things are just getting more interesting every day (laughs). I’ve found that I’ve had to challenge all the things I used to take for granted in my own mind.”

It will only take you a moment to realise that Loud Like Love has been worth the wait. The album’s magic lies not only in the band’s seemingly effortless ability to concoct an almost endless parade of infectious hooks and hummable melodies. Also impressive is the way the ten songs form a detailed case study into that greatest of human dichotomies: hope versus cynicism and despair. Where the title track sees Molko soar, proclaiming the joys of being alive and having the ability to give and receive love, Too Many Friends, which deals with the insidious creep of ‘online existence’, immediately sends him spinning downwards into bitterness and disbelief. According to Molko this dichotomy was not contrived for artistic effect – in his view that’s just the cost of existence.

“I see life as very bittersweet and I also believe that a lot depends on your attitude to life. My lyrics reflect this view and also the fact that I believe you have to live in a place of acceptance – that life isn’t always fair. Yes – life can be filled with joy if one is open to it but life is also invariably filled with challenges and sadness. To go through life thinking that we don’t deserve to feel sadness at any point in time is I think a form of self-sabotage. Naturally as a band we are attracted to the more melancholic aspects of existence – well, we find it more interesting to write about. The record is called Loud Like Love but it doesn’t have ten love songs on it: this is Placebo World so of course we’re going to explore the more dark recesses of emotion – obsession, jealousy, alienation, heartbreak, abandon – and even the absence of love and the effect that has on a human being.”

Molko goes on to point to the aforementioned Too Many Friends as the perfect example of Placebo’s willingness to get deep into the recesses of human negativity.

“Too Many Friends is based on real events. One day I was at my computer – and I don’t know what I typed into Google… what dodgy porn I was watching… and all of sudden my computer started advertising to me. Like, you know, I was a gay man into the fetish thing. And I remember saying to myself, ‘My computer thinks I’m gay today’ – what a ridiculous line to start a song (laughs). Around the same time, some friends of mine who use social media, and I should say that I don’t myself because I have enough trouble keeping up with my real friends, said they had to stop taking friend requests because they had too many friends. I started thinking ‘How can we ever have too many friends? Then I wondered how many ‘real’ friends do I actually have and how is the virtual world humans are creating affecting the way we interact with each other?

“Is it creating a new society founded on togetherness or is it simply creating a new form of social alienation? I think it’s very dangerous. People don’t have to communicate face to face anymore – you can do it from behind a screen. You no longer have to have the courage of your convictions – you don’t have to justify what you feel and what you really mean. The virtual world creates an amazing platform for the spineless. It’s both a fascinating and dangerous proposition to consider.”