"Return of the Angry Angel"

Sunday Mail, Oct'00

01 Oct 2000

by Tammy Hoyle

WITH indie music dominated by the fey melodies of Travis and Coldplay, the stereotype of the angry rock band seems all but extinct. But despite his angelic appearance, Placebo singer Brian Molko proves at least one band is still prepared to shock as it rocks. Since signing their record deal in 1996, they have enjoyed moderate chart success, reaching the Top Five with their single Nancy Boy. But perhaps they are best known for the outspoken views of their make-up wearing singer and lyricist Molko.

On the eve of the release of Placebo's third album, he uses every opportunity to promote his political beliefs. "The album's called Black Market Music," he reveals. "It's aggressive. It's angry. It's our big rock album, the one we've always wanted to make." Molko continues: "There's a great deal of social injustice in this world. Like the clampdown on civil liberties, homophobia and racism. Our band promotes freedom." Placebo's latest single, Slave to The Wage, which hits the Top Twenty today, is an attackon what Molko perceives as the dehumanising effect of nine-to-five jobs. He adds. "It's about not being _ a cog in the big wheel of society, not being part of society's machine, not working yourself to an early grave. "The chorus is about the rat race basically," Molko says. "It's kind of an American Beauty thing. "You can find yourself like the character Kevin Spacey plays, in a mid-life crisis and realising 20 years of his existence has been for nothing, for materialism and no soul." But what gives a pop star who freely admits he's never had a proper job ("I'm very, very lucky" he says) the right to criticise work? Molko says: "I spent a summer shredding documents once. It got so boring and mundane that I used to be late on purpose." It's easy to feel offended by Molko's glib dismissal of the lifestyle of billions of people when you find that, despite his socialistethics, he is the privately-educated son of a banker.

Also, when challenged on his views, he often backtracks. "The Criminal Justice Bill took away our right to demonstrate peacefully," Molko asserts. What about the week of peaceful demonstration over petrol prices? "Well, that I approve of," he stutters. "Peaceful, direct action I absolutely approve of. Take to the streets." With views as strong as this, you'd have thought Placebo would always be on the march. "We recently demonstrated in Madrid for the registered partnership of homosexual couples," Molko says. Then he confesses: "We found ourselves in the middle of it by accident."

Brian Molko appears to have a flair for exaggeration and is not slow to blow his own trumpet or the bands. On Placebo's official website, the group claim to have "transformed the face of popular (and not so popular) music unlike any other". Molko's own biography reads: "Brian Molko is (like Bowie before him) one of the most interesting characters to emerge on the music scene for a long time".

This acute sense of their own importance prevents Placebo from being taken as seriously as they'd like to be by the music press. Yet to his teenage followers, Brian Molko is a true icon. "I think people are taught at an early age that individuality isn't necessarily a good thing and that they have to conform," Molko explains. "We promote individuality. Slave To The Wage encourages you to follow your dreams." Despite Molko's insistence on the importance of individuality, many of his fans mimic his appearance to mark their admiration for him. Molko says: "Imitation is a natural phenomenon and the highest form of flattery. I understand why a lot of teenagers need to search for identity in other people." His own appearance and behaviour has been a source of comment since the band released their debut single. In the early days, he wore a dress, and he also claims to be bisexual - though currently he has a girlfriend. His tendency to shock is never far from the surface, but he may be confused about what interests his fans. Although he thinks attitude differentiate Placebo from other groups, it may just be that it's their own special brand of music that sets them apart.