"Out-of-control group"

The Advocate, Jul'01


From rabble-rousing to poignancy, there's nothing that Placebo won't spin around on its latest release

Placebo excels at messing with conventional alt-rock music norms. Onstage, members of the London-based trio cross-dress frequently, while singer-guitarist Brian Molko's androgynous appearance keeps the uninitiated guessing. Add the fact that these guys make up one completely cosmopolitan motley crew--Molko is a bisexual American; bassist Stefan Olsdal, a gay Swede; and drummer Steve Hewitt, a heterosexual Brit--and you have what Molko has called "an extremely interesting melting pot of emotions."

The fiery mixture comes to full boil on Placebo's third disc, Black Market Music, a visceral collection that delves into industrial, punk, and experimental rock spectrums. Here, Molko's frank lyrics pack far more punch than on 1998's Without You I'm Nothing (and its minor U.S. hit "Pure Morning").

The harrowing "Special K" wisely employs female backing vocals (a Placebo rarity) as Molko compares the rush of falling in love with drug addiction: "No hesitation / No delay / You come on just like Special K / Just like I swallowed half my stash / I never ever want to crash." American rapper Justin Warfield lends a hip-hop element to the politically charged rocker "Spite & Malice," inspired by an anticapitalist riot in London last year. Abetted by a "dope, guns, fucking in the streets" chorus (based on the MC5's philosophy), the song deals a crushing blow. Suddenly, "Commercial for Levi" brings the proceedings down a notch. The acoustic guitar-led lullaby of sorts is pleasant on the surface; dig deeper and you'll discover the subject is trying to prevent his friend from taking sexual and chemical excess to the extreme. Molko's fragile plea "please don't die" speaks volumes.

The American CD version also sports two bonus tracks: a duet with David Bowie of "Without You I'm Nothing" and a faithfull (yet still dirty-sounding) take on Depeche Mode's "I Feel You."

Call it an afternoon on the psychiatrist's couch and a nighttime stroll through dank alleyways rolled into one: Black Market Music emerges as an intense album that isn't for the easily offended.