Gig, Mar'03

March 17, 2003

by Jamie Gill

If Placebo's music is riddled with bitterness and bile, it's easy to understand why. Despite their first three albums standing scrutiny as some of the most consistent and idiosyncratic rock records of the last decade, the music press treats them as at best an irritant and at worst as somewhere on the Dahmer/ Bin Laden scale of human evil. Just this week a rock weekly casually questioned the justice in Brian Molko walking the streets unharmed.

So it comes as something of a pleasant surprise to see such a relaxed, confident outfit take the Astoria stage tonight. Maybe it's the fact their new single has just hit the Top Twenty. Maybe it's the rabid reception from the sell out crowd. Or maybe it's the fact they're sitting on a stockpile of contagious pop weaponry that Hans Blix couldn't possibly miss.

'Special K' remains as addictive and frenzied as the drug it's named after, built on thrashing drums and a frantic chorus. 'Pure Morning' is its spiritual flipside, a shuddering, squirming comedown of a tune, though its loyalty to melody make it as experimental and strange as any top five single has ever been.

Of course, these two also reveal Placebo's greatest flaw, Molko's fixation on drugs and deviancy as a badge of artistic merit which, frankly, he should have left behind in adolescence. Though much the same could be said of idols from Lou Reed to Kurt Cobain. The worst of it is that this trait obscures Molko's singular skill at chronicling embittered, dying relationships.

Take 'Lady Of The Flowers', a song whispered as if crushed under the weight of its sadness, and including the gorgeous couplet "she stole the keys to my house/and then she locked herself out". Or 'Without You I'm Nothing', where guitars seethe and bubble as Molko lyrically flagellates himself in front of the baying crowd. 

Or what about tonight's highlight, 'Taste In Men', the salacious title and crunching electronica belying its plaintive, heartbroken tale of love lost too soon. For all Molko's drama-school phrasing, there is a real, beating heart at the centre of these songs. 

The new tracks stick to the Placebo blueprint: songs shorn as short as possible, guitar solos clipped to a few dramatic slashes, without any loss in emotional depth. It's the economy, stupid. Molko ends the beguiling 'This Picture' with a cry of "can't stop? Grow up!". It's a knowing line, and may point to a wiser, more measured fourth album.

In a world where Feeder thrive, it's nothing less than criminal that Placebo aren't more treasured. But if injustice is the fuel for songs as twisted and addictive as these, then bring it on, journalists, bring it on. And they didn't even play 'Nancy Boy'.