"Kohl and the Gang"

NME, Jan'97


London Charing Cross Road LA2

Review by Mark Beaumont

As the droned-out buzz reaches fever pitch, Brian Molko’s big brown zombie eyes glare to the ceiling. “This is a song about a robot f-,” he squeaks, his voice a slithering mass of rampant hormones and sleazy leather sex.

Pandemonium. Chiming rock chords rise up, waves of screaming stage-divers crash down and we are launched towards Planet Roboshag with genitals ablaze Brian gawps upwards, all innocent femininity, as a frenzied stage-invader drapes her knickers across his face. Sweaters, T-shirts and underwear of both sexes fly stageward. This is ‘Bionic’ and it does indeed feel like a sweaty grope of smouldering diode.

Imagine if Brian Molko was a bloke. Wore baggy lumberjack shirts and wrote songs about the traumas of living in Wakefield. How bollock-shrinkingly tedious would that be? But he’s a girl, an androgynous, lust-frazzled alien sex slave with the voice of a New York street transvestite. On speed. And that probably makes him the sexiest human being alive.

He is the most natural pop star in an age where charisma and pizzazz in rock is about as common as a socialist Spice Girl and a far more appealing idol for the new wave of young drag acts, drug acts and suicides than, say, Steven Jones and his bitter vitriol. And while this would usually mean dismissing the music past the back seat and into the trailer, Placebo triumph here too. For these are songs that don’t so much pay respect to our musical heritage as strap it into a stolen Ford Capri and take it ram-raiding around the mascara sections of Woolworths. They’re part Joy Division atmospherics, part Wedding Present vigour and at least seven-eighths the sound of Stereolab with a huge rock cactus up their arse. Songs that wear their bludging leather kecks with pride.

And, most important of all, these are songs that bring a sense of danger back into the pop realm far more effectively than Skunk Anansie, Metallica or – in the name of Beelzebub! – Cradle of Filth ever could. ‘Bruise Pristine’, ‘Crawl’ and ‘Allergic To Thoughts Of Mom’ are all laced with images of brutal violence, wired personality defects and the kind of sexual practices that even Stephen Milligan would have warned you against. And they’re all delivered with a wicked smirk or a zonked-out glare as if Brian knows that we’d give all our limbs to spend ten minutes strapped to a torture machine in his nefarious underworld.

It’s so easy, of course, to observe their more ponderous moments, clock the eye-liner and shout, “GOTH!” on your way to the exit in the search of a Kenickie gig, or to regard their mammoth record deal and immediately contact the Hype Police, but you’d be ignoring the sheer inventiveness of it all. There’s the way that newie ‘Burger Queen’ comes on like the Tortoise with a suave Soho socialite on vocals, the fact that they finish with a ten-minute instrumental thrash-out like Ash during a full moon and the way that the mosh pit’s cries for an encore are drowned under the throbbing of the world’s biggest bass. Plus, we should remember, Brian has to go around with that haircut all the time. 4 real as f-.

Yet, below all the semi-S&M glamour and the murderous mystique, we are talking about pop music with a capital ‘crickey!’. ‘Come Home’, ’36 Degrees’ and ‘Teenage Angst’ are all pneumatic drill stompers with melodies orbiting Venus, and they all cement Placebo’s position as the only left-field rock weirdos with their black fingernails anywhere near the pulse.

“I think that we have all at one point or another been on our hands and knees,” Brian slithers and the whole venue wants to shag him on the spot. If only all bruises were this pristine.

Source: balthazar