"High On the Placebo Effect"

The Guardian, Feb'97

Sheffield Octagon

by Dave Simpson

15 Feb 1997

Placebo are the most exciting new band in Britain by some considerable margin. When current single Nancy Boy crashed into the charts at number four it took everybody by surprise. But as the dust settled it became clear that Placebo's success was the least shocking thing about them.

Fronted by make-up wearing, androgynous Brian Molko, they sing about narcotic squalor and sexual deviancy. They managed to get lyrics like "Eyeholes in a paper bag / greatest lay I ever had" and "£50 Press my button, going down" on Top Of The Pops. Perhaps the BBC watchdogs too were overwhelmed by Placebo's multi-faceted appeal, which has even overcome the traditional career hazard of being championed by David Bowie.

Outside the Octagon there were reminders of Ziggymania as tickets changed hands for unfeasible sums and the occasional mask of make-up adorned a spotty adolescent male face. Inside, it was a bit like listening to a singing electric breeze as Placebo tore into their turbo-charged sound.

"Soundtrack to life" and "Harder, faster!" were Molko's most audible cries as razor-slashed, strangely purging songs such as Bionic and 36 Degrees offered thrillingly illicit but user-safe sprints on a very wild side. Teenage Angst was a rallying cry for the hurting. Elsewhere, Hang On To Your IQ demonstrated that they can pen a vaguely moralistic lament as well as stunning melody.

Placebo are not strictly original but they have an original amalgam of sources spanning time and continents. Listen closely and hear echoes of 1970s Berlin (Bowie/Eno), 80s New York (Sonic Youth) and Manchester (New Order), and 90s Seattle grunge. All topped off by Molko's unearthy high-pitched wail.

At the heart of the maelstrom, Molko said very little, but his black-clad splendour captivated the crowd. Male would-be clones face the potential embarrassment of going to the barber and asking for a traditional girl's bob. No doubt Molko's coiffure contributed to the song Bruise Pristine, about being beaten up for looking like a freak (though: maybe he didn't always sing like that).

Molko awkwardness was our treat. In particular, one untitled new song featured a stunning falsetto. As the set progressed, chants of "Brian, Brian" could be heard between songs. A new cult superstar?

Nancy Boy is still the best song but the new material runs it dangerously close. The most exciting thing about Placebo is the suspicion - as voiced by Bowie - that the group have yet to peak. Their next album - rumours persist of the Thin White Duke producing - should be a real firecracker.