"Swallow This! It's Placebo!"

Rolling Stone, May'99

issue 561

By Jane Cornwell

Gender-bending, chart charging transatlantic trio put the wham! bam! into modern glam.

Placebo have just performed their adrenaline-charged power ballad "Every Me, Every You" live on British TV. Diminutive front person Brian Molko - front "man" just doesn't work - wore lipstick and eyeliner and pounced about in a stretchy black tubeskirt, the word "HYPOCRITE" emblazoned across his tiny t-shirt. Fellow guitarist Stefan Olsdal (the tall gay one) and drummer Steve Hewitt (the burly straight one) just got on playing. Brittle with angst, the track imploded into a cacophony of noise the presumably left viewers reeling. Sales of the trio's second album, 'Without You I'm Nothing', will no doubt continue to surge.

Molko reckons that all things taboo are represented in Placebo, which is why they get up people's noses. "Confusion, mystery,ambiguity," he pronounces in his nasal, transatlantic accent, waving a silk cut in mid-air. Wedged in between his two lofty cohorts on a couch at London's Virgin Records, the Luxembourg-raised American should, you'd think, seem midget-like by comparison. he can thank his giant-sized gob that he doesn't.

"We're the faggots that you're girlfriends fancy," he sniggers, "and that's why we're so dangerous." Partial to a bit of Wildean wordplay, he adds that "People get upset in the pub with us. people get upset in the public with us.

It's part of our personality." Nakedly confessional and sexually bewildering, Placebo have injected a much needed glam aesthetic into a jaded British rock scene. Their screen debut as Seventies band the Flaming Creatures in Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine saw them in their element, (Michael Stripe watched them on set and has a placebo sticker on his fridge as a result) but just don't label them glam rockers. Where the majority of today's easily classifiable bands continue to insist they defy categories, Placebo really do.

Placebo's affinity with the gender bending hedonism of Iggy and Bowie is palpable (the band supported Bowie on his European Tour and played at his 50th birthday party), but their influences are wide ranging. Olsdal cites Depeche Mode and Metallica; Hewitt the Throwing Muses and Nick Cave. Molko reels off PJ Harvey, the Pixies, Joy Division, Sonic Youth, the Dead Kennedys and,er,Billie Holiday. Their fans, he says, "are everyone from teens who get turned on by our look, to 40-year-olds who were there the first time around and recognise something they grew up with. It's a cross-generational thing."

The spawning of Molko lookalikes began in 1996, when Placebo's thundering single "Nancy Boy and eponymous debut album enjoyed surprise success. Now no gig would be complete without a gaggle of black bobbed androgynes hanging on to lyrics such as "I'm unclean/I'm a libertine" and worshipping the multi-lingual, bisexual Molko as some sort of mini god of identity crisis.

"Imitation is the highest form of flattery," he pouts. The impeccably mannered Olsdal has an equally polite Japanese male stalker; Hewitt gets women sneaking into his hall way at regular intervals.

While Olsdal and Molko knew each other vaguely at school in Sweden (Olsdal played basketball, Molko was in the drama group), it wasn't until they moved to England and bumped into eacheother outside a London tube station that they decided to form a band. And though placebo means "I will please" in Latin, their only criterion for their monicker was that it be a name they could imagine 40,000 people screaming. They enlisted Hewitt through a friend at Goldsmith's College (where Molko was studying drama), lost him briefly to the band Breed but wooed him back as a permanent member a couple of years ago. He happily takes the credit for Placebo's funkier sound.

Their rise and rise has coincided with a bout of stories highlighting a predilection for the more illicit things in life. Molko rails against Britain's tabloid mentality: "They're irritating fuckers. They want you to be glamorous, over the top rock stars and then when you are they hold it against you." Still if you're going to claim things such as, "We left a trail of blood and spunk all over the country," what do you expect? "We did it in the name of celebration," says Olsdal quietly.

Molko continues to experience bouts of alienation and aggression. "I'm an insecure, egomaniacal prima donna," he says, half boasting. David Bowie advised him never to lose his spontaneity, a creed his best mate Marilyn Manson embodies. "Wasn't Marilyn pissing on Bibles in Australia?" he asks coquettishly, while the other two rack their brains for names of Australian acts. Cave is mentioned by all three; Bjorn Again and the Australian Doors show are the only other feeble suggestions. "I'm not going to pretend I know much about Australia because that would be dishonest," says Molko, for whom dishonesty is anathema.

Molko had been quoted in the Melody Maker as calling Chris Evans, the host of tonight's chat show a "wanker", and swearing that Placebo would never do his gig. Evans returned the insult in kind. Nevertheless, they were eventually invited on, and accepted only on the condition that the wardrobe department found Molko a t-shirt with "HYPOCRITE" on it. "That way I pre-empted anyone slagging me off," he snorts. "It was like I was saying, 'I'm fully aware of what I am'". He smooths his glossy locks with a manicured hand. "It also." he adds thoughtfully, "went well with my designer skirt."