"Nancy Boy"

Rolling Stone, Nov'98

Nov 09, 1998

by Heidi Sherman

It's a glam new day for Placebo's gender-bending Brian Molko

"I think I'm a bit flamboyant in comparison to a lot of people." That's Brian Molko explaining the scrutiny, both positive and negative, he's endured by the English press. As the resident poster-child for androgyny, a modern-day Bowie with a flair for flair, Molko embraces the attention and plays his designated role as best he can. The singer/guitarist's on- and off-stage antics have landed him on many a gossip page, and have cemented Placebo's position in the fickle limelight of popular music. Although he's certainly toned down a bit in the last two years ("A year ago, I was far more of a socialite. I was going everywhere, a bit like Jarvis [Cocker] did for a while," he boasts, though with an endearing coyness), Molko and bandmates Stefan Olsdal (bass) and Steve Hewitt (drums) are no strangers to the glitter and glow of glam -- and its attendant lifestyle.

Aside from playing shimmering rock heroes in clubs packed with Molko look-alikes, Placebo also play them on screen. Todd Haynes' decadent and romantic homage to the sparkling Seventies, Velvet Goldmine, features the band in a role seemingly written for them: dressed all cat-prints and leather, boas and top hat, they cover T-Rex's "20th Century Boy." It's the perfect complement to Without You I'm Nothing, the group's sophomore album. With its dark, self-deprecating lyrics and scathing guitars, the album, together with the film, paints a three-dimensional picture of a band on the cusp, ready to embrace the world or spit in its face.

"I think it's a romantic album," claims Molko, "but I think it's quite desperate as well. It's me beating myself up on the inside, basically. There's a lot of bile and vitriol and people assume it's directed at others, but it's really directed at me."

Much of the clarity and self-abuse omnipresent on Without You I'm Nothing stem from Molko's bout with depression and his return to reality. "I remember when I got really freaked out when we were on tour and the group started to fight, and we were sort of not speaking," Molko says. "I decided to get myself on antidepressants for a little while, and I had a lot of work to do and we were touring. So it balanced me out, but I wasn't grabbing for the guitar. I had no motivation.

"I felt robbed of my personality. And I came off, and two weeks later, I got in a real stinking mood, and I was like, 'Hey, I'm back.' I wrote 'You Don't Care About Us' that day." For Molko, it's the darker moments that are indelible. They provide the raw material that Molko fashions into introspective and melancholic anthems of anger, loneliness and loss.

Placebo's bruised sentiments turn the table on depression and use its energy to bite back. Though their self-titled debut went unnoticed in these parts (it did go gold in the U.K.), the film and undeniable hooks of "Pure Morning" have made the elfin, shimmering Molko a spokesperson for the dejected. Of course, with the international recognition and nods from the press, these days find him more comfortable in his own skin. As the New Musical Express' Sexiest Male and Female of the Year last year (so he claims), Molko knows this whole media hoopla and glam-god tag is a big joke.

"It's quite academic," he surmises. "It's sort of what you're there for. You're there to be taken the piss out of. But you just grow a thick skin and have a sense of humor about it."

For Molko, that thick skin just happens to be coated in a dazzling spray of glitter.