"Placebo Disputes Its Reputation For Glam Rock And Debauchery"

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar'99

by Alan Sculley

They say it's a case of mistaken identity. The British trio Placebo, which is currently making waves behind the alternative rock single "Pure Morning," has drawn plenty of praise for a sound that many writers describe as a brash update of 1970s glam rock. There's only one problem with that characterization. The band members don't see buy it.

"We were too young when glam was around," said bassist Stefan Olsdal, trying to put the band's tenuous connection to glam in perspective. "There are no T. Rex albums in our record collections. I mean, everyone knows those songs, but they were never a part of our musical upbringings. Basically, our influence is a lot more punk, and even for (drummer) Steve (Hewitt), more black, with Prince and Sly and the Family Stone. For me, it was obviously Abba, because I'm Swedish, and Depeche Mode. So it's quite far away from glam rock."

But the glam label was an easy one for critics to attach to the band. Placebo did a version of the T-Rex song "20th Century Boy" for the movie "Velvet Goldmine," which used the '70s glam-rock scene as its backdrop, and singer/guitarist Brian Molko certainly evokes memories of early David Bowie with his slicked-back hair, eye makeup and androgynous clothing. Even Molko's singing voice straddles the line between masculine and feminine tones like the best of the glam singers. Still, Olsdal is justifiably miffed when he points to the diversity of the group's second CD, "Without You I'm Nothing," to illustrate how the glam-rock label fails to capture the spirit and the breadth of Placebo's shimmering guitar-drenched sound.

"On a musical level, we wanted to branch out," he said, comparing the current CD to the group's 1996 self-titled debut. "I think we wanted to sort of go deeper on the musical level. I think this album is more schizophrenic in some ways, where we really go down with (textured, atmospheric) songs like 'Burger Queen' and 'My Sweet Prince' and really punk it up with 'Scared of Girls' and then go pop with 'You Don't Care About Us' and go quite epic with 'Without You I'm Nothing.' So it's a full range. We didn't not want to hold ourselves back.

On the whole, "Without You I'm Nothing" is strong enough to focus attention on Placebo's music. But in Britain, the press has focused on other aspects of the band, including Molko's gener-neutral look, the band's wild behavior and the sexual proclivities of the three band members. (Molko is bisexual, Olsdal is gay and Hewitt is heterosexual.)

Olsdal admits the band members need to take some blame for how they have been portrayed. For instance, during their tours to support their 1996 debut CD, the band members made no secret about their rowdiness on the road, gleefully spinning tales of sexual exploits, drug use and other debauchery.

"I mean, one of the things we're about is personal freedom," said Olsdal. "We're three very different people, and we don't believe in censoring ourselves in what we say or do. I mean, there are certain things that we sort of steer away from these days, about how much we actually tell the press.

"But when we started out, it was the way that we lived and it was the way we wanted to be talked about. We were brutally honest about the whole thing. And I think that we definitely felt the backlash of that, especially in England, because they're quite tabloid in their mentality. "But if you come and see us live, it becomes quite evident that we're here because of the music and we're a powerful three-piece. That's what we set out to be, and all this other stuff is quite circumstantial."

Placebo with Stabbing Westward and Flick

When: 8:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Karma, 1624 Delmar Boulevard