"Placebo - Masters of melancholy melody"

Waikato Times, Apr'99

Apr 20, 1999

by McCarthy Bede

It never felt so good to feel so bad. After two years of clean, happy, lyrically barren pop. After two years of Girl Power and commercially doctored melodies. Placebo arrived. Brian Molko, the American singer/guitarist, Stefan Oldsal, the Swedish bassist, Steve Hewitt, the pommie drummer.

Yeah, all right, it's their second album. They didn't appear out of thin air. But by the band's own admission, Without You I Am Nothing has come as a saviour for the closet depressive in all of us. It is an all-out, stand-alone fix of pure angst, laced with sex and drugs and plenty of tuneful rock 'n' roll.

Actually, not so much of the sex and drugs as many music readers are led to believe. Take Placebo's infamous Select magazine interview. It detailed orgies, obscene (apparently impossible) quantities of alcohol and uppers, and the use of sex like a similar commodity. You either thought "that's disgusting", or "on ya lads, y'all rock."

It twists no knickers to say Placebo - the band compared with Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed have a reputation.

Not that Molko wears knickers. His penchant for lipstick and evening wear not made for menfolk carries a likelihood of exacerbating the weird rep.

I had to wonder, on a 5-minute hold to the Holiday Inn, downtown Salt Lake City - which incidentally has excellent gym and sauna facilities - what Hewitt, Placebo's deft timekeeper, will be like. But I find Hewitt sharp, polite, and a wee bit awkward about the press taking Placebo's candid interviews too far.

"Everybody believes it. Except us. We had a great interview with them (Select) but they had us out of our head, prostitutes ... cocaine habits and it was like, I don't think so 'You try doing all that, then touring for six month and making a record when you come back. But we just kind of shook it off. If people believe it, they believe it. Whatever."

That's not to say the sun shines out of their 'boxes' to use Molko's favourite word on the new record.

Hewitt says Placebo's first two years of touring, in '96 and '97 to promote their first record, Placebo, were 'partyville'.

"It's absolutely necessary to get rid of all that (touring) shit," he explains. "'Take three guys who are earning money and they're travelling the world, what are you gonna do? You're going to party, you know what I mean?"

This is not to be frowned on. It was during a crescendo of Placebo's excesses that self-disgust set in, sparking some of the melancholy marvels that litter Without You I Am Nothing.

"You go through all your cliches, then say okay I've done that and start getting down to business."

This week business brings Placebo our way. They've spent the last two months in the US, honing their live act for an eagerly (droolingly for some) awaited Powerstation show in Auckland on Friday night.

After that it's Australia, and back to the US. Hewitt says the lads are fit, healthy, and they're not drinking (much). Which is good because they won't see their homes until Christmas.

"We've been touring (mostly) for the last four years. But it seems to get easier. You've been there before and you know all the pitfalls and the drinking and that. It's good this year. We're actually all healthy and loving it."

Although Hewitt was an original member of Placebo, when they made some demos together, his commitment to another band at the time meant he could not go full time with his buddies. He was for two years - and the first record - replaced by Swede Robert Shultzberg.

Hewitt agreed to rejoin Placebo after some scrapping between Shultzberg and Molko, "I'd just signed a deal with Warners with another band so I had to get straight out of it to join Placebo. Expensive, but we got Virgin (Records) to cover that nice."

As Hewitt's dance-influenced drumming is credited with Placebo's modem rock sounds, the conversation inevitably turns musical.

"The '60s and '70s are all over. When you see bands like the Verve, that's just a tragedy. Even now there's still a bit of that Britpop thing hanging around. Everybody says Britpop's dead, but every band still wants to be Oasis or the Verve."

Hewitt, who takes his 200 CDs with him on tour, seems big on bands who can deliver live, and says Placebo will.

"It's really important to be able to play good live, because people get tired of seeing shit bands. I know I do. I go out and see bands all the time, and there's not many who sort of get me off."

Along with songs from the first record (the best known is Nancy Boy), fans will be eager to see Molko's live deliveries of the new hits. His renditions of Pure Morning (originally a b-side idea), You Don't Care About Us and Without You I Am Nothing have impressed the US. The LA Times wrote: `Molko was suddenly spellbinding and charismatic, the audience silent - transfixed.' On Friday Placebo will continue work on their third record, which they are writing during soundchecks. Hewitt promises another record ahead of the progressive rock threshold. You can can count on it being a bit happier, too.