Placebo – Sleeping With Ghosts
By Joe Vallejos
British trio Placebo has always had a little trouble fitting in. They had a minor success with the single “Pure Morning” from 1998’s Without You I’m Nothing, which was ironically one of the disc’s poorest offerings. Unlike many Brits, they’re not really popular in their native land and they haven’t followed up their brief success here in the U.S., either.
In England particularly, some blame can be put on their gaunt, sexually androgynous lead singer/guitarist Brian Molko. His bristly relationship with the British press has led to music scribes describing him as “a man with a persecution complex.” He’s played the Dangerfield card a few times, complaining frequently that his band doesn’t get the respect or attention they deserve. Black Market Music, 2001’s uneven effort that dipped a little too far into electronica, didn’t help matters.
That said, Sleeping with Ghosts arrived with little fanfare, but Placebo effectively mixes the electronic sounds that dominated their last album with the harder-edged rock of their first two releases (Placebo and Without You I’m Nothing) to excellent results. This indicates that perhaps the band has finally reached their obvious potential.
Sleeping With Ghosts opens with “Bulletproof Cupid,” a rousing instrumental reminiscent of “Brick Shithouse” on Without You. It’s a pleasant change from their last album and allows the band (Molko, along with bassist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Steve Hewitt) to show their collective musical chops. They adeptly mix styles and tempos, ranging from balladry like “I’ll be Yours” to fast paced rockers like “Bulletproof Cupid” and the disc’s highpoint “The Bitter End” to the stark, haunting closing track Centrefolds.”
“Plasticine” is a grinding bruiser not unlike “Nancy Boy” from the band’s debut. The only poor song on the album is the appropriately titled “Something Rotten.” Its obvious Placebo has made a return to the kind of glam-tinged rock that made their first two albums so enjoyable while finally arriving at an amount of electronic sounds and added effects that improves the overall result.
Best not to dig too deep into Molko’s lyrics, though. He’s been guilty of tossing out some clunkers in the past and the tradition holds true on Sleeping With Ghosts. Try not to be put off when he calls the “ashtray girl” an “angelic fruitcake” on “This Picture.” This is admittedly a lyrical low point on the album and not standard fare, but admittedly, Molko also won’t ever be a poet laureate. Most of his songs deal with doomed relationships and some obligatory drug references are thrown in for good measure. Everything’s delivered in Molko’s trademark nasal style, which plays like Geddy Lee meets Neil Tennant. It takes some getting used to, but once you do, it actually compliments the music and works well for the band.
As an ardent Brit-rock fan, I was worried these guys had gone the way of The London Suede and forgotten what made their first two albums so solid, but Sleeping With Ghosts is simultaneously a welcome return to form and a step forward. Swagger and chops intact and on full display, Sleeping With Ghosts will undoubtedly get Placebo onto my short and prestigious list of the year’s best. – (8.5/10)