Review: Placebo – Loud Like Love


Placebo - Loud Like Love - Almost two decades into their career, Placebo could quite easily rest on their laurels, safe in the knowledge that their army of loyal followers will swallow more of the same every few years. That the band have continued to grow and expand their sound into fresh territory with each successive release appears to have lost them as many so-called die-hard fans as they gain. Yet with Loud Like Love, they may have finally got the balance just right.

This is an album that manages, at times, to hark back to the melancholy nature of their earlier work, whilst combining it with the passion and drive that their last long player, 2009’s Battle For The Sun had in abundance. It also manages to do that rare thing for a band on their seventh album, let alone their nineteenth year: it goes places Placebo have never gone before.

It’s not perfect. The title track’s over-poetic, Bowie-esque lyrics would sound drab even if David Bowie was singing them, and a handful of songs are over-long and repetitive – Begin The End, we’re looking right at you, here. And those who have poured scorn over Brian Molko’s simplistic lyrics on a number of big hits will have a field day with tracks likeRob The Bank, which trades any requirements for complexity with throbbing guitars, bass and drums that will make it a live favourite regardless.

When the album works, though, it’s an utter delight, and that’s thankfully for 80% of its run-time. Scene Of The Crime offers a throwback to former glories, before a dance-influenced breakdown and swelling vocal harmonies take it into a completely new space. Similarly, the percussion on Exit Woundsshowcases drummer Steve Forrest’s youthful vitality, and sounds like nothing the band have ever attempted before. By the time what can only be described as the “dancey synths of madness” kick in, it’s clear this is a band who refuse to stand still when there’s new avenues to explore.

Production across the whole album is a triumph, with Purify standing out by utilising Molko’s distorted vocal almost as another instrument, throbbing around the electronic-twinging and frenetic drumming without ever being lost within it. Be it Stefan Olsdal’s piano work on grand finale Bosco, Forrest’s vibrant drumming on Too Many Friends or Molko’s increasingly down-beat vocals throughout, the results are crisp and spacious, whilst somehow enveloping.

And when Molko is seemingly being so honest and autobiographical, it’s exactly what the band need. Hold On To Me offers beautiful string arrangements to complement the singer’s suggestions that he is “a small and gentle man who carries the world upon his shoulders”. It’s hard to tell if this, or his farewells to lost love on A Million Little Pieces or Bosco are just Brian playing games with his followers rather than genuinely opening up to them, but the results are breathtaking nonetheless.

And if all this sounds too pretentious, there’s always lead single Too Many Friends to savour. It’s tongue in cheek warnings about the rise of social media and gadget obsessions feel increasingly relevant as we prepare for the madness of yet another boring iPhone launch. There’s something inherently brilliant, and oh so Placebo about the lyric: “My computer thinks I’m gay/What’s the difference anyway/When all the people do all day/Is stare into a phone?” Marvellous.

With a big anniversary looming, it would have been so much easier for Placebo to plod into a studio, knock out a few Nancy Boy rip-offs and collect the pay-check. That they are still so adamant to avoid doing exactly that is a testament to their devotion to making music their own way.

Most critics will remain forever dismissive, when the same album by another band who are more ‘of-the-moment’ would garner rave reviews. It may be four years since their last album, but it’s been more than worth the wait, and hopefully music lovers free from adhering to trendy misconceptions will agree wholeheartedly.

Loud Like Love is released on Monday, 16th September. Placebo host a live YouTube special on Monday evening via their official channel. Watch the video for Too Many Friends below.

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About Paul Holmes

Editor of The Velvet Onion since 2010, I also work in arts marketing and digital content producing, writer for a few things, listen to a lot of vinyl and watch lots and lots of Doctor Who.

Posted on September 16, 2013, in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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