Placebo destroyed a British culture of football, pints and lads magazines with no apologies. As frontman Brian Molko said, “A lot of our cross-dressing and cross-dressing was a political statement against the music scene at the time which was very masculine and macho. We wanted to stand up and be counted. There’s no better way to do that than by putting on a bunch of slaps, wearing a skirt and fucking people’s heads.”
Fuck with people’s heads is precisely what Placebo has done and it is exactly this desire to prod, challenge and confront that has made them one of the most interesting and remarkable bands of the past 30 years. Placebo stuck out like a sore thumb when it emerged onto a music scene where Britpop was king, but in 2022 most Britpop survivors are playing the retro revival circuit while Placebo is releasing new tracks and playing in arenas.
With their first new album in 9 years Never let Me Go just released, now seems like the perfect time to take a look back at this magnificent band’s discography and rank them from worst to best.
8. Strong as love
There’s really only one major dud in Placebo’s back catalog and this one is it. Half of the songs that make up Placebo’s seventh studio album were originally crafted for an abandoned Brian Molko solo record. Whether at the heart of strong like love problems is hard to say; the disc’s bright and airy uniform production certainly doesn’t do the songs any good.
Much of the album comes across as self-parody, with lyrical verses like “My computer thinks I’m gay / I threw that piece of shit away” sounding banal and adolescent. Molko described the album sessions as an “extremely upbeat experience”, but the results were very poor relations with his band at their most powerful.
7. Sleep with ghosts
Some might balk at the rather low place of this 4th album of the group, especially if we consider sleep with ghosts is home to some of Placebo’s most enduring songs, with The bitter end, special needs and modeling clay especially big favorites among fans. These songs are rightly revered, but there’s too much material on the disc that just doesn’t measure up.
something rotten aims for the experimental and unorthodox but simply presents itself as sleazy and lumpen, I will be yours meanders without ever arriving at its destination and summer rain in english is essentially Pure Morning 2.0 (and like most sequels, it’s not as good). There is more good material than bad, however, and in hindsight it is possible to see the band’s experiments with electronics beginning to flourish, which would prove vital for future Placebo albums.
6. Black Market Music
As Sleep with ghosts, black market music has valuable Placebo material, with Special K, Wage Slave, Hemoglobin and Taste in men all well-deserving of a spot on anyone’s Essential Placebo Tracks playlist. But there are also awkward diversions into territory that didn’t quite fit.
malevolence and wickedness, for example, with Molko’s mantra “Dope, Guns, Fuckin’ in the street…Revolution” East easily one of the grittiest things the band has ever recorded. Black Market Music Boats a handful of great songs, but an obscurity drags the album into its second half.
Placebo had wanted to dive even deeper into their love of analog synths and keyboard-driven sounds on Medications, but producer Dimitri Tikovoi chimed in, suggesting a more basic approach. He paid dividends with Infrared, because I want you and song to say goodbye all sounding like a vintage Placebo but with a renewed 21st century kick.
It’s not a record entirely focused on the past, as evidenced by the swampy electro-grind of space monkey and the post-rock tremolos on Follow the cops home. Medications was made during an emotionally tumultuous time in the band’s career; relations with longtime drummer Steve Hewit had reached breaking point (it was his last album) while Molko suffered a “nervous breakdown” while recording. From this turmoil, Placebo managed to become one of their most honest, strong and powerful records.
Placebo’s self-titled debut album will always be close to the hearts of old-school loyalists, and it’s packed with great songs. But back to the record now and this is comfortably the most dated Placebo album. Brian Molko sounds surprisingly bad and the songs just don’t hit with the punch they have on the latest records.
When all is said and done, Placebo contains some of the band’s greatest songs; Come home, 36 degrees, I know, Teenage Angst and of course, Nancy Boy, a song that would prove that an albatross was turning their necks. But as Molko said, reflecting back in 2009, “we hadn’t yet learned to use a studio as an instrument itself” and there is a pronounced difference between how they would use the studio here and on the later albums.
3. Never Let Me Go
Nine years turned out to be the longest wait between Placebo albums, but Never let Me Go more than worth the wait. Finally, the electronic tapestries that Placebo had been experimenting with since the late 90s sounded like intrinsic parts of the songs rather than extras.
Beautiful Jacques instantly enters Placebo’s pantheon of great songs and The Prodigal, written around a string quartet, might be the most ambitious composition the band has put their name to. The first album released by the group in two pieces, Never let Me Go proves that there is still plenty of fuel left in Placebo’s tank.
2. Battle for the sun
The most underrated Placebo album? Produced by David Botrill (Tool, Muse, King Crimson), battle for the sun contains some of the greatest anthems of their career to date; Bright lights, for what it’s worth, speaking in tongues, glad you’re gone, medicine kings and the title track are all late-era gold and this album gave the band an embarrassment of riches to pick when putting together their setlists.
By 2009, Placebo weren’t the cool kids on the block anymore, and a band’s sixth full-length album often sees them coasting, which may partly explain why. battle for the sun is often overlooked or ignored. But that doesn’t stop it from being one of Placebo’s most brilliant albums.
1. Without you I am nothing
1998 Without you I am nothing secures the top spot for one simple reason; it’s the most beloved Placebo album. Those who took this collection of pariah anthems to heart really I love this album. And it features stellar hardware, including Every you, every me, comfortably the most streamed Placebo song on streaming services. You don’t care about us and the title track are anthems for the outcasts, and although the band’s relationship with the song has been spotty over the years (the band dropped it from their setlists altogether from 2008 to 2015) pure morning is the quintessence of Placebo distilled in just over 4 minutes.
However, this track almost didn’t make it to the album, recorded as is during a B-side session. With the pressure firmly released, Placebo was free to have fun with guitar loops and electronics in studio and ended up creating one of their most timeless songs. Although it’s “that time of day when the sun comes up and you go down”, pure morning a joyful sound, resonating with audiences around the world.
Placebo may have had its detractors, but they had the backing of David Bowie, who called out the band insisting they collaborate. With the sessions for the album complete, the decision was made to duet the title track with Bowie’s added vocal track. The album version is quite powerful, but the duality of Molko’s highs and Bowie’s lows make the single version a must-listen. Bassist Stefan Olsdal said NME “I don’t know what he saw in us; maybe something of himself as a young Bowie. Maybe there was an outside element to a lot of what we were doing. Maybe “Maybe it was the romance. Maybe it was the stubbornness of not wanting to fit in.”
Without you I am nothing is not perfect; Molko’s claim that the album had “too many slow songs for a second album” rings true, but it’s still the point where people really fell in love with Placebo and despite his flaws, he’ll always be the leader. -work of the group.