Placebo

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
Dec. 9, 1998

For a band that made its debut with an album full of bluntly sexual songs, Placebo has simmered down … a little.

At their show Tuesday night at Metro, the English trio debuted cuts from their current record “Without You I’m Nothing.” Musically, the album is pure post-punk genius, heavy on dissonant guitar chords and conjuring up the romantic desperation the title implies.

But singer-guitarist Brian Molko’s lyrics are more vague this time around.

“A friend in need’s a friend indeed/A friend who bleeds is better/My friend confessed she passes the test/And we will never sever,” he sings on the hypnotic single “Pure Morning.”        

Huh?

The band–which also includes bassist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Steve Hewitt–maintains that the song is about the aftermath of a drug orgy, but it could also refer to the protagonist’s relief that he didn’t get a lover pregnant.

The ambiguity of the song fits Molko’s own androgynous persona of made-up eyes and ruby lips–all of which are played down during American performances. Born in Europe to American parents, the pocket-sized musician certainly is striking to look at.

(Fans will immediately recognize Molko and Olsdal portraying ’70s era glam rockers in Todd Haynes’ film “Velvet Goldmine.”)

Molko has a nasal, helium-laced voice that sounds not unlike Rush’s Geddy Lee. But don’t let that turn you off. He tears into songs such as “Brick S——–” and “36 Degrees” with a confident, syncopated clip that rings through clearly. But when he’s singing a ballad like the title track, his quavering voice is delicate and tender.

Never one to be coy about his sexuality, Molko readily acknowledges that his lyrics are personal. But he often tells the tales from the perspective of former partners, which adds a new spin to the group’s best known song, “Nancy Boy”: “Does his makeup in his room/Douse himself with cheap perfume/Eyeholes in a paper bag/Greatest lay I ever had.”

Molko isn’t the most optimistic songwriter, but he captures the vivid imagery of life as he knows it.

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