Placebo are back after a four-year hiatus with a record that is unsurprisingly similar to their last bunch of albums.
Placebo is the type of band you enjoy more for their consistency than their adaptability. The problem being, Placebo themselves don't seem to realize the sameness they exude from one record to the next. There are few variations from album to album, but that slight variation seemed to plateau in and around 2003's Sleeping With Ghosts. Every album since then--2006's Meds, 2009's Battle for the Sun, and most recently 2012's fairly good EP B3--has had no stylistic change whatsoever besides content. This brings us to their latest effort, Loud Like Love, whose biggest change in musical variation involves the introduction of a piano into Placebo’s “been-there-done-that” mix. They’re not daring enough to have it permeate through every track, but rather sprinkle it in strategic places so that you know this is actually a different album than the previous one.
Loud Like Love begins with, well, “Loud Like Love”, and it sounds like Placebo has taken a dramatically positive turn. On the track lead singer and guitarist Brian Molko sings “Love on an atom, Love on a cloud / To see the birth of all that isn't now / Can you imagine a love that is so proud? / It never has to question why or how”. It would seem our teenage angsty, drug abusing, bisexual promiscuous rockers are turning over a new leaf. It is somewhat nice to see a progressive contextual shift from artists who started on the narrow and bleak path, especially if they make more optimistic (or even cautiously optimistic) turns. However, with Placebo, Molko's delivery always sounds like that of a nasally tortured soul. Tracks like “Loud Like Love” or “Scene of the Crime”, while generally upbeat in nature, feel like downers.
“Too Many Friend”, besides being the lead single and accompanied by a bizarre video narrated by Bret Easton Ellis, contains the most awkwardly sung and written opening phrases to ever begin a Placebo song. To hear Molko sing “My computer thinks I’m gay / I threw that piece of junk away” is jarring and rather embarrassing. Even if it was meant to be humorous, Molko has a deadpan yell-sing approach that makes everything he sings sound very, very serious. The track continues “This is my last communique / Down the super highway / All that I have left to say in a single tome / I got too many friends / Too many people that I'll never meet / And I'll never be there for I'll never be there for / 'Cause I'll never be there.” Way to jump on that cultural concern of technological anti-social behavior there, guys.
By the time “Too Many Friends” rears its awkwardly phrased head, the crux of what Placebo is going for with this record has become all too apparent: they want to pull a Metric and investigate the nuances and conundrums of technology vs. physicality, all the while speaking to as young an audience as possible. The result is an inert record that will only truly satisfy the most loyal of fans who stuck through Battle for the Sun, their most boring record. Loud Like Love doesn’t have any of the punch of their midway records (Sleeping with Ghosts or Meds) nor does it have any of the insight of their early work (Placebo, Without You I’m Nothing or Black Market Music). It’s a disappointing yet completely listenable effort that suffers for being nothing more than a new Placebo record. At this point in the game, with so many albums under their belt, the band needs to pull out more stops in order to keep the masses engaged.