Sorry Placebo, this isn’t going to be a kind review. If history serves right, it seems your fans won’t care, and nor should they; you’ve been giving them the same knotted isolation encased in anthemic punk choruses for 10 years now. It’s OK; back in the day, I absolutely loved “Every You and Every Me”, sang along top-of-lungs to “Pure Morning”. It’s just that, somewhere along the way, Placebo lost their relevance. And the more I listen to Placebo’s albums the more it is clear that, break-up style, it’s not they who have changed, but me; these simple, repetitive songs just don’t hold the same power they used to.
When you have something as distinctive as Brian Molko’s voice it’s understandable that album-to-album songs start to sound similar; and you can’t deny the experimentation, even if resoundingly unsuccessful (I’m thinking Black Market Music). And so, despite forays into heavier metal-inspired sounds or electronica, a new Placebo album becomes an exercise in slight variation, little more. But there’s something worse going on than the continuity of Molko’s vocal style — compositional laziness. The melodies of Placebo songs are so familiar by this point that each new tune fades into the continuum of the band’s body of work; and you aren’t comforted in the way you are, say, hearing the descending flourish of a Bernard Fanning melody — instead, it’s an empty feeling of ‘I’ve heard this before’.
Meds is no different. But since we’re in the business of picking what we can out of the new, here’s my take on it: more than any other Placebo album, Meds confronts maturity; what ultimately undermines the power of this new vision is a feeling of recycled craft.
There’s more of a sense of calm running through the songs on Meds than on perhaps any other Placebo release. “Post Blue” is the first example and it works very well, just a simple song with a simple musical arrangement (incidentally, the middle section recalls Powderfinger’s “These Days”). Other down-tempo numbers “Pierrot the Clown” and “In the Cold Light of Morning” are campy, melancholic almost-musicals. In the former, I was half-expecting Molko to break into “Send in the Clowns”, and not just because of the subject. “Cold Light of Morning” is all coming-down desolation and open, meaningless space, but it’s slightly boring too. Call it maturity, or resignation; Molko’s voice is particularly suited to the latter.
No matter how down-tempo Placebo take certain portions of the album, though, it’s the repetition of ideas, song structures and melodies that ultimately disappoints most. The chorus on “Space Monkey” is reminiscent of, but not as good as, “Pure Morning”. On “Drag”, when the last line of the verse morphs into the chorus, it’s a dozen other Placebo compositions, recycled. Sure, there are some massive tunes here, more so than on much of the band’s recent work. But by the time the chorus on “Blind” fades back into the verse, it’s so familiar that the anthem passes by without leaving a trace of emotion whatsoever.
There’s also a very easily discernable difference in quality between the singles (or potential singles) and the remaining album tracks (shall we call them ‘filler’?). Listening to these, unfortunately, the label ‘nu-metal’ somehow wound up in my head. I would actually classify “Because I Want You”, although pushed on the UK listening public as the first single, in the second category; though the chorus is — fine — fairly huge, the verse sounds forced, Molko’s nasal whine searching for a melody and falling short.
Meds is cloaked in the sophisticated sheen of a band completely established; pushing in some areas, content to rely on established constructions and melodic elements in others. If you haven’t experienced the familiar cycle of infatuation-disappointment-indifference with Placebo, you could find these songs pleasant, at times even exhilarating. But I’ve just reached the final stage of that cycle, and nothing here forces me to reconsider.