Placebo - Loud Like Love
I think my eureka moment came when I was listening to a local rock radio station, known for playing nothing but mainstream, heavier music. Triple M for any Aussies. Loud Like Love was playing, and as I bopped away to it I thought 'there's no way they'd play Too Many Friends', with it's now famous opening line 'My computer thinks I'm gay'. And there it is.
See, I'm a placebo tragic from way back. About ten years ago a friend burnt me a copy of Sleeping With Ghosts. Two days later I was in HMV with my life savings and their back catalogue stacked high on the counter. The cashier gave me a knowing nod and claimed they were easily his favourite band. Since that day I've devoted many many many hours and much hard earned money to collecting everything I can from the band. So why was it when Battle For The Sun came out did I avoid the vinyl and the box set? It wasn't monetary, it was quality. Whilst I enjoyed the record, I thought it had marked the end of my love affair. The old placebo had moved on, which I was fully expecting and in no way angry about. It's a fact of musical life that if you keep making the same music you won't endure, with the exception of course of U2. Furthermore, I was in my 20s, no longer a young angsty teenager. I'd moved on too.
Yet in that one opening line, a much maligned one I may add, Molko brought it all back. The Nancy Boy era; performing in dresses, singing about gay sex, that dangerously enticing androgyny that sticks so vividly in my mind. Even at 40+ he can still write something to get lips flapping and conservatives clucking. The beauty about Loud Like Love is that it blends this wonderful retro Placebo tinge with all the good things about their new persona. Depression, drugs, sex, slime, filth are all brilliant song subjects. However I think it takes more courage and skill to tackle the concept of recovery, and even more to write a record about love that doesn't sound shockingly dated and stereotypical. Placebo may have cracked it here..
That opener is a burst of sound and colour that justifies the pupil pulverising artwork from the record. The clangy guitars give way to a wonderful explosion very reminiscent of BFTS track For What It's Worth or even Julien. 'We are loud like looooove', you can almost see Steve on his drum kit with a giant smile pasted across his face, thrashing away. That Stef and Brian are on the wrong side of 40 is no limiting factor, they sound as fresh faced as those first cuts of 2468 or Bruise Pristine. You could criticise the way Brian has used his voice in recent times, but on the title track it's stratospheric rises are so perfectly in tune with the mood set by the classic placebo chord structure, augmented by their new found density of sound. It's a tone setter, one the album manages to live up to (just).
The elephant in the room, though. Placebo have written a record about love. Their previous album was about redemption, recovery, life on the other side of the darkness. B3 EP was closer to an older style of writing. However, they risk falling in to obscurity like so many other popular bands have as they age. Anyone remember Panic! At The Disco? 30 Seconds To Mars? My Chemical Romance? Even if you view Placebo in higher company than that, acts like Muse have diversified and continued to challenge themselves. Elbow has arguably outgunned them. They don't want to become The Killers.. Thankfully, this is not the case. There is enough wisdom mixed in with the admittedly teenage musings on love and life to ensure a healthy dose of knowledge for all comers. The lead single Too Many Friends is a timely opinion piece, and I can't help but sing the chorus to myself every time I'm on my morning train observing the hordes with their noses in their phones. 'All the people do all day is stare in to a phone'. Take a look around. An older man's observational take on a worrying social trend, it resonates.
Elsewhere, we're treated to an array of remorseful encounters, endearing tributes and vulnerable optimism. 'Kindly lend a helping hand, come over, and hold on to me'. The need, desperation expressed in Hold On To Me is vivid. A broken soul charged with an inherent need for redemption, seeking it from those around rather than within. A Million Little Pieces continues this theme brilliantly, dissecting the dual insecurities of growing older and attempting to distance oneself from past indiscretions, 'you tried your best to be a friend'. Exit Wounds is brutal. Such a decisive, descriptive song that rekindles the bands love affair with the unashamed honesty of youth. A message you can relate to, whether you’re a teenage bruiser or a lovelorn 40 year old.
All of this historical traipsing finally lends a depth to the sound that Placebo have cultivated over the last few years. With BFTS, an image of a band exploding out of a dark, dense, desperate depression was projected. They saw the light, reached for it, but maybe overshot the mark a little. On Loud Like Love, sonically their recovery continues. Purify crashes around your speakers like a drunk 16 year old. Rob The Bank (the worst track on the record) has you sheepishly belting the chorus out as you do your best Bonham impression on your steering wheel. Scene of the Crime. Awesome. ‘We almost made it, but making it overrated’. The chorus fizzes, Brian’s voice is vulnerable with age yet strong and focused with passion. ‘I’ve got a body to hide, you’ve got a body on show’. Love is more than tricky, it’s a tangled web of lost opportunities, stolen moments, regretful actions.
There is a true jewel in this record. The final track, Bosco, is a 6 and a half minute anomaly, an exception that proves the rule. You can’t ever reclaim those glory days, and Bosco is why. With age and growth comes maturity and knowledge. The impassioned pleading of someone who has the gift and curse of hindsight and wisdom is played out over a beautifully simplistic and delicate piano riff. Rising strings match the lows of the message, and when the drums do eventually appear it feels less of an optimistic change and more of an acceptance of complete fault, of an unchangeable and unfixable problem that cannot be erased nor modified. ‘When I get drunk, you take me home, and keep me safe, from harm’ ‘I love you more than any man, but I seem to lay it all to waste’. No Placebo song in the previous 9 years has hit me harder than this. I take more medications than you’ve probably heard of, and all of them have rendered me quite emotionless and cold, but I am not ashamed to admit I shed more than a few tears upon first listen of this. It resonates so deeply, and it’s probably a song I won’t ever be able to listen to again once I’ve moved on from current lands. Which is sad, but telling. Absolutely amazing.
7.5/10. You know, the more I listen to this record, the more it endears itself to me. BFTS was exactly the same, and now I can quite comfortably sit with that on repeat for days. Loud Like Love has a happy knack of revealing itself to you over a period of months. They tackled the clichéd topic and won. They refused to modify a sound that caused criticism from die hard fans, and succeeded. They touched on their roots without desperately clutching at past success. It’s a very very good record this.
Best Tracks: Bosco, Too Many Friends, Exit Wounds