Placebo Lose the Battle with Hope

- Review by Julie M. Tate

As I listen through Battle For the Sun, the latest effort from London exports Placebo, the power flickers followed by the low rumble of thunderstorms outside. The floor rattles and although I don’t know it at the time, in a few short hours the sun will wipe away these oppressive clouds, leaving only rain puddles as evidence left to slowly dissipate.

Battle For the Sun is Placebo’s sixth studio effort and Brian Molko, the reigning prince of despair, drugs and bitterness, is trying his hand at something he’s hardly danced with before: hope.

For this album he’s taken his classic themes and forced them into the small slivers of sunshine peeking through the otherwise black curtains of his brain. Much (or not so much depending) to everyone’s surprise they didn’t burst into flames. The result is a disc that answers the band’s previous effort, Meds, which was a cold, claustrophobic journey with no discernable destination save despair. The listener is taken through a who’s who of bleak emotion: bitterness, regret, vengeance, abuse and sorrow.


Though that bulletproof fog comes Battle for the Sun, the guiding light Meds was lacking. The album title itself evokes a sense of determination and the title-track reiterates this:

“I will brush off all the dirt and I will pretend it didn’t hurt…I am the bones you couldn’t break.” (“Battle for the Sun”)

Molko holds true to his lyrical trademarks throughout, curt delivery offset with a beautiful desperation he manages to pull off without losing his audience—think a punk-rock version of Morrissey. One thing Molko has always done lyrically is say what most of us either cannot or will not say. While his ever-familiar themes of drugs, sex and heartache haven’t disappeared, they’re considerably more brightly dressed, and Battle For the Sun is by far their least sexually charged album. Placebo make good on their promise that this album would “have a bit more color,” especially in comparison to the shades of grey that decorated Meds and even the band’s fourth album, Sleeping With Ghosts, which was an entire lament for relationships long past.

Frankly Placebo probably couldn’t have handled another album like Meds; prior to Battle For the Sun the band’s future was admittedly unclear, with problems including the inter-personal tensions that led to the loss of original drummer Steve Hewitt. Replacement Steven Forrest brings a heaviness to the album, with help from producer David Bottrill (Tool, Muse) and mixer Alan Moulder (The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails). This harkens back to the band’s roots in their self-titled debut and aligns with Molko’s claim that Battle For the Sun is “the sound of a band rediscovering itself,” seemingly by coming full circle. Musically the album plays close to the vest with the near-absence of the electronic/techno influence they’d been experimenting with post-Sleeping With Ghosts,(a notable exception on the song “Julien”) and the addition of fairly straightforward (if catchy) riffs.

That being said, a three-piece outfit can run into many obstacles when trying to stay fresh musically. Taking advantage of the “opportunity to be creatively unselfconscious,” for this album Placebo implemented an orchestra and horn section (see “The Never Ending Why”) in an effort to expand their horizons and give the songs a more anthemic and epic feel, without sounding too conceptual.

Battle For the Sun embodies the clich├ęd sentiment that once you’ve hit bottom the only way to go is up, delivering perhaps Placebo’s most accessible album yet with a larger arsenal of emotions and musical nuances. “(We wanted to) create a future that sounded better,” Molko stated in an interview prior to the album’s release. “Giving it up was never really an option.”

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(Placebo are currently touring across Europe in support of Battle For the Sun. For tour dates visit http://www.placeboworld.co.uk/gigs.php)

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Julie M. Tate is a freelance artist and journalist currently residing in Tulsa, OK though she considers Chicago home. Her poetry has been featured in numerous anthologies including The Great American Poetry Show and is the owner, author and editor of Gossip and the Devil [http://www.devilgossip.com/], a creative/lifestyle blog focused on poetry, vicodin, jetsetting and boys with brown eyes.