Begin The End – Placebo
Loud Like Love
47:22 min • Universal • September 16, 2013
Andrew Darley reviews
Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal have consistently reiterated that artists should never follow, or pay any attention to, trends while making an album, their logic being that by the time a record is completed the trend would be defunct and out of fashion. Placebo adopted this attitude for all their albums, which resulted in their own distinguished style of pop-infused post-punk that grabbed the hearts of many during the ‘90s and carried on through to their more experimental tendencies in ‘00s. Their way of thinking certainly holds water and should be commended. However, since their personnel change and 2009 album Battle For The Sun, the band have failed to move on from the musical style of the record and appear to be stuck in their own groove.
Loud Like Love is Placebo’s seventh album and, unsurprisingly, it deals with the concept of love. Explaining the idea behind the album, Molko described how he wanted the album to feel like a collection of short stories about different people in love and all its forms. The emotions of the ten songs include lust, obsession, loneliness, isolation, addiction and, of course, being in love. Sonically, the album finds them in a continuation of the sound from Battle For The Sun. They noted that they aimed to create a more nuanced and electronic infused album, yet results only being subtle in texture. Here, they incorporated electronic elements including keyboards, synthesizers and recent iPad music applications. The major difference between this and Battle is that the piano is brought to the forefront as a main instrument and features on the album’s strongest songs.
Aside from the similar musical approach, what principally lets the album down is its lyrics. There are several moments across the album when its lyrics and choice of words drift off into the wayward and often clichéd territory. For instance, ‘Rob The Bank’, a metaphor for forgiving a partner’s wrongdoings as long as they love them is grating and nonsensical:
Rob the bank,
Make a joke out of dyslexia,
Rob the bank,
Then pick your nose –
Other lines include “Knock me off my feet like heroin”, “Who let the cat out of the bag?” and “My computer thinks I’m gay” which are generic, mundane and sometimes bizarre. The fourth song, ‘Hold On To Me’ features a closing monologue, which pours over one’s existence and place in the universe. The sudden and clunky burst of string arrangements and Brian’s deadpan delivery takes away from one of the top songs of the album, which Brian admits was modelled on Rihanna’s global hit ‘Umbrella’. The spoken segment distracts from the catchy acoustic pop and R ’n’ B beat and drags it under its own weight.
Still, all is not lost on Loud Like Love. The album opens with the title track; a celebration of being in love. It starts the album off full of promise with its breezy and uplifting guitar riff that grounds the song as it builds momentum. The song matches up to the album artwork that bursts with colour and makes a statement. ‘A Million Little Pieces’ is lifted and carried by a forlorn piano that bids farewell to an oppressive situation. Similarly, the six minute ‘Begin The End’ features Placebo’s characteristic guitar chimes before breaking into its anguished chorus about ending a relationship.
There’s no doubt that this album will make its way into every Placebo fan’s collection; they have amassed a cult following over their career. In spite of drawbacks of the album, Brian Molko still maintains one of the most distinctive voices in music and holds his own as one of rock’s instantly identifiable frontmen. Nevertheless, irrespective of the band’s previous achievements and abilities, this album’s exploration of love is particularly lacking. The ten songs do attempt to capture different aspects of loving relationships and tortured souls but lack the words to connect on any deep level. The issues that they deal with have been addressed before in their music with a much richer and meaningful impact. From a man who has written some of the most twisted and heart-wrenching songs about love such as ‘Taste In Men’ or ‘My Sweet Prince’, a song such as ‘Exit Wounds’ sadly feels underdeveloped and disenchanting.
Last year I wrote an article following the release of their B3 EP, which questioned the band’s direction of more straight-forward rock and what the band may have in store for the future. In the same piece, I suggested that maybe it was time for them to reinvigorate what they deem the band to be whilst remaining honest to themselves and the band’s identity. It cannot detract from Placebo that they have outlasted many of their contemporaries, ditched their attention-grabbing fashion and lifestyles in favour of honouring their vision and mantra of not following musical trends. Nonetheless, what is apparent from their seventh album in their twenty-year career is that they are beginning to rethread their own territory and refraining from taking risks with their music. And it’s speaking volumes.