Overall Score: 8/10/10 Songwriting: 8/10 Musicianship: 7/10 Artist Growth: 9/10 Pros: Cons:
Not a name we hear much these days, but maybe that’s about to change.
Having not released an album since 2013’s Loud Like Love, the band have done some extensive touring both in support of that and a greatest hits record. When that finished, singer/guitarist Brian Molko and bassist Stefan Olsdal decided to hit the studio to record something they had never done before, effectively working backwards and programming the drums themselves until deciding well into the recording process that actually maybe they’d be better off getting touring drummer Matthew Lunn to lay down the beats.
Around this time a certain pandemic hit the planet and everything changed. Never Let Me Go was originally scheduled for release in summer 2020, yet here we are in March 2022. It was a postponement that allowed Brian to re-write and record vocals for no less than 3 tracks, explaining that he “wanted to capture the confusion of what it’s like to be alive today, the feeling of being lost, always walking in a labyrinth, continuously being overwhelmed by information and opinions.”
This seems to have worked as this is possibly the most relatable Placebo album to date.
Forever Chemicals opens the album and sounds exactly like anyone would expect Placebo to sound. There is no doubt who we are listening to, but that’s not to say they sound the same as their self-titled debut. This is a more mature Placebo, a more travelled Placebo, this is Placebo after they have lived more of a life. This is not the Placebo that told Milton Keynes Bowl in the 90s they were all terribly dressed. Here is a Placebo that embraces that Milton Keynes Bowl has come together and has more in common than it thinks.
Beautiful James continues the vibe and Hugz is possibly the album highlight, mainly due to that vocal hook of “a hug is just another way of hiding your face”, which was possibly the most genius lyric of 2022 until it was revealed to be ripped from a Dr. Who episode and a Peter Capaldi one at that!
The Prodigal managed to use a string arrangement without it detracting from the song itself and, whilst on a similar subject, although this is a very synth record it manages to not feel like a synth record. Surrounded By Spies feels like a soundtrack somehow, perhaps it’s the repetitive monotony of it, it just feels like something you would hear behind a film or TV show, yet you would look it up afterwards.
Try Better Next Time is the shortest song on the album and perhaps the song that feels most like old-school Placebo, but fits right in with the rest of the material and Sad White Reggae is possibly the most disco Placebo have ever sounded.
It’s worth noting that despite comparisons to other genres and previous releases by the band, every song on this album sounds like it fits with every other song which sound like they were recorded by Placebo. We’re not talking about how Song 2 or Coffee And TV didn’t sound like anything else Blur had ever done, these songs fit not only into this album, but into the band’s back catalogue as a whole without retreading old ground. Chemtrails drives along nicely while piano led This Is What You Wanted is the album’s ballad and Molko performs it with aplomb.
By the time album closer Fix Yourself comes around, with its classic line of “I’m bored of your Caucasian Jesus”, it’s difficult not to think this is the most accomplished Placebo record to date, without the band really having to try too hard. Molko himself has stated, “it remains imperative that each listener discovers their own personal story within our songs – I really don’t want to tell anyone how to feel”, but we definitely feel something even if it’s just from one track and at the end of the day, isn’t that what music is about?
Never Let Me Go releases on March 25 via So Recordings.
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