It’s really a case of personal choice, as with so many other things in music (ref. one of my recent posts). A first hearing of Brian Molko’s hyper-ventilated vocals, reminiscent of Feargal Sharkey with a high testosterone count, could put some off Placebo’s work for life: yet to me they are unusual and refreshing, maybe even exciting. Brian and Stefan Olsdal met by chance outside South Kensington tube in 1994, and were originally to call the group ‘Ashtray Heart’ after the Captain Beefheart song. The band have courted controversy by making no secret of their sexual orientations, which could be seen as a ploy calculated to play off against Brian’s ambiguous stage presence:
A lot of people actually do mistake me for a woman. I think that’s funny, and it’s even more funny if they’re homophobic, and it makes them think. I don’t like that whole gender issue. Who cares what we are, our sex lives and who we’re doing? I prefer to think people like our music and don’t give a damn about how we look. [Brian Molko, NY Rock, 1999]
Certainly, they nailed their colours very firmly to the mast with the eponymous LP, whence emanated the thrilling cuts Nancy Boy (a top ten hit in the UK) and Teenage Angst (FF 1996 #39), which just about managed to crack the top 30. As to the latter, slews of rapid guitar strumming and urgent drums lead to an articulate and strangely resigned view of a break-up at the drive-in, with a hint of relapse into drug abuse (‘I’ll stick to my needle, my favourite waste of time’). Through it all, there is the nihilistic vision of youth which could be misinterpreted as parody (‘Since I was born, I started to decay/Now nothing ever ever goes my way’), or as a reaffirmation of choice under duress.
Whichever, it underlines a stunning debut by a band who have since periodically reinforced by challenging accepted norms their twisted yet compelling vision (I was somewhat unnerved by the cover of their most recent disc Meds, featuring as it did what appeared to be a pubescent girl drowning).
A recent departure has been long-term drummer Steve Hewitt: however, the new line-up shows no sign of flagging.