Placebo. Inert drug, therapy or procedure, which nevertheless presents therapeutic effects due to the psychological effects of the patient’s belief that he is being treated.
We live in a world surrounded by Placebos: from actions to pills that do little or nothing of what is expected, we feel safe in those small actions capable of making us feel better.
On this return to a home where I was so happy last year, I couldn’t arrange better to put my heart on the keyboard – and the words for your perusal.
It may have been almost a month, but February 2022 will always be marked by one of the best months of my life. From the perfect to the not-so-perfect: from getting live concerts again, with that immense blissful passion I haven’t known what it was like for almost two years, to catching COVID-19, the world completely changes when you’re in love – and that is definitely the best therapy in the world. The goosebumps, the songs, the smiles. Ironically: if almost fourteen years ago I had the chance of catching Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal – founding fathers and current members of british rock institution Placebo – in Lisbon for the first time, this year they bring us their latest work, “Never Let Me Go”. And it is with them and a real-life in hand that we will go through this record from end to end.
One sentence, multiple interpretations: whether it’s the chaotic world we live in and unnecessary wars raging all over the world, we have chosen love and passion: a safe place where any corner is perfect to send shivers down our bodies.
Placebo have always been this: from the rawest feeling to the loudest, they had the right word for what we were silently screaming. Like cats, they already have 7 lives to tell: from “Placebo” to “Loud Like Love“, classics like “Speak in Tongues”, “Pure Morning“, “Sleeping With Ghosts”, “Every You Every Me”, “Post Blue” and “I Know” chant in our head in unison, and phrases like “I long, I burn to touch you just the same”, “Cause soul mates never die”, “It’s in the water baby, It’s between you and me” are so memorable we sing blindly to the rhythm of our lives as if we were remembering in a pure and succinct way our lucky number – a safe haven for when we see it, we feel we are at the right door.
Nine years after their last album, “Loud Like Love”, the original line-up is back to don its chameleon skin and reinvent itself: Placebo have always had a very central role in Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal, but we’ll never be able to forget Steve Hewitt and Steve Forrest, who uniquely marked how a drum set would hit us in the body with an ever inexplicable impact. With the two in the foreground and another flood of talented musicians contributing to the band’s success, we arrive at “Never Let Me Go”. It’s a unique record, which feeds the nostalgia of those who have followed the band from the first minute to the tempestuous days of today.
Intoxicated by the rhythm, we are welcomed with “Forever Chemicals”, a sensual mix between different instruments who seem to come from another planet. We get tempestuous crescendos along with the dreams of Brian Molko, who leaves us with our hair standing up every time he speaks.
At the second intonation, the first single of this record: “Beautiful James” is almost a rock-electro ballad of modern times, with a lot of sex appeal at every stretch we hear. Either by the sensual rhythm with a lot of keyboards, guitars, drums, or by Molko’s always remarkable voice, phrases like “Bring me back to life, never let me go” or “Take me by the hand, as we cross through battlefields, nobody understands” won’t leave our heads. For the most in love, it is a beautiful way to say you are with the right person and you don’t want to wake up from this wonderful world called love.
As a true hug person, I feel touched by “Hugz”, where I had never thought about verses like “A hug is just another way of hiding your face”. In a raw and hard way, we get one of the most hardcore versions of the Londrina band, where the rock goes from alternative to mainstream, and the melancholic feeling starts to be sung and riffed loud and clear. If Soulmates Never Die, Rock Never Dies, definitely.
From ballad to an instrumental peak, we come to “Happy Birthday In The Sky”, the most typical Placebo song we have on the record. It’s not just years of livelihood we find in this piece: its experience, motivation, likes and dislikes, all in one monumental tune. In an interview with NME, “Happy Birthday In he Sky” becomes even more chilling – it’s a way of communicating with those who are no longer with us, in a heartfelt and nostalgic way. The feeling of loss, mixed with despair and longing. Alive? Always. Full of hope for the future, because it is these emotions that broaden our horizons and motivate us to be more and better every day in our lives. With each person we love and who are no longer here, but watching over us somewhere else. With each passing second, the rhythm increases, growing within us – and “Happy Birthday In The Sky” is an instant classic that deserves to be heard by everyone in its live setting.
We reach the fifth song, “The Prodigal”, a tune with an almost angelic tone where we leave this earth as if it were nothing, lost bestween its melancholy, belief and reflection, where we go without saying goodbye to our most loved ones and with a duty that is still missing something. What if we return to the world cleansed, with new hope and will to be alive? Molko and Olsdal pull us to the feeling and chill everything inside us in this excerpt that makes us reflect on all we are, will be and can still accomplish throughout our lives. It’s in fact so chilling it become a sort of whisper in our heads, capable of raising the hairs on our bodies.
And halfway through the record, we reach the moment of pure surveillance. It’s in “Surrounded By Spies” where we feel public, without privacy, with everything and everyone watching over us and knowing where we are at any time of the day. That microphone permission on our mobile phone, our friend who knows everything about us at any time of the day – and who appears in the most hidden places just when we are finally free. We see this kind of behaviour in any social network we have: just one story, one post or one like – our digital footprint is infinite, and any step can have inexplicable repercussions. The music is raw, with a fast and raw rhythmic crescendo, almost pressuring us to listen to it all the way through, as if it were controlling our brains. Big Brother (“The Bitter End”, anyone?) in this story ? Brian Molko and his unmistakable voice, as if he were controlling our mind and all our next movements and thoughts. We feel a pedagogical side of Placebo, with few nostalgic touches and more focused on the future of the band and its fans. And if this is the path, we guarantee it will be a success.
Small curiosity – a little over a month ago this music followed me at every step I took: dinner out? The music is playing in the restaurant, going to the cinema? It’s playing in the foyer, travelling? Yes, even at the airport. A scary good one – perhaps -, wanting to pull out the best in us.
With “Try Better Next Time”, Brian Molko comes in for the kill, with no half measures and no words left unsaid – do we want to talk about the end of the world at a pace that won’t get out of our heads? There’s no point in wasting too much time. It’s all a matter of time before the final decision is made by Mother Nature and everything we know turns into something else. The guitars, keyboards and drum patterns are intoned at just the right moment, vibrating throughout our soul and everything we know today.
More future, less past: we arrived at “Sad White Reggae”, a song filled with a unique and revealing rhythm, brimming with will and danceability. The crescendo is guaranteed with each step taken – and more than a song we feel a presence more physical than sonic.
We move forward with “Twin Demons” inside of us, where rock is the master of all our movements and everything passing us by. It’s a stronger way of making music, to the point where it leaves us in a sense. Remind us a bit of “Breathe Underwater” and “For What Is Worth”, from the “Battle For The Sun“ album.
Feel like disappearing from society? Look no further than “Chemtrails”. It just has the right dose to escape from your work safely and in the greatest peace in the world.
Don’t want to run away, but need a good ballad? “This Is What You Wanted” has that Placebo crescendo hidden inside it – and a piano always works miracles when you need a new vision in your life.
Coming to an end, “Went Missing” recaptures the best that was done on “Black Market Music”, bringing “Spite and Malice” on the head. Brian Molko beckons us with his voice in a monotone as if he’s giving us orders which are impossible to reject. And we blindly follow the commands of our God.
We close with a golden key, and a direct and concise criticism to all our society. “Fix Yourself” is a challenge, a mental turning point, where everything transmitted to us is embedded with logic and makes us consider about how we can be more and better. We have to change for the better, reflect on what we are and what we can become if we keep some of our toxic attitudes. And this is called evolution: and the electronic and digital pace messes with everything we are.
“Never Let Me Go“ is exactly what we expected from it: the return of Placebo to what they do best, with a direct connection to our lives and what we go through in our present and future. The moment needs love and a lot of togetherness – and we don’t want to let go of this feeling. A WtMM recommendation.