They’re a strange bunch, Placebo. Capable of producing some truly cutting-edge dark pop (Pure Morning, Nancy Boy) and equally efficient at turning out some real sub-goth dirge, they’ve never quite delivered on their early promise. Nevertheless, a new Placebo album is still an event, partly due to Brian Molko’s tendency to give a good quote or two, thus ensuring the band’s permanent presence in the music press.
Molko seems to repel as many people as he enchants, and maybe this is to blame for the cool reception afforded to the band’s previous album Black Market Music. This is unfair, as with each album Placebo have experimented and developed their sound, and Sleeping With Ghosts is no exception.
Sadly, this time round, the experimentation isn’t too successful. Placebo have always been at their best with balls-out, energetic rock, such as Nancy Boy. Yet on Sleeping With Ghosts, they seem content to concentrate on twisted, morose ballads, while spreading all manner of electronic sounds over Jim Abbiss’ (The Music, Massive Attack) production.
It’s frustrating, because some of the music on Sleeping With Ghosts is Placebo’s finest. The opening instrumental Bulletproof Cupid is an exhilarating two minutes, and a reminder of how good Molko’s often overlooked bandmates can be. Similarly, both Second Sight and The Bitter End are angry and bitter songs with Molko spitting out some bile filled lyrics. The effect is just terrific.
Yet there’s too much melancholy here to listen to in one sitting. Something Rotten is overloaded with electronic effects that are obviously meant to sound dark and mysterious, yet just ends up sounding unlistenable. Molko’s voice too, never the most lovely of things, is particularly irritating here, having been dragged through the effects mincer.
Even worse, there’s a distinct lack of memorable tunes. Perhaps that’s intentional – after all, does Molko want milkmen whistling his songs? – but it would be nice to have some light to balance the almost interminable shade. Tracks such as Plasticine and Special Needs seem to wander in politely without making any real mark.
However, the title track is a wonderfully atmospheric song which shows off Abbiss’ production to the very best effect, and the final two tracks finish the record on a suitably dramatic end. Protect Me From What I Want is a mid-paced ballad with some intriguing lyrics. It’s overshadowed though by Centrefolds, possibly the best thing on the album. Stately piano accompanies Molko singing “I refuse to let you die…be mine” like his life depends on it.
So another frustrating offering from Placebo. They’re capable of being one of the best bands around, yet always just fall short of the mark. Fans will lap this up, but casual observers may be best advised to wait for the singles compilation.