Release Date: Jun 9, 2009
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
A new sound for new fans For a band that’s long reveled in shadows of cheap hotel rooms reeking of stale cigarette smoke, releasing an album 13 years after its debut may actually yield good luck. After finding success stateside with 2006’s Meds and losing drummer Steve Hewitt to mysterious circumstances, Placebo debuts a new sound on Battle, with a punchier, heavier and more stable assault than ever. The threesome, along with Tool-producer Dave Bottrill, deliver a brightly focused, 13-track collection that hard-core fans will pan and newbies will adore.
Placebo's career is a living, breathing example of the power of a niche audience. After making a mild splash in the glam-friendly Brit-pop aftermath -- they ratcheted up the gothic androgyny of Suede, straightening out the guitars while piling up the makeup, vocal tics, and tortured poetry -- the group settled into an appreciative cult that never seemed to penetrate the pop consciousness on either side of the ocean. Battle for the Sun, the band's sixth album and first with drummer Steve Forrest, is given a steel-reinforced production by David Bottrill, a sound that could conceivably be placed on mainstream rock radio if that format still existed, or if it were used as a vehicle for something else than Placebo's music, which remains resolutely pitched toward a niche audience, no matter how many little frills of horns or farting synths grace their guitar grind.
A heavier take on their gothic moan-rock. Still bafflingly popular, they're this summer's busiest band with 24 festivals to play. Brian Molko will no doubt be singing through clenched teeth by year's end..
Rarely does a band release an album over a decade into its career that has so much pressure with it. Placebo’s Battle for the Sun faces a triple threat: It is the band’s first album with a new (and 22-year-old) drummer, Steve Forrest; it is also the band’s first Vagrant Records release (after leaving Virgin); and it is being released at the same time as Virgin releases Placebo’s back catalog. Placebo’s adversary in this battle is clearly themselves.
Placebo have been kicking about for 13 years – whether that’s lucky or unlucky will depend on your musical persuasion. By my reckoning, that either makes them absolute fucking legends or those twats who crash your party and refuse to leave. Personally, I’d like to think it’s the former. By nature of my age I love a bit of ‘old school’, and I count Placebo’s first three albums among my all time favourites.
For better or worse, Battle For the Sun is further proof that when you're listening to Placebo album, you definitely know it's Placebo. That in and of itself is something of an accomplishment considering the turnover that preceded it: longtime drummer Stephen Hewitt (whose most notable contribution to the group was letting a drum machine fill in on "Pure Morning") was replaced by a twentysomething refugee from a California pop-punk group, the band signed with Vagrant, and the group hired nu-metal maven David Bottrill (Tool, Staind, Godsmack) to produce the record. As you could guess from all of that, Battle For the Sun is meant as a rejuvenation of the Placebo brand-- the sort of thing where they're gonna "get back to basics" and just crank out the no-frills rock action.
Critically acclaimed overseas since their debut album hit British record stores back in 1996, the occasionally turbid and consistently androgynous sounds of neo-glam trailblazers Placebo never truly caught on stateside. Despite consistent adoration from the U.K. press, the band was quick to move away from the alt-rock crush of the eponymously titled Placebo (for which the band had drawn several Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana comparisons), and instead went in the direction of a glam/punk hybrid.
Though they’ve garnered famous fans like David Bowie and Michael Stipe, these U.K. glam-punk guys have never broken out in the States. Post?Adam Lambert, might America be ready for the Placebo effect? The trio’s latest, Battle for the Sun is stocked with hard-charging riffs and frontman Brian Molko’s androgynous squeals. One song even has funky horns.