Sound: Placebo's latest CD is not such a new release as it is a re-release of the March 2006 release Meds. The American re-release on Virgin Records comes at a time when the band realized its popularity via the growing number of hits on MySpace. While the band has been around 10 years or so, it's easy to understand why Placebo is connecting with new fans. Meds is a CD takes on a very different sound than the band's mid-'90s more straightforward rock sound, and instead opts for a sleek, synth-oriented collection of tracks. It was a smart move on the part of Placebo, who is able to do justice to the New Wave sound that some bands have attempted unsuccessfully.
Between the sleek addition of keyboards in most of the tracks and the Pet Shop Boys-like vocals of Brian Molko, the band does a fine job of creating an album that could easily have fit in the modern rock rotation a few decades ago. The songwriting might not be a homerun in each track, but there are quite a few standouts that deserve the attention they have garnered since the debut release of Meds. Infra-Red is easily the best track on the CD, with it's dark and slightly creepy synthesized hook that runs through it. The chorus is equally is catchy and the song definitely highlights the best of Placebo's creativity. It doesn't hurt that there is an interesting story behind the song's creation: the lyrics were written backwards, going from the last line to the first. While the music wasn't composed in the same way, there is a nice effect that runs through the outro loop that sounds like a record being played backwards. The vocals aren't affected by the loop, but the music beneath takes on a whole different life because of the synth effect.
If you purchased Meds the first time it came out in March of 2006, you'll definitely want to check out the 3 new tracks that were added this time around. A slowed-down version of Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill is a notable addition, particularly because the emotional song takes on an even more solemn feel. The vocals are at the forefront in Placebo's version, with very little instrumental adornment. A piano line echoes the vocal line for a while, and it's a subtle addition that is extremely effective. By choosing not to weigh down the song with unneeded extras, Placebo has actually made the song its own.
There are a few tracks that just don't live up to what the band is capable of offering. Drag immediately follows Infra-Red, so it's already at a disadvantage by standing next to the best track. The track just follows a fairly predictable format and gets repetitive at times. The band likes to repeat lyrics in the chorus in other songs, but in Drag it just gets a bit tedious. Even though there are a few generic tracks here and there, Meds is still an interesting listen thanks to Molko's charismatic vocals and the intriguing synth-piano combo included in most songs. // 8
Lyrics: Placebo's lyrics range from powerful to downright strange, which is likely one of the appeals of the band. In one moment you'll get a heartfelt emotional plea, and the next Molko is singing about playing dominoes in drag. It's hard to think of any band that moves so effortlessly between such different topics, so you've got to give them that.
In Blind, Molko offers up some unusual lyrics to describe his passionate devotion to someone. He sings, If I could tear you from the ceiling; And guarantee a source divine; Rid you of possessions fleeting; Remain your funny valentine. You just don't hear love songs like that very much with contemporary rock bands and it's nice to hear a little poetic flair from time to time.
Getting back to the cross-dressing apes, you'll find a little bit of that in Space Monkey. Molko sings, Space Monkey in the place to be; Riding in a rocket to a planet of sound; Shooting the moon; Playing dominoes in drag. The lyrics truly do go in a bit of every direction, but they do peak your interest with the odd topics. In general, primary problem area of the CD comes when Molko repeats a line over and over again throughout the song, a style used in songs like Let's Follow The Cops Back Home and Post Blue. // 8
Overall Impression: Placebo has really perfected it's sound over the years, and Meds is a CD worthy of re-release. If you're not so fond of synthesizers taking the lead in tracks, Meds is going to be a tough sell. But even though the guitars do take a backseat a lot of the time, the songwriting is what stands out about the CD. Songs like Infra-Red instantly create a mood, much more so than the band's earlier hits like Nancy Boy.
In comparison to some of the harder metal bands these days, Placebo will seem a bit more on the pop side. But where it may be lacking in the metal area, it makes up with some unique melodies and song choices. It's hard to say if the 3 new bonus songs will be alluring enough to get fans to buy the album for the second time since its initial release, but newer listeners should find the overall package satisfying. // 8