Placebo: The Bois are Back

 

If it wasn’t for Brian Molko, there’s a reasonable chance that I would currently be a 27-year-old virgin… But, as luck would have it, a decade and a half ago Molko strutted into the limelight, decked out in glitter and furs, and posited the femme boi as the premiere sexual desire of the angsty, parents-hating, part-time suicidal alt teen girl.  Even later in my life, a more refined take on “The Bri Boi” allowed me the opportunity to introduce women who had yet to experience much outside of the cargo-shorted suburbs something a little “more dangerous,” and a lot less lame.  In fact, seeing a nail-varnish-less Molko on Placebo’s latest DVD makes me feel about 95% better about currently not having artificially coloured nails myself for the first time in 16 years (not because I decided on an image change, but simply because it chipped off and I’ve been lazy about repairing the situation).  So, Brian, thank you for that.

However, like most who remember seeing the completely sexually ambiguous Molko in the video for Placebo’s “Pure Morning” on MTV back in ’98, it’s been a few years since I’ve had tabs on the band.  I was actually okay with Brian’s short hair… however, once they began touring with Linkin Park and drummer Steve Hewitt was replaced with some American (Steve Forrest) I kind of lost interest.  And with the cancellation of their last US tour, I didn’t even bother checking out their latest (2009’s Battle for the Sun).  But when I got an E-mail informing me that Eagle Rock Entertainment (best known for their “classic rock” concert DVDs… make what you will of that) would be releasing their latest concert DVD (We Come in Pieces, due 11/1), I was a bit intrigued to catch up with my adolescent saviors of yesteryear.

 

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(If we were on the other side of the pond, no explanation of Placebo would be necessary.  However, I’m guessing that to many Philthy readers “Placebo” is not a household name.  Placebo’s claim to fame is that they could both write brilliant pop songs and present an aggressively androgynous and confrontational gender identity to a mass audience.  If you’re thinking, “Oh, like Lady Gaga,” then you’re about 10,000-light years from Molko and crew, who are essentially Sonic Youth, had they been a product of T. Rex and Weimar Berlin.  This was neo-Glam, propelled by high-class drugs, that was as set on offending as it was on enthralling… both of which were successful.)

I guess it should come as no surprise that the prettiest boi of our generation, even years after his prime, still never looks anything less than exquisite on-screen.  But Brian Molko and his life-partner (Stefan Olsdal), along with new-comer Steve Forrest, on Battle for Brixton (the main feature of We Come in Pieces) appear as the kind of legitimate rock gods that both the digital music revolution and the current Western economy seems to have rendered a practical impossibility.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Alex Weston and Julie Jakobek (the masterminds behind the band’s 2004 Soulmates Never Die DVD and the best concert DVD of the past decade) have returned as producers.  (In fact, the only complaint I can muster for We Come in Pieces, setlist aside, is that it is more or less a carbon copy of the Soulmates Never Die aesthetic.)  While Soulmates Never Die captures the band on a French arena stage in front of 16,000, We Come in Pieces has them playing to a slightly smaller crowd (around 5,000), but the transgressive and epic nature of their sound is smacked hard onto the face of the viewer of either DVD.  I’m even willing to suggest that no video artists of the past ten years have been able to capture the true nature of their musical subjects more impressively than Weston and Jakobek and that there have not been any music DVDs to capture the excitement of their subject’s live show than these two.

We Come in Pieces begins with “Nancy Boy,” Placebo’s Glamthem that is as catchy as “Rebel Rebel,” but more delightfully offensive than “Walk on the Wild Side,” which had been absent from the band’s set for years.  While hardcore fans of Placebo may have resented the fact that the band did away with it years ago, the fact that they’re now willing to use it as the preface to their legacy makes it hard for oldschool fans to deny that they don’t still have some sexually political fight left in them.  Although the band’s early years aren’t abundantly present on this latest release, “Every You Every Me” and “Teenage Angst” lose little in their contemporary translation.

Although I had not previously heard any of the tracks from Battle for the Sun and I was very quick to not like them, they’re actually not bad (or really that different from the tracks that made us fall in love with the band a decade and a half ago).  “Breathe Underwater” has the bois sounding like an amphetamine-addled R.E.M.  “Bright Lights” boasts the same biting, space-age minimalism as “Slave to the Wage.”  And “The Never-Ending Why” is just as eloquently pessimistic as anything from their debut.

 

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However, the majority of the disc’s highlights come from the band’s middle-ages (Sleeping with Ghosts and Meds), when many of their early supporters had begun to prematurely shout “sellouts” and when individuals less critical of heteronormativity began to see the appeal of Placebo as simply that of a brilliant rock band.  Whether balladic (“Special Needs”), eruptive (“The Bitter End”), or pensively dramatic (“Infra-Red”), the charm of the band can only be denied by the most pretentious and least actually-in-touch-with the beauty of Rock’N’Roll.

And how has our little, 5’4” anti-hero stood up?  Well, Brian’s hair has grown out and he’s currently resembling something between a dandy and Parisian hustler… so I’d say pretty well.