Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Placebo (1996)

This may have been the last decent vinyl album I bought before farsighted music biz Nostradami declared the medium dead and forevermore fit only for saaad mylar-bagged trainspotters with creases ironed in their underpants. I say decent vinyl album here to mean one which played fine and which hadn't been pressed on vinyl distilled from recycled squeezy bottles - as was the case with albums I bought by both Nine Inch Nails and the Spice Girls which sounded like they had been mastered on a Woolworths C60 found at the bottom of an old suitcase; and there's probably some kind of poetry in there somewhere, Placebo being a cross between Nine Inch Nails and the Spice Girls, a bit.

I understand Brian Molko to be something of a tool - according to the testimony of at least one friend - and I additionally have the problem of trying hard not to recall their subsequent transformation into one of those turdy indie festival mainstays beloved of Jo Whiley and similar vessels of corporate spontaneity, particularly with that fucking abominable friend with weed single, whatever it was called; so I'm restoring my ears to an earlier setting, back to when they played Nancy Boy on Top of the Pops causing me to flounce down to the record shop and nab this before the place was converted into a branch of Iceland. I may be remembering wrongly, but mainstream rock had spent the previous couple of years turning itself back into bumfluff heavy metal but without either the tunes or the sense of humour - an endless parade of shuffling Barrys wiping their noses on their sleeves and jangling out a few vaguely baggy chords during the metalwork lesson. Rock was succumbing to testosterone poisoning and this seemed momentarily like an antidote - not only joyously faggy, but joyously faggy with a terrifying attitude problem.

Placebo's strength was in wringing something so catchy and hooky from what, on close inspection, was actually kind of self-involved and cranky, a glam post-grunge drone of oddball guitar snob chords with more than a whiff of Albini about it; and doing it without the lumberjack shirts or BO. In other words it was the contrast between hard and soft - the bruised intensity of Albini's Shellac, yet unashamedly effeminate. As an album, this one feels like some sort of emotional breakdown with tunes. It's all over the shop and yet remains beautiful and elegant from start to finish.

It was downhill from this point on, from what I heard, but it probably doesn't matter. Not many bands start off this well.

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