Vocalist and guitarist Brian Molko and bassist Stefan Olsdal who make up Placebo, return, this time as a duo, following the departure of drummer Steve Forrest in 2015. It's been almost nine years since they released 2013's Loud Like Love. On 25th March, Placebo release their eighth studio album, Never Let Me Go, on SO Recordings. In a post-pandemic world and the state of our current times, they have certainly had a wealth of material to draw from.
Kicking off with the industrial-sounding Forever Chemicals, with its venomous, mocking vocals 'With friends like you, who needs enemies?' and clanking visceral rhythms, this is a brutal start to the album. 'It's all good where nothing matters.' They're back! By complete contrast, follow-up track Beautiful James, their first single in five years, has an innocence surrounding it. Molko sings about the cruelty and injustice in the world, '…and it's exactly why I stay, beautiful James, I don't want to wake you'. Who can blame him? This is a haunting rock lullaby with its confident bass and fluid harmonies.
From the opening notes of a plaintive guitar, Happy Birthday In the Sky is pure and heart-breaking. This song is about people who are no longer with us, and the emotions ooze through like blood. With its sonic walls of sound and tear-jerking refrain of 'I want my medicine', get your tissues ready.
The Prodigal is stirring with its Beatles-style orchestration that kicks off this hopeful prayer. 'When I return, prodigal son, this wounded world will be as one'. This is an ode to optimism and renewal, something that is much needed in the present day. The album cover alludes to this too, depicting a beach that survived pollution and became even more beautiful, a scene that inspired Molko.
Surrounded By Spies deals with the increasing use of the internet, mobile phones and worldwide CCTV cameras that increasingly erode our privacy. It's a shrewd song that pulls you into its paranoia-inducing vortex. It brings to mind the intensity of George Orwell's prophetic book 1984.
Try Better Next Time deals with the end of humanity, but not of the world. It's a sardonic narrative of what could happen, all delivered in an 80s synth sounding pop song. Hugz is visceral and on fire, whilst Sad White Reggae is cinematic and catchy. Other tracks worth mentioning are Chemtrails with its driving rhythm, whilst This Is What You Wanted is elegiac with a persistent piano and tragic lyrics foretelling a dystopian society. 'This is what you wanted; this is here and now'.
Never Let Me Go very much summarises the state of the world in recent years, the all-consuming chaos that has pervaded. It feels like the title is the world saying 'Never Let Me Go' as it deals with global crises, a sense of desolation and fear in the air. But, as is with the human spirit, it also shows there is hope to be had and the importance of connection.
Placebo always had that ability to challenge and move you simultaneously. This rousing comeback pulls no punches as it seeks to restore your faith in humanity.