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Aching Like An Empty Apartment At Midnight: Placebo’s Meds

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The androgynous glam rock/Britpop trio Placebo have hit their stride. Meds, their fifth album since their self-titled 1996 debut, displays the band’s maturity while showcasing their usual trademark staples: dark crash-and-burn lyrics, catchy guitar hooks and a throbbing bassline.

Fans will immediately gravitate toward the familiar Placebo sound of dance tracks like “Drag,” on which singer Brian Molko laments in his best Geddy Lee whine, “You’re always ahead of the rest/When I’m always on time,/You got A’s on your algebra tests/I failed and they kept me behind/I just gotta get off my chest/That I think you’re divine,/You’re always ahead of the rest/While I drag behind.”

Tracks like this one and the two preceding openers, “Meds” and “Infra-Red,” epitomize the classic Placebo pop song: Steve Hewitt’s drums steer the course, Stefan Olsdal’s bass spins the wheels, and Molko’s high-pitched melancholic croon mans the driver’s seat. The closing track, “Song to Say Goodbye,” is also reminiscent of “Bitter End,” the first single off their previous album Sleeping with Ghosts, with its fervent full-speed-ahead drumline and fierce, strumming guitar.

Also near the end of the album, “One Of A Kind” intersperses a blasting chorus with a curiously creepy and catchy guitar lick on the verses that sounds like gears being cranked on a machine, or like a metallic lid being popped by a can-opener.

However, the meat of Meds between the opening and closing tracks proves to be a departure from the band’s previous albums, in more ways than one. First and foremost, the ballads overshadow and outshine the dance tunes. The spare cry of the descending guitar melody in “Follow the Cops Back Home” aches like an empty apartment at midnight, while the lyrics paint a picture of a bleak, vice-ridden world:

           The call to arms was never true

            Time to imbibe, here’s to you

            I’ll tell you stories bruised and blue

            Of drum machines and landslides

            Just one more round before we’re through

            More psychedelic yuppie flu

            It’s such a silly thing to do

            And now we’re stuck on rewind

            Let’s follow the cops back home

            And rob their houses

The heartbreaking portrait of abused and broken souls in “Pierrot the Clown” is carried by orchestral strings and a tinkling music-box melody rather than by crunching guitars. Other soft-paced laments like “Blind, “Lazarus,” and “Broken Promise” feature piano and keyboards to accompany somber themes of betrayal and torn relationships. Another novel moment on this album is Molko’s use of voice distortion and a deep-breathing rap on the verses of “Space Monkey,” which drips with sensuality. Also noteworthy on Meds are Placebo’s collaborative guests: Alison Mosshart of The Kills lends her vocals to the title track, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe duets with Molko on “Broken Promise,” and the limited-edition copy of the album comes with a supplementary DVD featuring Placebo performing live with The Cure on their classic, “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep.”

Meds has also been re-released in the U.S. with new bonus tracks including the highly-requested cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” which previously appeared on an extra disc of covers packaged with Sleeping With Ghosts in 2003. All of these tracks endorse Placebo’s longevity as a band, proving that they continue to garner accolades with each release.

So if you forgot to get your Meds, it’s time to follow the doctor’s orders.