Nobody was aware of it at the time but 1996 marked the year of a particular revolution. Everything occurred the moment when three ambiguous boys appeared in what seemed to be the living animation of a Salvador Dali painting equipped with sexual images galore. The infamous music video was Nancyboy and those three ambiguous boys were Brian Molko (vocals, guitar), Stefan Olsdal (bass), and Steven Hewitt (drums), forming the best rock band of the past decade, Placebo.
The grunge era had died in 1994 with the tragic suicide of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, leaving the frustrated teens of the world with a void. Placebo gave those confused teens another chance to feel part of a congregation once more. Soon, their fans got rid of the dull flannels to don faery wings, feather boas, tiaras, and badly dyed black bobs. This so-called “dress code” was meant to symbolize the teens’ identity crisis and the need for them to distinguish themselves from the crowd while expressing their own personality.
What the media failed to notice at the time was the sheer brilliance of the songs while they focused more on the band members’ image. The self-entitled debut album was the perfect manifesto for any introverted loner adolescent. With songs like Teenage-Angst, with the famous lyric: “Since I was born I started to decay,” and the exceptional Hang on to Your IQ, that basically had insecurity sprawled all over it: “I’m a fool whose tool is small, it’s so minuscule, it’s no tool at all,” Placebo were the answer for anyone that battled with the incessant drama of uneasiness and diffidence.
Now, ten years later, Placebo still manages to strike a cord within the core of all the confused souls with tears through their hearts. Their latest album Meds brings the band back to its rock roots, leaving behind the electronic infusions found within their past works. The album exhibits superb music combined with skillful songwriting. Meds is one of those albums that it’s difficult to find a song that you don’t like, because they’re all fundamentally brilliant in their own way. Take the nostalgic sounding ballad, Pierrot the Clown that evokes bittersweet emotions within the listener with lyrics on the verge of sounding like miniature confessions, “When I dream, I dream your lips. When I dream, I dream your kiss.” While darker emotions are explored in songs like Meds, Broken Promise, and Infra-Red, where a sense of revenge, anger, regret, and disappointment tinge the notes and lyrics.
The beauty of Placebo’s music is that although the topics or themes found within their songs could be seen as universal but at the same time personal interpretation and experience enables them to transform into one’s intimate thoughts put forth in notes. There’s a song for every suitable mood, event, or feeling, slowly becoming the soundtrack of people’s lives.
To celebrate their ten years of success Placebo have decided to re-release their debut album along with a DVD. The band hasn’t yet revealed whether the re-edition of their debut album will feature the band playing their own songs today (meaning the drums would feature Steve Hewitt instead of then-drummer Robert Schulbert), or whether the debut album will merely be a digitally re-mastered edition of the same album that was released in 1996. This doubt will surely be answered in July when this special edition is due to hit stores.
Throughout their musical career, very little notice has been taken on the brilliant instrumentals that the band has released (mostly as B-sides to their singles). Instrumentals are always a risk, because when you lack a catchy lyric to capture the listener’s attention then the music is all you have to rely on to covey an emotion. But instrumentals such as Ion, H.K. Farewell, The Innocence of Sleep, Hug Bubble, and Bullet-Proof Cupid, have marked the band’s capacity to create superb music, putting them in the field of not only valid rock musicians, but as instrumental composers as well. Who hasn’t felt the inability to breathe while listening to the creepy Oxygen Thief? Placebo have the extraordinary skill to portray a feeling through the use of unsophisticated instruments, something that very few rock bands, or musicians in general lack today.
After ten years of Placebo, what remains today isn’t the band’s so-called image of “ambiguity” or “libertinage” but more so the fact that this was the band that dared to make us embrace the darker side of our hearts, the ones who made us feel powerful in our insecurity, and ultimately the ones who instead of giving us the answers created more questions in our undeniable quest to peel away the confusion that lingers in our psyches. As long as a band like Placebo exists, the introverts of the world can rejoice in having a voice.