Placebo Return With First New Album In 9 Years, “Never Let Me Go”
On March 25th, British rock band Placebo released their first new album in nine years! Almost 30 years into their career, Placebo put out Never Let Me Go as a timely piece of social commentary, much like they have throughout their entire career. On the album, frontman Brian Molko has said “I’m as psychologically brutalized by the last two years, as is anybody who has a heart enough to care … where I sleep two or three hours a night, for two or three months.” In addition, Molko has said that over the course of the past few years, “I began to ponder the countless ways in which our privacy has been eroded and stolen since the introduction worldwide of CCTV cameras that now employ racist facial recognition technologies; the rise of the internet and the smartphone, which has turned practically every user into a paparazzo and a spectator in their own life, and how we have mostly all offered up personal information to enormous multinationals whose sole intent is to exploit us.”
This mentality not only channeled into the lyrics of the record, but it also affected the sound as well. “Never Let Me Go opens with a mind-boggling sound,” which turns out to be an iPad drum machine. However, the industrial sound it brings helps the opening track “Forever Chemicals” hit harder than it otherwise would. This experimentation is prevalent through much of the first half of the album, and admittedly, the production takes a bit of a downturn until the last few tracks. That will come around again later, though. For the beginning of the record, Molko and partner Stefan Olsdal provide heavy-hitting rock instrumentals mixed with some experimental synthesizers and electronic instruments. On tracks like lead single “Beautiful James,” “Hugz,” and “Surrounded By Spies,” the electronic elements that Placebo meld with their hard rock focus create a palpable tension that moves the album forward with ease.
The second half of the album doesn’t fully maintain the power of the first half, but it does show that Placebo is still capable of consistency. The three track run after “Surrounded By Spies” is solid, just not as strong as the first six track on the album. The pacing of those first six is impeccable, but the pacing of the last seven tracks is a little off by comparison. It’s consistent, but it doesn’t go on as well-paced of an emotional roller coaster.
All that being said, however: the songwriting on this is incredible. Whether or not you agree with Molko’s assertions on modern life is immaterial. In fact, he wants it to be immaterial. He has said “it remains imperative that each listener discovers their own personal stories within our songs – I really don’t want to tell anyone how to feel.” What these songs mean for one listener they won’t mean for another, and that is telling of the strength of a songwriter. There are plenty of songs in the same vein as most of the tracks on Never Let Me Go where the songwriter is trying to tell their feelings rather than elicit different feelings from their listeners. Commendation is due to Molko and Olsdal for their focus on the audience in their songwriter while still putting out what they want to put out.
It’s also important to note that Never Let Me Go is an album that is in between drummers, as Steve Forrest left the band in 2015. However, the drum production on this album is incredible. The drums sound incredible, and they fit each song perfectly. There is nothing better than great drums, and Never Let Me Go has them. In addition to the experimentation in the synthesizers, the steadiness of the drums allows Molko’s lyrics to come to the front and round out the songs. Not all of the lyrics are winners, but most of them are incredibly poignant observations from Molko on the state of the universe.
All in all, Never Let Me Go is a solid return for one of the more influential British alternative bands. “In the mid-’90s, back when non-binary icons weren’t realistically dreamt of, [Molko] spoke for those who felt alienated by blokey Britpop, channeling glam-goth androgyny, grungy sonics and pop savvy for an alternative vision which struck a genuinely international chord.” Never Le Me Go is another notch in their discography towards this purpose, and it’s fantastic. I can’t wait to see what Molko and Olsdal do next. Check it out below, and let us know what you think!