Placebo – Review of ‘Never Let Me Go’: a renaissance rock record

Brian Molko recently said NME that the band were craving a new direction after a grueling ’20 Years of Placebo’ greatest hits tour that took them around the world between 2016 and 2018.” After playing your most radio-friendly material for two and a half years, it’s not too unimaginable to think that someone would want to go out and do something that sounds more like Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’ or Kanye’s ‘Yeezus’: something more extreme, more brutal [and] experimental, which explores the darkest recesses of our emotional landscape.

‘Never Let Me Go’, the British icons’ eighth album and first in almost a decade, is quite the departure the frontman suggests, while still being perfectly listenable and retaining enough of the rock-noir DNA of the group to feel like a long-awaited homecoming. The tone is set by the distorted opener ‘Forever Chemicals’, a Depeche-Mode-meets-Nine-Inch-Nails clash of cyber-punk, electronica and scuzzy rock that sees Molko deliver more of his fabulous nihilism:”It’s alright when nothing matters / It’s alright when nobody cares”.

You won’t find “Nancy Boy” here, but lots of wonderful new oddities. Lead single “Beautiful James” showcases the band’s flair for spacey, euphoric synth-pop, while “The Prodigal” is a bittersweet orchestral gem. ‘Went Missing’ offers widescreen post-rock and closer ‘Fix Yourself’ a dose of The Cure’s ‘Disintegration’-era gothic gloom as Molko soberly concludes: “Go fix yourself / Instead of someone else”.

This account along with the others ties the record together. “Happy Birthday In The Sky” is written from the perspective of having lost a loved one to a police bullet, while “Surrounded By Spies” addresses the culture of surveillance of our physical and online lives. The dynamic “Try Better Next Time,” meanwhile, happily imagines the planet after the impending climate apocalypse, where the few remaining animals dance in the forest away from humans and we are forced to “grow fins and return to the water”.

The result is Placebo’s best and most cohesive album since 2006’s dark and heady ‘Meds’ – and may prove their most rejuvenating since 2003’s ‘Sleeping With Ghosts’. ‘Never Let Me Go’ is a veritable rebirth disc. It’s not ‘Metal Machine Music’ or ‘Yeezus’, but a record that finds Placebo inspired and ready for a new era, reinventing rock veterans for the modern era.

Details

Release date: March 25

A record label: So Recordings/Elevator Lady/Rise

Virginia F. Goins