Album review

Placebo : Sleeping With Ghosts
Elevator / Hut

Placebo : Sleeping With GhostsPlacebo have reached the decisive fourth album stage, a period that has seen the most established bands fall: Bush's fourth venture Golden State saw the band plunge headlong into a downward spiral followed swiftly by the resignation of their guitarist Nigel Pulsford. On a similar level, Oasis' Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants significantly contributed to their meteoric nose-dive in the opinion polls.
    Fourth albums can also signify a dramatic change in direction: Tori Amos' From The Choir Girl Hotel saw her drop her single piano for a full band with a dance-oriented direction, and who could forget the shock of Radiohead's Kid A?
    However, Placebo's Sleeping With Ghosts is a comparatively down to earth album that maintains the general direction of their music over the last three albums, with the odd bit of fine-tuning for good measure.

Many people predicted a more dance influenced album following singer Brian Molko's guest DJ appearances. However, as the prominent single The Bitter End suggests, this album is fundamentally guitar based. There are of course the usual handful of songs with a more experimental edge: Something Rotten has a sedated dance tone and the admirable English Summer Rain exchanges guitars for samples, which seamlessly loop over each other, complimented perfectly by Molko's lyrics; "Always stays the same, nothing ever changes."
    These lyrics could well be the epitaph for the whole album, with the customary hammering of guitars, notably on the philosophical Plasticine which is one of Sleeping With Ghosts' distinct peaks. Special Needs is another outstanding track that that will surely be in the running to be a forthcoming single, blending a highly addictive tune with a moving story delivered by one of Molko's most coherent lyrical performances to date; it's a textbook demonstration of a band on top of their game.
    Placebo have progressively attempted to elude their early 'pop grunge' sound that encompassed early singles such as Bruise Pristine and They Don't Care About Us. Whilst they successfully managed to avoid this through the substantial sound of album number three, Black Market Music, there are elements of their early resonance that haunt this latest disc, particularly in the form of Second Sight, which sounds as though it was recorded in a tin can. Whilst this raw approach was an appealing charm to their early work, the song sounds out of place on this album.

A distinct edge has always set Placebo above their counterparts, despite gradually calming down since their self-titled debut release. They always seem like a band with a lot to prove, and there has always been a defensive slant to their music which is far more interesting than the angry and bitter tone that consumes many bands of their ranking.

:: Paul Newbold

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