‘Nancy Boy’. ‘Shit Brickhouse’. ‘Every You, Every Me’. Even their most avid fan would probably agree that Placebo reached their dour, dingy, distinctive peak around 15 years ago. Back then, their brand of dark pop rock was refreshing, powerful and touched a nerve with their teenage rebel fan base. I should know: I was one of them, and for a time Brian Molko’s effeminate, semi-gothic leanings and melodramatic vocals spoke to me in a way few others could. After the dull, droning sounds of -Special K’ came along, though, my Placebo love affair was never quite the same.
Battle For The Sun, however, certainly isn’t dull and droning; you could even say Brian has a hint of his early angst back. ‘The Never-Ending Why’ asks the same old angst-infected questions that infused Molko’s early work, set to a flowing, clinking soundtrack. ‘Devil In The Details’ sounds like the Placebo of old; a tense yet tuneful piece of mid-paced rock that sounds throughout like it’s about to explode but never quite does. ‘Julien’ – advice for a struggling friend – plays off weighted mid-song pauses and lyrical adaptations of common expressions before a riff-heavy close informs the victim he’s a “slow motion suicide“.
In ‘Bright Lights’ Molko croons about his crazy life of old, the irritation he caused some, and his need to find a “middle way“. Their time may have passed, and things might not ever be what they were, but, in Battle For The Sun, Placebo finally seem to have taken a good step back in the right direction. It’s not a world-beater, but it’s certainly no ageing band’s last hoorah either. A refreshing return to form that Placebo fans of old will lap up nostalgically.