Album review: Placebo – Never Let Me Go

Placebo finally return after almost a decade with long-awaited eighth album, Never Let Me Go.

Album review: Placebo – Never Let Me Go
Ian Winwood

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that Placebo are ‘underrated’. Yes, certainly, the London band's flexible, nuanced, genre-straddling and sometimes unsettlingly sexual music does tend to be overlooked by the tastemakers of popular opinion whose bylines appear in the more ‘respectable’ areas of the mainstream press. But don’t worry about that. Don’t even think about it. Rock’n’roll is the people’s game, and success in this court is the only metric that matters.

In the only story that matters, over the course of more than a quarter of a century, singer and guitarist Brian Molko and bassist Stefan Olsdal – these days Placebo are at their core a two-man operation – have achieved and maintained a level of success of which literally hundreds of ostensibly similar bands, all fallen and long forgotten, would give their souls to call their own. Pick the bones out of that.

All of which makes Never Let Me Go a Very Big Deal for the group’s large and attentive transnational audience. The last time Brian and Stefan issued an album, Britain was still in the European Union, Boris Johnson was mayor of London, and coronavirus was assumed to be nothing more than a mild headache following a night spent drinking Mexican beer. Simpler times. But if 2013’s Loud Like Love – even the title comes with an air of naffness, don’t you think? – saw its authors at a lower-than-normal ebb, nine years later Never Let Me Go (for the most part, certainly) raises the bar to the kind of level with which Placebo are normally associated.

This is not entry-level music. Talented bands can usually write good songs from the get-go – Placebo themselves did this with early day hit-singles such as Nancy Boy and Pure Morning – but the key to true progression invariably lies in the musicians exploring the undervalued art of arranging these songs. Performed with panache and expertise, Never Let Me Go is a collection of patient tempos (Forever Chemicals, Beautiful James) irresistible grooves (Try Better Next Time, Twin Demons) and, in songs such as Happy Birthday In The Sky and Chemtrails, the kind of thoughtful and carefully chosen instrumentation that is at times little short of sublime.

From Brian Molko’s characterful voice to keyboard riffs that do their business away from the spotlight, melodies both subtle and attention-grabbing come flying in from all directions. As a listener, there is real pleasure to be had in being in the hands of such a capable group. It’s like getting an upgrade on a flight across a shining ocean.

It isn’t quite all killer no filler, mind. Despite its insouciant sophistication, Went Missing never quite outfoxes the sense of being a song Placebo found in a skip outside the back of the Pet Shop Boys’ rehearsal space. By a distance of miles the album’s worst song, (naff title alert) Hugz’ central sentiment about how 'a hug is such another way of hiding your face' pales in comparison to (for example) Bad Religion’s similarly-themed The Handshake ('Every time you shake someone’s hand… you’ve got to overcome the obstacles of history'). But, really, these deficiencies are rare. When Never Let Me Go calls time on its 13 songs with the exquisitely constructed Fix Yourself, it does so in a manner befitting an album that is overwhelmingly a success.

Welcome back, then, Placebo: an enduring talent, and crown princes of the People’s Republic of Rock’n’Roll.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: David Bowie, My Chemical Romance, HIM

Never Let Me Go is released on March 25 via SO Recordings

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