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Music / Placebo

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Left - Stefan Olsdal. Right - Brian Molko.
"A friend in need's a friend indeed,
A friend with weed is better,
A friend with breasts and all the rest,
A friend who's dressed in leather."
"Pure Morning"

Placebo are an Alternative Rock band formed in London in 1994, currently made up of Scottish-American Brian Molko on guitar/vocals and Swedish Stefan Olsdal on bass. Molko remarked on one occasion that the name of the band was, as opposed to its English meaning, a Latin word for "I will please."

Brian and Stefan attended the same high school but didn't meet formally until 1994, when they met in a tube station in London. Noticing Stefan had a guitar strapped to his back, Brian invited him to come see his own local gig. Stefan loved his performance so much that they wound up collaborating on the band Ashtray Heart, which quickly became Placebo. Originally, they had Robert Schultzberg (an old school friend of Stefan's) behind the kit, but after recording the self-titled debut with him, the disagreements soon became so intense that (after some false starts) they soon cut ties with him and settled on Steven Hewitt. With him, they recorded perhaps their most famous album, Without You I'm Nothing. The album contained their only top 20 single in America, "Pure Morning."

Their style began as a glam-influenced alternative rock style full of raw guitar riffs, but, starting with 2000s Black Market Music, they began to experiment more with synthesizers and new instruments. Much of their notoriety also stems from the androgynous appearance of Molko, alternative rock's reigning king of Viewer Gender Confusion. While the band never really hit the big time in the Western world, they've developed a huge cult following, particularly in the LGBTQ community.

After the tour for Meds proved to be dysfunctional for the band, Molko and Olsdal split with Steve Hewitt and replaced him with Steve Forrest. Forrest played with Brian and Stefan during the Battle For The Sun and Loud Like Love tours. With the departure of Forrest, Colour Of Fire alumni Matt Lunn took over drum duties for 2015, but in the end, Molko and Olsdal decided that they would be the only official members of the band, preferring to work with touring drummers.


Studio albums:

  • Placebo (1996)
  • Without You I'm Nothing (1998)
  • Black Market Music (2000)
  • Sleeping With Ghosts (2003)
  • Meds (2006)
  • Battle For The Sun (2009)
  • B3 EP (2012)
  • Loud Like Love (2013)
  • Never Let Me Go (2022)


Live Albums:

  • Live at La Cigale (2006)
  • iTunes Live: London Festival '09 (2009)
  • Live At Angkor Wat (2011) (iTunes only release)
  • MTV Unplugged (2015)

Tropes used by this band include:

  • Anti-Christmas Song: "Allergic (To Thoughts Of Mother Earth)" is this, according to Word of God.
  • B Sides: A smorgasbord. Double-disc compilation B-Sides: 1996–2006 had to omit all the remixes just to get the better part of them. While Placebo have a signature sound, the B-sides are where you can hear their more adventurous side, with Instrumentals and weird electronic experiments.
  • Break-Up Song: Certainly to be found in the band's catalogue.
    • "36 Degrees" is a reflection on the end of a dead relationship.
      In hindsight, I was more than blind
      Lost without a clue
      Thought I was getting karat gold
      When what I got was you
    • "You Don't Care About Us" is a declaration of exhaustion with a partner who has a tendency to catastrophize over or run away from conflict and disagreement instead of work on resolving it, culminating in the narrator saying they "think [they]'ll leave it all behind".
    • "The Bitter End" is another straight, and really angry, example.
    • "Exit Wounds" is a cry of longing and depression over an ex-partner who's… very, very one-sidedly moved on.
    • "Begin the End" is a breakup song in the most direct sense, depicting the narrator resolute and at peace in their choice and firm in the face of their partner's resistance.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The chorus to B-side "Slackerbitch" is mainly a cluster of rather coarse insults direct at its subject, including the title.
  • Concept Album:
    • Sleeping with Ghosts is about relationships of many kinds.
    • Meds gets a little darker with its theme of alcoholism and drug addiction.
    • Brian has described Battle For The Sun as being one, inspired by the band getting sober.
  • Cover Version:
    • Have covered two signature eighties songs, Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" and Nik Kershaw's "Wouldn't It Be Good".
    • They've released a whole album of covers, actually (simply titled Covers), including the aforementioned "Running Up That Hill".
    • The DVD We Come in Pieces has a cover of Nirvana's "All Apologies" .
  • Cue the Sun: "Pure Morning" is about the sun coming up after a long night of sex, drugs, and debauchery, and feeling disconnected from normal people on normal schedules. "In the Cold Light of Morning", meanwhile, is almost an unofficial thematic sequel, depicting its subject still (or already) high by daybreak, terrified and ashamed by their isolation in the state they're in while the rest of the world around them's peacefully waking up as the eerie and dissonant music reflects their emotional state.
  • Darker and Edgier: Black Market Music attempted this. Meds was definitely this.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: What most early interviews and media snippets seem to have focused on. Often leads to Viewer Gender Confusion on music videos and forums as well.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Brian certainly fits the vibe, as a pale black-haired man who performs some very dark, dissonant music with a composed affect.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: 2022's Never Let Me Go occasionally has the Earth's decay and impending doom as a recurring theme, never moreso than on the sardonically-titled "Try Better Next Time" which is Brian's disillusioned fuck-you to the human race.
  • Epic Rocking:
    • The Hidden Track on Without You I'm Nothing, "Evil Dildo," is an eight-minute nightmare of a song. It follows "Burger Queen", which is over six minutes.
  • Fanservice: "Fanservice" may not be a strong enough term for it, but the music video for "Protège Moi" (see below) features a woman walking through (and participating in) a full-blown bisexual orgy, with completely explicit and uncensored nudity and sexual acts.
  • Gratuitous French: Brian has re-recorded vocals for a few songs entirely in French, such as "Protect Me From What I Want" — or rather, "Protège Moi."
  • Gratuitous Spanish: "Ashtray Heart" has the Spanish version of the title ("Cenicero, cenicero! Corazón de cenicero!"). Brian said he thought about it while asking for ashtrays during a Nicaragua vacation.
  • Guyliner: Brian Molko loved wearing this back in the day.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Two, Once More With Feeling, released on the tenth anniversary of the band's formation, and A Place for Us to Dream (which while named after a lyric from "Narcoleptic", does not feature said song), released on the debut album's twentieth anniversary. The latter uses a famous photograph of the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot of a young couple on the ground in the middle of a street between lines of riot police.
  • Hidden Track: For the first few albums the band made a habit of these, ranging from a pleasant, almost easy listening ballad ("HK Farewell" from the debut) to a heavily overdubbed & distorted rocker ("Evil Dildo" from Without You I'm Nothing).
  • In the Style of: The band has tried their hand at Rap Rock, which of course was booming around the time Black Market Music came out. "Spice & Malice" features rap verses from musical journeyman Justin Warfield.note 
  • Instrumental: "Oxygen Thief," "Hug Bubble," "Evil Dildo," "HK Farewell," "Dub Psychosis," "Theme From Funky Reverend," and more. Most of these are b-sides, but there is an exception - "Swallow," from their self-titled debut, where there's no lyrics, but this rambling, nonsensical, spoken word monologue from Brian that sounds like it was recorded over the phone. Apparently, the song was recorded while Brian and Stefan were on acid.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: "Bionic" from the self-titled debut, "English Summer Rain" from Sleeping With Ghosts.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: The band remained stable for 13 years, marking the tenure of drummer Steve Hewitt (which would have been longer had Hewitt been able to leave the band he was once Brian formed Placebo).
  • Love Hurts: Averages a few of these songs an album. Placebo aren't exactly the most uplifting band in the world.
  • Love Is a Drug: "Special K". It can be interpreted as a song about the drug, or about falling head over heels for someone.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Commercial for Levi" has a rather upbeat melody and naïve percussion in the background while the singer is pleading for the life of a self-destructive friend. (Brian Molko has confirmed that it, along with other songs like "Song to Say Goodbye", was written as him essentially singing to a mirror.)
  • A Man Is Always Eager: The protagonist of "Scared Of Girls" describes himself as "a man, a liar, guaranteed in your bed" and the song becomes a series of sexual conquests. Brian Molko once referred to the song as a look at straight-male misogyny.
  • Meaningful Name: While much has been made of the Latin meaning ("I will please"), the band's name is mostly a parody of drug-named bands that would be good to shout for fans at concerts.
  • Murder Ballad:
    • "Brick Shithouse" is a song about a murder, from the POV of the victim, after the fact.
    • Implied in "Infrared". It's certainly a threat, if nothing else, with the pre-chorus being "Someone call the ambulance, there's gonna be an accident".
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: The narrator of "Brick Shithouse" was murdered by the title character ("built like a brick shithouse" is an expression used to describe a brawnier man), his ghost now watching when his rival's together with their once-shared love interest.
  • New Sound Album: Every album, to varying degrees:
    • Placebo is Alternative Rock with a heavy Glam Rock influence, and hints of Punk Rock and Post-Punk, as well as bordering on Britpop at times.
    • Without You I'm Nothing is similar to Placebo, but with a heavier Post-Punk edge and a more eclectic sound, as well as being Darker and Edgier and less raw-sounding than its predecessor.
    • Black Market Music moves even further into Darker and Edgier territory, drops most of the glam as well as any ties to Britpop, and dials up the Post-Punk while also bordering on industrial rock at times.
    • Sleeping With Ghosts is more accessible and Lighter and Softer compared to Black Market Music, and features more electronic influences.
    • Meds swerves heavily into Darker and Edgier territory, and has a more organic sound compared to Sleeping With Ghosts.
    • Battle For The Sun is much Lighter and Softer and more accessible than Meds, and has a more eclectic sound musically.
    • Loud Like Love is even more upbeat and accessible-sounding.
    • Never Let Me Go takes the accessible and eclectic nature of the previous two albums and replaces the upbeat feel with a more melancholic and introspective tone.
  • Noise Rock:
    • The sound of "Taste In Men" was inspired by Nine Inch Nails' Broken EP; Brian wanted a song to approach that level of harshness.
    • "Evil Dildo," to this day, is still the harshest song they've released, filled with mountains of distortion and feedback.
  • Non-Indicative Name: "Sad White Reggae" from Never Let Me Go is actually a pretty upbeat electro-rock song. Brian explained that the title originated as a joke about The Police's music.
  • Obsession Song: "Centrefolds" certainly fits.
  • Performance Video: Two videos for "Every You Every Me" were made- one mixes live performance footage with clips of Cruel Intentions, one is essentially an alternate cut without the movie clips. Both versions sometimes use split screens for the performance parts to artistic effect- e.g. at the beginning of the video, it's made to look like two copies of Stefan are alternating playing the main guitar riff.
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Moreso in earlier songs.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Only one F word on Without You I'm Nothing, from "My Sweet Prince," and Brian leans right into it: "Never thought you'd fuck with my brain." Not that Brian's above some colorful language sometimes; there's another song on the record called "Brick Shithouse."
    • In Never Let Me Go, Brian lets loose and drops more F-bombs compared the previous albums.
  • Pun-Based Title: "Burger Queen," a riff on Luxembourg. The song is about how Brian grew up there.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    • "WE! ARE! LOUD! LIKE! LOVE!"
    • The entire chorus of "Pure Morning," essentially, featuring few words spaced to every other beat.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Meds, written while Brian and Stefan were trying to get clean.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • Here's a fun one for Placebo completists. The band have a particular love of this trope, usually in the form of slowing down a song for maximum moodiness. Slower versions of "Every You Every Me," "36 Degrees," "Teenage Angst," "I'll Be Yours," "Plasticine," "Meds" and "Breathe Underwater" are out there, usually as B Sides, and Live At Angkor Wat is a live album almost wholly devoted to this trope, slowing down songs like "Because I Want You," "Drag" and more.
    • On the other side of the coin, "Sleeping With Ghosts" was originally a power ballad, but it was revised as a more upbeat rock number and retitled "Soulmates."
    • "English Summer Rain" and "Every You Every Me" were slightly remixed for their respective single releases.
  • Revenge Ballad: "Infra-Red" is this, but in context of its parent album, Meds, it's about the desire for revenge exacerbated by alcohol.
  • Rock Trio: They were one until Steve Forrest left (even if there are always extra touring members), making Brian and Stefan decide they would be the only official members from then on.
  • Sampling:
    • "Slave To The Wage" samples an old Pavement song, "Texas Never Whispers."
    • "Evil Dildo," the Hidden Track from Without You I'm Nothing, ends with a sample of Aphex Twin's "Funny Little Man" - specifically, the threat to cut off someone's penis through the “Princess” Apple MacInTalk Text-To-Speech voice. This was one of two real death threats left on Brian's answering machine, and the other can be heard earlier in the song ("hey, motherfucker, I'm after you"). For the record, Brian moved to a new place pretty quickly.
  • Self-Titled Album: The debut.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Uncle Tom's Cabin is referenced in the lyrics of "Blue American".
    • An old B-side to "Nancy Boy," entitled "Miss Moneypenny," is obviously a shout-out to the James Bond franchise.
  • Special Guest: David Bowie duets with Brian in the single version of "Without You I'm Nothing".
  • Textless Album Cover: Sleeping With Ghosts.
  • Tick Tock Tune: Done on "Without You I'm Nothing".
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Come Home," "You Don't Care About Us."
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: "Bright Lights", one of their most cheerful songs, features a very characteristic keyboard riff over the chorus. After the second chorus ends in C major, the songs builds up and said riff starts in D... but D minor, it turns out after a few notes, and they never actually changed key.
  • Unplugged Version: As mentioned in Rearrange the Song, they've done quite a few stripped down renditions of their songs, so as a result there's unplugged versions of "Teenage Angst" and "Every You Every Me."
    • Obviously, for MTV Unplugged.
  • Vocal Tag Team: Stefan takes on more prominent backing vocal duties in Never Let Me Go