REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/17/2008
Meds, Placebo’s fifth effort, is its weakest, and the direction that the band has taken with this one doesn’t come as a surprise. Their previous, Sleeping With Ghosts, was a telltale sign of what was to come. Not as gritty as the previous records, Sleeping With Ghosts was a stark departure from the tense, racy punk sound that prevailed in the earlier albums; instead, sophisticated pop-rock numbers were the order of the day on Sleeping.
Although it was sad to see the band lose steam just to win over some more listeners of commercial rock radio, Sleeping had enough moments where the band would recover its past sound. But in all fairness to the trio, even the radio-friendly parts of the record – cuts like “English Summer Rain” and “Special Needs” – were more like a breath of fresh air than a band having sold out.
But Meds is different. This is a record of bland, pop-rock numbers that are only neatly produced. There is no such thing even remotely close to the Placebo we have all known and admired in the album’s music. The band has not sold out; it has just made a very bad album.
The sharp guitars, racy drums, tense bass-lines, and frontman Brian Molko’s vehement singing are all lost in the haze of pristine, ironically minimal production work which does not add much punch to the music, but instead smoothens out the grittiness in it, making it limp.
The cuts “Drag,” “Meds,” and “Because I Want You” come close to the classic Placebo sound, but because of their prettiness, the very element of pain that makes the emotion in the band’s music so potent is muffled and almost nonexistent in these numbers.
Listening to songs like “Follow The Cops Back Home” and “Pierrot The Clown,” an apparent link can be drawn to Manic Street Preachers, who, like Placebo, made their restless emotionally charged anthemic music tame and sophisticated on This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, but were able to pull it off with sleek production work that actually took their sound to a higher level instead of bringing it down a notch, which is the case with Meds.
What should have been the highlight of the record, “Broken Promise,” a duet with REM’s Michael Stipe, is actually the worst song on it. Both Molko and Stipe sound dull and the song itself is frail. In fact, Stipe’s part almost seems to have been forced in the song.
At the end of the day, the lo-fi straight-ahead pop-rock numbers “Infra-Red,” “Blind,” and “Song To Say Goodbye” offer some hope to an album gone totally wrong. No one expects Placebo to recycle the gems from Without You I Am Nothing and Black Market Music, and a change in direction is definitely welcome. However, mediocre tunes and disastrous production work has done damage to an intent that is in fact commendable.