Battle For The Sun

Placebo

Vagrant Records, 2009

http://www.placeboworld.co.uk/

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/26/2009

Battle For The Sun has been touted as Placebo’s comeback, a revisit to the band’s early days and a step forward in the band’s musical growth. However, this is only relatively speaking; after the brashly mundane Meds, any dreg that a decent band like Placebo follows up with is bound to be worthy. Battle, however, is no dreg.

Even though no record since Black Market Music has the hard sound that Battle does, this album is still not a disentombing of the band’s past. Nuances of the syrupy production on the previous two records – Meds and Sleeping With Ghosts – still linger on this disc, which inhibits its gall to bear its hairy chest fully. Two of the brawniest cuts on the record, “Kitty Litter” and “Ashtray Heart,” are stifled by unneeded varnish; the muffling of singer Brian Molko’s vocals leaves them gasping for air. On earlier records, the poshness of the production gave precedence to the raspiness of the guitars and vocals; the music turned out crude but hardcore, totally undiluted.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For a record like this one that aspires to be charged-up, the mushy production stunts the band’s biting emotional punches. Recruiting David Bottrill – who has famously produced Tool’s Ænima and Lateralus, in addition to working with hard rock acts like Coheed And Cambria, AFI, and Mudvayne – at the production helm hasn’t helped the album much to find a beefier, more driving sound. In fact, even on the poppy, radio-friendly Ghosts, the harder numbers – “This Picture,” “Bitter End,” and “Plasticine” – were untouched by the slickness of the production found on the record as a whole.

Placebo’s new musical direction, however, works marvelously on the title track and on “Devil In The Details,” which still bear scars from the unapologetic rawness of Black Market and Without You I Am Nothing. The album’s pop-rock crossovers like “For What It’s Worth,” “Bright Lights,” and “Breathe Underwater” are splendidly hummable, but are positively not materials with “edge.”

For all of Battle’s enthusiastic rockability, the slower, ballady tracks like “Speak In Tongues,” “Happy You’re Gone,” and “Come Undone” are a bigger triumph. More exciting than the bravado for the band’s comeback to rock is the redeeming of their ability to craft a vulnerable slow number (“Special Needs,” “Blue American,” “Ask For Answers”). Placebo has always been superbly capable of conjuring brilliant cuts with a tender side.

For any band that has passed its creative prime, it is virtually impossible to hit the same peak again. For Placebo, the fall (Meds) after the crest (Ghosts) was too deep. And although it is possible that Placebo might never reach the same apex again, at least they have made an ascent, and quite a steep one.

Rating: B-

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© 2009 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Vagrant Records, and is used for informational purposes only.