Placebo last caused a stir in the global music scene back in the 1990s, when Brit-pop ruled the charts and grunge was on its way out. The band's last full-length album 'Loud Like Love' released almost a decade ago. So, one can be forgiven for not being aware that the band is still making new music.
A sound somewhat comparable with the Smashing Pumpkins, Depeche Mode, Muse, and Silversun Pickups – Placebo's music is a blend of dark alt-rock with catchy riffs and electronic undertones.
As a fan of the band, many of their tracks have stuck around in my playlists for decades. I was fairly excited when the band announced they would be releasing a new album back in 2019, but I couldn't help but wonder if their sound would still be relevant today. There was also a fear of far-reaching experimentation, a prime example would be Muse trying to incorporate dubstep into their sound.
After several delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the album 'Never Let Me Go' finally released in March, 2022. For better or worse, Placebo still sounds like Placebo. The sound is new, but it is also familiar at the same time. A bit more polish, synth, buzz and clatter; yet sounding as relevant as they ever did.
Never Let Me Go, however, demands your undivided attention. You won't find another 'Every Me and Every You', 'The Bitter End', 'Pure Morning' or 'Nancy Boy' here. Rather the album feels like it was meant to be absorbed as a whole, and each track is a step in a hypnotic journey.
A defining characteristic of the album is a potent dose of synth that wheels you in from the very first song, 'Forever Chemicals'. It almost has an experimental feel to it. The music will lift you up from time to time; yet the journey feels bleak, one could even say depressing.
The production is flawless. A closer look into the spacey layers of synth reveals intricacies one can easily gloss over if the record is left to play in the background. It demands attention. The electronic elements also blend in nicely with the guitars, keys, bass and drums.
This synergy will, however, have you question if you're dreaming or awake. It meshes perfectly with the existentialism that is distinctive of the writing.
It is also worth mentioning that Brian Molko, lead guitarist and vocalist, is at his best in Never Let Me Go. The depth of his lyrics and the authority of his haunting voice is on full blast all throughout the album.
The album is layered and multifaceted. Several listens are a must to fully appreciate its lustre. 'Never Let Me Go' does an incredible job of handling the band's signature sound and incorporating it with the newer electronic elements, making room for contemporary rock trends and a very engaging experience.
It is definitely one of Placebo's most ambitious projects to date. Forever Chemicals, Beautiful James, The Prodigal, Twin Demons, Chemtrails, and Went Missing were some of the tracks that stood out for me more than others.