Placebo | Battle for the Sun (Vagrant)

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cd_placebo.jpgTo be fair, the first half of the album is fairly enjoyable, though not groundbreaking.







Well, it's official. I suspected as much upon first listen, but wanted to give the band the benefit of the doubt. Hey, sometimes it takes a few spins for an album to really ignite, right?

Sadly, this is not the case with Placebo's latest—and much-hyped—release, Battle for the Sun. Battle, it seems, is the sound of a band past its prime—the splash of a band returning to water after jumping the proverbial shark.

Nowhere is the dark, dirty brilliance exhibited on prior albums—"Taste in Men" or "Special K" on Black Market Music, "The Bitter End" on Sleeping With Ghosts -- nor the deliciously mellow electronic musings of yore ("Special Needs," "Lady of the Flowers," "English Summer Rain"). And though nasal-voiced, androgynous frontman Brian Molko has always had his share of lyrical clunkers (i.e., "You're the one who's always choking Trojan/ you're the one whose shower's always golden"), he's also balanced those with some more insightful, insinuating tales, leading each album as a whole to come out ahead.

Unfortunately, the same does not apply here. Here we are spoon-fed such lyrical drivel as "The heart that hurts is a heart that works." Repeatedly. Really? Really, Brian, you felt compelled to sing that over and over? Really?

To be fair, the first half of the album is fairly enjoyable, though not groundbreaking. Opening track "Kitty Litter" is rather hard-hitting, darkly electronic with driving guitars; that's the Placebo we all know and love, right? Now let's see them ratchet things up another notch or two and we're in business. With its melodic guitars, "Ashtray Heart" sounds like a calculated play for popular radio; not really a bad thing, though a bit watered down by Placebo standards. Next up, the title track falls into that pot of "mellow electronic musings" (see above). It's slower, but you know those drums and guitar are aching to break free. "For What It's Worth" is chanty, repetitious and dark...just how we like it. (But that a horn section in the background? Oh, Placebo, what have you done?)

And just like that, Battle for the Sun kicks us longtime Placebo listeners to the curb. "Devil in the Details" is just Molko whining much about nothing over generic, understated modern rock music. With its soaring, pop-laden keyboards, "Bright Lights" is more Brandon Flowers than Brian Molko; the whole bit about the working heart hurting seals the tomb resoundingly on this one. And, unfortunately, Molko's love-it-or-hate-it voice does nothing but annoy on the slow-paced "Speak in Tongues."

Oh, sure, the band throws longtime fans a bone or two in the second half. There's a Depeche Mode-like digital darkness to the quietly smoldering "Julien"; "The Never-Ending Why" isn't bad, either, though its sunny keyboards and mundane stanzas can't quite prop up the rocking intro and refrains. Similarly, "Breathe Underwater" is enjoyable enough; it just isn't up to the caliber of the band's previous work.

I've already shelved Battle for the Sun in favor of Black Market Music...hell, in favor of the whole back catalog. Which I wholeheartedly recommend you buy before deciding to dip into the Placebo pool with this one. C- | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: post-'80s Depeche Mode, David Bowie, Remy Zero

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