Placebo | Meds (Astralwerks)

Meds is the sound of an internationally acclaimed (though, Stateside, grossly underrated) band hitting its stride—and then pushing further.

 

A new Placebo album’s kind of like an old friend: Brian Molko’s distinctive nasal vocals, Stefan Olsdal’s seductive bass line, and Steve Hewitt’s driving drumbeat. Though past releases have been largely innovative, there’s still been an element of uninspired occasionally holding them back. However, with their fifth release, Meds, this European-based trio proves it’s at the height of its game. Rich with drugs, loss, and shielded politics, the album’s a solid offering destined to elevate the band’s global status.

Opening with the title track, the album instantly hooks the listener as Molko confronts his ghosts (rather than just sleeping with them): “I was alone, falling free/trying my best not to forget/what happened to me,” he intones. Behind his words, a stark guitar is pointedly strummed, giving way to the crooned female refrain (provided by the Kills’ Alison Mosshart): “Baby, did you forget to take your meds?” The strumming becomes a wall of stringed sound as Molko’s voice rises victoriously above it. “Infra-Red” is more synth-heavy, a darker sound to match its ominous lyrics: “Someone call the ambulance/there’s gonna be an accident.” Following the galloping “Drag,” is the droning “Space Monkey,” which finds Molko mutedly reciting the stanzas before vocally soaring on the refrain.

The restrained and shimmering “Follow the Cops Back Home” and “Pierrot the Clown” are almost anthemic; both would fit perfectly in a stadium setting, illuminated by a million tiny cell phone lights. While the former sees Molko admitting, “I’m medicated, how are you?” the latter finds him missing an abusive relationship: “When I dream, I dream your fists/leave me bleeding on the bed/see you right back here tomorrow for the next round.” “Post Blue,” a dark, synthesizer-driven song, continues this theme: “It’s in the water, baby/it’s in the pills that bring you down.” A simple programmed beat begins “Blind,” which finds Molko later pleading, “Don’t go and leave me/I know you’re broken.”

A simple, elegiac piano opens “Broken Promise,” a retaliatory tale of adultery that features Michael Stipe sharing vocal duties. Stipe’s gravelly, low tones turn out to be the perfect complement to Molko’s over-the-top nasal delivery. As the two combine to sing, “I’ll wait my time/to tear inside you,” the guitar screaming in the background, it’s foreboding, indeed. Following the dancefloor-driven “One of a Kind,” Placebo gives last call with “In the Cold Light of Morning.” Molko’s restrained as he lays it all bare: “In the cold light of morning/you’re drunksick from whoring/you’re high.” Closing out the disc, “Song to Say Goodbye” is Molko’s attempt to save a former friend. A haunting keyboard line floats above the guitar and drums as Molko sneers, “You are one of God’s mistakes/you crying, tragic waste of skin.”

Meds is the sound of an internationally acclaimed (though, Stateside, grossly underrated) band hitting its stride—and then pushing further. It’s a bit more reflective than the trio’s past work, but just as raw and lyrically unforgiving. It’s a solid first listen, and one that grows deeper with each repeated spin. Baby, don’t forget to take your Meds.


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