posted on May 27, 2009 19:00
A review of the album Battle For The Sun by Placebo
Review Snapshot: If this is how good Placebo sound when they choose to write about 'stepping out of the darkness and into the light' can somebody please arrange to shower Brian Molko with sunlight for the foreseeable future? An album full of urgency and optimism, Battle for the Sun has the potential to be regarded as Placebo's finest work.
The Cluas Verdict? 9.5 out of 10
After 13 years, 5 studio albums and 10 million album sales, you would have to wonder what possible reasons Placebo have to keep going, especially after the loss of major label backing and Steve Hewitt, the band's drummer for the past 11 years. Wonder no more, the reason is clear; after spending over a decade dealing with life in the shadows, Placebo, and Brian Molko in particular, have decided to focus on optimism and positivity, the result of which is Battle for the Sun (released June 8).
Those of you familiar with the Placebo back catalogue, 2006's Meds in particular, will be aware that darkness seemed to be an essential element in terms of shaping Placebo's songs, almost to the point of self-parody. Indeed, at that stage that Placebo were arguably, to quote our own Aidan Curran, 'a band who's future was long behind them.' That's most definitely not the case however, and while there are still some dark themes on Battle for the Sun it is hard not to feel the sense of optimism that seeps from every nook and cranny of this record. Track 6, Bright Lights, for example contains the following refrain: A heart that hurts/is a heart that works. It's simple, yet equally effective and evocative and a million miles adrift of songs like Pierrot the Clown (Meds, 2006) or Summer's Gone (Without You I'm Nothing, 1998).
The album, recorded in Toronto over three months with Dave Bottrill (dEUS, Silverchair, Muse) and mixed by Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails), actually gets off to a very inauspicious start with Kitty Litter. For the first 3 minutes, it sounds like typical Placebo fair, musically competent, lyrically excellent and then there is a subtle change of direction and bang, we have the new Placebo. This continues straight into the excellent Ashtray Heart, which has more in common with the likes of Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire (it must be the Toronto air) than the Placebo of old.
Battle for the Sun contains far too many standout tracks to list them all. The sense of urgency that drives almost every track, combined with very polished production, creates a unique listening experience where you find yourself waiting for the next track while not wanting the current track to end. New drummer Steve Forrest does an exceptional job considering his mere 22 years and his pounding of the skins plays an important part on the majority of tracks, lead single For What it's Worth in particular.
When I review records, I start off with a score of 10 and try to find reasons to deduct marks. With Battle for the Sun I found it very difficult to find fault. It's as accomplished as it is refreshing and while producing an album that defies genres (and indeed people's pre-conceptions of them, this writer included) will be sure to garner Placebo new fans (maybe even Aidan), it is also a record that will startle and delight their many existing fans. I can give Battle for the Sun no higher praise than to say it could well prove to be the essential Placebo album.