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Music

The Cover Uncovered: How Placebo produced the cover art for their debut album

For over 25 years, Placebo have continued to build their own home on the musical landscape. In the mid-1990s, drawing from a range of contemporary Britpop and grunge influences, the band set out to create their own identity. The nasal and androgynous voice of Brian Molko gave the group their unique sound above anything else. The original lineup consists of an international blend, with half-American Molko born in Belgium and founding bassist Stefan Olsdal, and drummer Robert Schultzberg originally hailing from Sweden. These multicultural influences gave Placebo their undeniable creative edge; while they are a British band, they have the intriguing sound of a European take on Nirvana

Placebo formed in 1994 and quickly rose to national prominence amongst contemporaries with their first single ‘Bruise Pristine’ released as a split single with Soup, another band signed to the Fierce Panda label. After having signed to Caroline records in 1996, the band had arrived with their eponymous, self-titled debut album. The album saw the band emerge onto the global platform, reaching fifth on the UK Albums Chart buoyed by a bounty of singles including ‘Nancy Boy’ and ‘Come Home’. 

While the album was spinning off the shelves of music shops over the world, many would have been greeted first by the strange, bold album artwork depicting a rather fed up looking boy in a bright red fleece dragging his eyelids down with his hands. Indeed, when I first saw this album in my friend’s collection some years ago, there was something unique and enticing about the artwork that drew me in. The art certainly reflects the moody music within, but it also reflects the boy’s reaction to the fame he ensued in the years following the album’s release. 

I for one would love to have been the child appearing on an album cover, be it the swimming baby on Nirvana’s Nevermind, one of the girls on The Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream or indeed David Fox, the 12-year-old appearing on the cover of Placebo. Of course, I am speaking from a position of zero experience and so cannot pass judgement here, but I was rather upset to find that David was not at all pleased with the use of his photo on the cover of the album.

Saul Fletcher, the photographer, was David’s cousin, who had told David’s family that the photoshoot was just intended for personal use. However, after a few weeks, he received a call from Fletcher who exclaimed: “You’re going to be on a CD cover”. In an interview with The Sun in 2012, David recalled: “My mum brought home a copy of the album and I was overwhelmed… at first I thought it was pretty cool”. However, over the tough teen years to come, David would experience unprecedented physical and verbal bullying at school. “That picture ruined my life,” David explained some 16 years later, he went on to describe how he ended up moving from one school to the next to avoid the bullying that began as mimicking and verbal abuse, but later evolved into episodes of physical violence. 

It was announced in 2012 that David was planning legal action against Placebo to seek compensation for his years of suffering in the wake of the album’s release, claiming that his parents had never signed any official documents. However, this seems to have blown over without any further public announcement. It is still unclear whether Placebo made an offering outside of court or whether David managed to overcome his anger toward this historical exposure. What we do know, however, is that he appeared on the popular music panel show Never Mind the Buzzcocks in 2013 to take part in an identity parade during a question about the album artwork – this might suggest the latter.

(Credit: Press)