One of the starring lights of the mid-1990s British rock and roll scene, Placebo offered something that the rest of the Britpop scene could get anywhere near. Brian Molko and the rest of the band were an authentic alternative act and their cover of the now-iconic Smiths song ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ is an example of why.
Blur and Oasis paid homage to the icons that came before them. To some extent emulating their heroes The Kinks and The Beatles, Britpop has always given thanks to its predecessors. Placebo, however, took those values and tried to reach a new, previously alienated audience by subverting them.
Formed in London in 1994 by vocalist Brian Molko and bassist Stefan Olsdal, Placebo were soon joined by drummer Robert Schultzberg, who left in 1996 due to conflicts with Molko with Steve Hewitt completing the band’s line-up. Their self-titled debut album received critical acclaim and the lead single, ‘Nancy Boy’, blasted the band into the velvety dark stratosphere.
Meanwhile, Blur were releasing their own self-titled LP and Oasis ruled the world for a few nights at Knebworth. Each one used the foundations of British rock and roll formed in the 1960s to create some of the ’90s most infectious tunes. Placebo, however, were looking a little closer to home as they took the glam-rock styling of Bowie and T-Rex to a new darker direction.
Another moment of Placebo subverting the icons of the past is with their cover of The Smiths hit ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’. The group were asked to put add their own rendition of the song as part of The Smiths Is Dead, a project which acted as a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the LP’s release by the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles.
The version Molko and the rest of the band provide is simply brilliant. The band take the song’s gentle beginning and amplifies it by slowing down the tempo and stripping it back with acoustic guitar lulling us all into a false sense of security. However, the band breakthrough into the song’s main body and begin to slash and stab with swaggering confidence. Molko’s vocal performance is both far removed and utterly akin to Morrissey’s own style, yet somehow Molko takes it to another level.
It’s the mark of a band not daunted by the prospect of paying homage to a legendary act, instead, they’re intrigued to find the inner workings and manipulate them for their own. It is the mark of a band determined to never compromise and never give an inch, it’s something throughout their career that they’ve held as a badge of honour.
Listen below to Placebo’s brilliant cover of The Smiths song ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ from 1996.