Alt-rock heroes, Placebo are back with a bang. Returning with their eighth studio album, Never Let Me Go, they’ve entered a space that they’ve long teased. It is their first album in over eight years, since the release of the polarising Loud Like Love in 2013. Significantly, it is their first album to be recorded as a duo, and the first since drummer Steve Forrest, who left in 2015. If anything, this has stood them in great stead, it’s brought Placebo core members Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal closer together than ever and is perhaps the most concise record they’ve ever created.
Lucid, thought-provoking and masterfully crafted, Never Let Me Go is a real triumph in every sense. Not once do you feel yourself flagging, or looking to skip a song, and you can’t help but think that the long time off has given the band many benefits. The world and everyone in it has changed markedly since when Loud Like Love was released, and when Placebo first burst onto the scene, but they’ve managed to keep their core values, but mould them for this incredibly momentous juncture that humanity finds itself at environmentally, politically, socially and personally.
The story of Placebo is a well-known one, and they’ve long been one of the most culturally vital bands. Molko and Olsdal first burst onto the scene with their 1996 self-titled debut. They defied musical, aesthetic, thematic and personal mores, and were a guiding light into the future amidst the boisterous Britpop and nu-metal that dominated the landscape. The band followed the path that Lou Reed and David Bowie had first trodden, and helped to bring the discussion of sexuality, fluidity and politics into the mainstream and set popular culture on a much better course.
26 years have passed since then, and understandably, Placebo have matured. Never Let Me Go offers up a glimpse into the complex minds of Molko and Olsdal, and it judicially pulls apart the topics that have been weighing on their minds for the past decade. The string of singles the band have released since announcing the album, ‘Beautiful James’, ‘Surrounded By Spies’, ‘Try Better Next Time’ and ‘Happy Birthday In The Sky’ have all been stellar and set a precedent for the album’s release today.
Discussing personal accountability, tech saturation and humanity’s actual place in the world, to name just a few themes, they perfectly set the scene for the other album tracks that are just as significant in their message, and are arguably better musically. Imagine that Without You I’m Nothing and Black Market Music had a baby and then mixed in the many existential questions facing us right now, you’d have Never Let Me Go.
There are many incredible moments on the album from the opener ‘Forever Chemicals’ to the haunting ‘The Prodigal’, which sounds like Beach House, and we love it. However, I’d argue that track three, ‘Hugz’ is the standout. Featuring Molko and Olsdal’s best guitar work in years, it’s abrasive, in your face and is augmented by industrial textures. As Molko sings “I don’t wanna be myself, I just wanna redeem myself”, all the sentiments of humanity’s present point are laid bare.
In many ways, Never Let Me Go is coloured by distinctly Generation X themes, but what we get on the record is them from the perspective of the contemporary paradigm. Generation X have matured and they’re now watching the world crumble around them. This gives the album a highly potent essence. It makes a strong claim for being one of the best albums of 2022, and we’re only three months in.
The opening track ‘Fix Yourself’, ends with the line “Go fix yourself instead of someone else”, leaving us with a lot to think about. We’re left reflecting on ourselves and on humanity as a whole, closing the book on the record effectively. It’s a masterwork, and everybody should hear it. Placebo have managed to create something akin to their version of Martin Luther’s
Ninety-five Theses for the modern audience, laying out just how we got here, and how the hell we get out. This is what an album should be. Long live Placebo.
Listen to ‘Beautiful James’ below.