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Placebo - Sleeping with Ghosts
on 10 May 2003
After three years, London-based rock trio Placebo has finally arrived with long-awaited fourth album, Sleeping with Ghosts. With their previous three records all hitting top 10 in the UK, the expectations for the new album are, to say the least, elevated. Then it is with no small amount of pleasure that many fans, after having heard the new tracks, pronounced Sleeping with Ghosts Placebo’s best album to date. I, for one, am inclined to agree.
Taking their cues from the likes of DJ Shadow this time around, Placebo cleverly sidestep the pitfalls that dance/electronica influences often represent, and manage to fuse these influences effortlessly with their unique style. The arrangement chosen to showcase the music has a lot to do with this – in general, odd-numbered tracks on the album lean toward their old, guitar-driven approach with trademark ‘insect buzz’ distortion and simple punky rhythms; whereas even-numbered tracks showcase their new direction, with a couple of quiet, piano-led tracks to close off.
The album opens with a sinister, frenzied instrumental reminiscent of the hidden track 'Evil Dildo' from second album Without You I’m Nothing, but as the record wears on, this quickly proves itself to be a red herring as to an indication of where the album is heading. Track 2, 'English Summer Rain', features vocalist Brian Molko on drums, providing a bouncy vibe and melodies you can’t help but sing along to. 'Special Needs' is another highlight in a similar style, with lines like ‘remember me / when every nose starts to bleed’ exemplifying Placebo’s usual lyrical perversity. How *very* Brian Molko.
'The Bitter End', the first single off the album, is typical Placebo, perhaps with a little more melody than previous material. This newfound love of tunes features throughout the record, with is all the better for it. Placebo’s old, arse-on-fire running-with-guitars style sits heavily on tracks such as 'Plasticine' and 'Second Sight', and 'This Picture' comes across like a close relative of 1998’s 'You Don’t Care About Us'.
The title track is more than a highlight. Upon the first few listens it is already elevated to a status equal to despondent Placebo classics such as 'Without You I’m Nothing' and 'My Sweet Prince'. Stealing a couple of lines from Les Misérables, this a heartbroken anthem backed by sparse electronica and a gorgeous tune. ‘Soulmates never die’, laments Molko in his remarkable helium-laced voice, bringing to the fore blatant emotional intensity and fierce love.
Musically, Sleeping with Ghosts is marvellous. The band has struck gold with the heady mix of electronica, their signature trashy lite-punk and Molko’s constantly above-par vocal performance. Though the words are competent enough, it doesn’t ever get back to the lyrical genius exemplified in early Placebo. But overall, that’s a small price to pay. This is a dazzling album, a must-have for every Placebo fan and many more people besides.