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The seventh album from English alt-rockers Placebo, Loud Like Love, almost didn’t happen. Its genesis was in three songs written by frontman Brian Molko, originally intended for a solo project. Placebo had no plans to release another album so soon after 2012's B3 EP, a five-track extension of 2009's punchy and dynamic Battle For The Sun.
The new full-length pushes a more mainstream sound, and doesn’t hide the fact that while Placebo are slowly losing their edge, they’re ageing quite gracefully. Loud Like Love is the sound of a band maturing in a way with which they are clearly comfortable.
Despite the album’s pull-something-together creation, Loud Like Love doesn’t feel underdeveloped or half-hearted. It’s the band’s prettiest, most polished, most synthetic work to date, though this isn’t necessarily good news. The band work through track after track of modern alternative rock, never deviating from their sharp, bittersweet sound, but nothing on Loud Like Love is as strong as what has come before it.
What Placebo now possess is grace and cohesion. Drummer Steve Forrest, who replaced Steve Hewitt in 2007, sounds confident and at home–utilising drum loops and iPads to incorporate electronic elements into the band’s sound. And you’d be forgiven for expecting the band’s recent revitalisation and a new album titled Loud Like Love to result in music brimming with optimism and cheer, but it’s not that simple.
There’s an emotional weight behind Placebo’s post-Hewitt music. It’s honest and more expressive than the slow expulsions of angst of their earlier releases. Much of this openness is driven by Molko’s vulnerable lyrics. He lines the album with admissions: “Making it is overrated” on Scene of the Crime and “Whenever I was feeling wrong, I used to go and write a song from my heart / But now I fear I’ve lost my spark” on A Million Little Pieces.
Occasionally this emotionality is stretched too far, as on the anti-Facebook song Too Many Friends. It ventures into self-parody with lines like “My computer thinks I’m gay / The applications are to blame / For all my sorrow, and my pain“. It’s honest but whiney, and reads even worse.
Loud Like Love succeeds when Molko takes a step back and allows the music to speak for itself. The spacey escapism of Hold On To Me is a beautiful example of this — an all-encompassing tune, as Molko drifts back into spoken-word declarations, amid a string section accompaniment. “Our task is to transform ourselves into awakened multi-dimensional beings” he begins, like an alt-rock L. Ron Hubbard. In fact the entire lyrical section can be found on a Canadian New Age website.
When Molko declares that “Making it is overrated“, he frames Loud Like Love as an album uncomfortable with pushing its creators further into mainstream rock. But after sitting in the dark corners of goth and grunge-inspired alt-rock for over a decade, Placebo now sound more pop than ever. They’re comfortable with where they are, even if some fans aren’t.