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There are times when I feel sorry for Rush’s Geddy Lee. Consigned to eternal unhipness, his shrill, high-pitched, indeterminate-of-gender voice will probably go completely unheard for the rest of time. But whenever I hear Brian Molko sing, my fears are proved unfounded – ladies and gentlemen, this is Geddy Lee’s voice, albeit far whinier and not as likely to sing about mythical owls.
Obviously starting a Placebo review with a reference to Rush isn’t a good sign, and I’m not pretending it is. But I have to say I’m very disappointed – anyone who heard the first single off Sleeping With Ghosts, “Bitter End”, was completely swept away with its jagged Wire-esque guitars, ominous keyboard lines and edgy vocals. You’d even be forgiven for thinking Placebo had undone their five-year critical slump by replacing generic indie-grunge with infectious post-punk. You’d be forgiven, yes, but also mistaken.
You see, the new single “This Picture” is far more indicative of Sleeping With Ghosts as a whole. Boring, ploddy and more or less hook-free, most of the album justs drifts by, content to bash away without remembering to include any memorable tunes. The first song, the throwaway instrumental “Bulletproof Cupid”, is a frankly worrying start. But the second track, “English Summer Rain” manages to make it look like a career-defining moment. “Always stays the same / Nothing ever changes / English summer rain / Seems 2 last 4 ages”, intones Molko to a backdrop of aimless drums and pointless electronic bleeps. This is then repeated over and over again. This is not good.
You could literally hear the whole album just by being played the opening minute of each song. “Something Rotten”, “I’ll Be Yours”, the title track…nearly ever song is slow, one-dimensional and tortuous to get through. The upbeat numbers provide some respite, but once again in a very unimpressive way: “Special Needs” offers up some truly rubbish lyrics (“Think of me stuck in my chair that has 4 wheels / Remember me through flash photography and screams”), while you could guess what “Plasticine” and “Second Sight” sound like just by looking at the lyric sheet. Any hopes for the finale are dashed by a neverending piano motif, occasionally interrupted by Molko’s seriously annoying whine.
Unbelievably, “Bitter End” is the only truly good song here. Maybe if the bubbly keyboard line hadn’t been so irresistible, maybe if the vocal line hadn’t been so effortlessly compelling, then I might have looked more favourably upon this 50-minute turkey. But they were, so I won’t.
As you might have guessed, Sleeping With Ghosts is yet another dull, uninspiring Placebo album. One flash of greatness and eleven sizzles of adequacy. Now, where’s that Rush CD…
Lionel Laurent is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.