Placebo were alt-rock dynamos in the late ’90s and early ‘oos. Who doesn’t remember the aerial shot of Ryan Phillipe calmly driving his Jaguar Roadster down a New York highway, set to the chilling “Every Me And Every You”, in the opening scene of 1999’s Cruel Intentions? Lead singer Brian Molko commanded a nasal voice that’s androgynous and a little scary, and almost entirely singular.
With 2009’s Battle for the Sun, though, the band seemed to lose something essential. Longtime fans called it their worst album, and Molko, who was arguably emo before it was Emo, seemed unsure of how to sell himself to new listeners. The lyrics were repetitive and generic, as though all the vitriol that had fueled Molko’s earlier forays into songwriting — largely inspired by his struggles with his own sexuality — had faded away, leaving behind only a half-remembered template of how a rock tune should be written. It didn’t feel as urgent, or as true, as anything that had come before.
With B3 EP, however, Placebo seems to be returning to their loud, largely minor-key hijinks. While there is nothing to equal the pure sugar rush of a song like “Bionic”, from 1996’s Placebo, the EP still kicks. Molko continues his themes of disenfranchisement and disillusionment in songs like “The Extra”. “Seems like words are out of style,” he sings, continuing, “If I’m an extra in the film of my own life, then who the hell is the director?” He’s angry, as always, but it’s tempered. He sounds weary, as though the musician’s life has worn him down.
The closing track, “Time Is Money”, is easily the album’s most powerful, and feels the truest to some of the band’s classic themes of disillusionment and making the sacred profane. “So like Jesus, give it all away,” he sings. It’s a quality song, one that reminds us of the niche that Placebo have carved for themselves, one no one else will ever quite be able to fill.
Essential Tracks: “Time Is Money”