Placebo – ‘Never Let Me Go’ review: a renaissance rock record with an experimental edge

The British veterans' first album in almost a decade isn't quite the ‘Metal Machine Music’ they suggest, but it is their best since 2006’s ‘Meds’

Brian Molko recently told NME that the band craved a new direction after a gruelling ’20 Years of Placebo‘ greatest hits tour that dragged them across the globe between 2016 and 2018. “After playing your most radio-friendly material for two-and-a-half years, it’s not too unimaginable to think that someone would want to go off and make something that sounded more like ‘Metal Machine Music’ by Lou Reed or ‘Yeezus’ by Kanye: something more extreme, more brutal [and] experimental, that explores the darker recesses of our emotional landscape.”

‘Never Let Me Go’, the British icons’ eighth album and first in nearly a decade, is every bit the departure that the frontman suggests, while also being thoroughly listenable and retaining enough of the band’s rock-noir DNA to feel like a long-awaited homecoming. The tone is set by the warped opener ‘Forever Chemicals’, a DepecheMode-meets-Nine-Inch-Nails clash of cyber-punk, electronica and scuzzy rock that sees Molko deliver more of his fabulous nihilism: “It’s all good when nothing matters / It’s all good when no one cares”.

You won’t find a ‘Nancy Boy’ on here, but a whole lot of new, wonderful weirdness. Lead single ‘Beautiful James’ shows the band’s flair for spacey and euphoric synth-pop, while ‘The Prodigal’ is a bittersweet orchestral gem. ‘Went Missing’ offers widescreen post-rock and closer ‘Fix Yourself’ a dose of The Cure’s ‘Disintegration’-era gothic gloom as Molko soberly concludes: “Go fix yourself / Instead of someone else”.

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That reckoning with others binds the record together. ‘Happy Birthday In The Sky’ is written from the viewpoint of having lost a loved one a policeman’s bullet, while ‘Surrounded By Spies’ tackles the surveillance culture of our physical and online lives. The buoyant ‘Try Better Next Time’, meanwhile, gleefully imagines the planet after the oncoming climate apocalypse, where the few remaining animals dance in the forest away from humans and we’re forced to “grow fins and go back in the water”.

The result is Placebo’s best and most consistent album since 2006’s dark, intoxicated ‘Meds’ – and might prove their most rejuvenating since 2003’s arena-filling ‘Sleeping With Ghosts’. ‘Never Let Me Go’ is a true renaissance record. It’s no ‘Metal Machine Music’ or ‘Yeezus’, but a record that finds Placebo inspired and ready for a new era, reinventing the rock veterans for the modern age.

Details

Release date: March 25

Record label: So Recordings/Elevator Lady/Rise

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