The ceaseless solar eclipse that has fuelled Placebo’s sixth album career has finally, as their latest offerings title would suggest, ended. Battle for the Sun sees the band deviate from their recent mournful meandering with synthesizers and instead expand upon their earlier sound, but with squeaky-clean production and stadium-sized ambitions.
For once undoing evolution seemed the viable option. However, don’t expect the raw minimalism of their debut, for this is anything but. At times the three-piece, including new drummer Steve Forrest, sound like a mini-battalion of cyber-punk bluster. Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at it; sometimes it pays off fantastically, sometimes it falls flat.
Nevertheless, the melodrama has carried through consistently from previous albums. Thankfully though the mellowness hasn’t. This is a thunderous rock record and Placebo deliver many moments of amped-up, skull crushing finesse. The relentless attack of album opener “Kitty Litter” and the xylophone-sprinkled riffage of “The Never Ending Why” fulfil their alt rock obligation effortlessly. Despite clunky lyrics, lead single “For What It’s Worth” is a rousing, danceable stormer propelled by a newfound optimism. A bizarre Tetris sample leads into an infectious refrain, destined to be a highlight of their live shows.
Additional standouts come in the form of the gut-wrenching “Ashtray Heart”, named after the bands original incarnation and carrying on Kitty Litter’s opening stomp, and “Julien”, which may well be one of Placebo’s best ever tracks. A Meds-esque disco opening erupts into a kick-drum led assault, accompanied by down-tuned guitar work, distanced violin perks and truly inspired vocal from Molko. The double header of “The Never Ending Why” and “Julien” jolts some much-needed momentum into the album after a string of three rather forgettable mid-record duds.
“Devil In The Details” boasts an effective quiet-loud dynamic but strives for a huge finale that it never quite reaches whilst the pulsing bass of “Bright Lights” isn’t enough to give the hopeful number any real direction.
Then there’s this issue of a big sound. “Happy You’re Gone” commits the same felony some other tracks are guilty of and that’s being overblown. The inclusion of the string section is needless at best whereas the title tracks impressive QOTSA-style mechanical opening unfolds into a wearisome sprawl despite early potential.
Make no mistake though, Battle for the Sun is a rejuvenating release from Placebo and the goth-tinged grunge may even win them over a few followers. But I believe if they’d laid down a ‘less is more’ foundation, which is why the highlights pack such a punch, they’d be looking at an album rivalling their best work. Nonetheless Placebo’s sixth album is a more refined, direct offering than the last few long-players and you can be certain that the alt rock veterans will adapt Battle for the Sun into an even more explosive form in their live setting.
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