90s Score: 7.5/10
2020 Score: 7.5/10
My love for the band Placebo is something I’ve documented when I wrote about their classic record, Without You, I’m Nothing. During my formative years, there were a few key bands that would really influence my tastes, and while I can sit here and list all the ones that got me into metal, indie-rock, etc, I’ll spare you the details. But I will say that Placebo was the one band that opened my eyes to the fact that music doesn’t always have to fall into a specific genre. Music can have loud guitars that somehow sound… pretty at the same time? That’s probably the most simplistic way I could describe Placebo’s Self-Titled record.
What I immediately notice is that the “key” Placebo sound was always there— the core of which is a blend of Britpop and punk rock. Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal were always at the heart of that sound. Over the years, as they’ve changed drummers and brought in various musicians for studio recordings and live performances, that sound has always remained intact thanks to Brian and Stefan. It has certainly evolved over the years, but there’s something inherently special about hearing it in its simplest, rawest form on the Self-Titled record.
But then again, there was never really anything simple about Placebo’s music. With their use of strange instrument tunings and, of course, Brian Molko’s nasally, high-pitched vocals, Placebo were doing something incredibly different than most when this record was released in 1996. No one sounds like Brian. No, seriously. Brian has one of the most unmistakable voices in music. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is open to debate, and Brian’s vocals seem to fall under the category of “you either love it or you hate it.” I gladly fall on the “love it” side.
But I digress, let’s talk about the music. Things kick off with “Come Home,” a track that sets the tone for the record, with loud, fuzzy sounding guitars that almost have a shoegaze element that sits comfortably between bands like Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine (minus the ethereal sounding vocals that usually accompany shoegaze bands). “Teenage Angst” is a tune with a simple main riff that carries the songs throughout its short two-minute and 42-second length, with some slight variations.
Stefan Olsdal’s bass playing is a little more prominent on the following track, “Bionic.” Brian and Stefan’s playing are incredibly in-sync on this track, and one can’t help but laugh a little at the subject matter too. The lyric “harder, faster, forever after” refers to a woman pleasuring herself with a dildo, while “none of you can make the grade” refers to how no man can help her achieve what her dildo does. This won’t be the only time Placebo sings about sex toys throughout their career. Throughout most of Placebo’s music, you’ll find themes of drugs, sex, gender confusion, and bisexuality.
We can’t talk about Self-Titled without talking about “Nancy Boy.” This song launched Placebo’s career in the same way “Creep” did for Radiohead. Unfortunately, like “Creep,” Brian is on record as disliking the track. Perhaps not at the same level as Thom Yorke despises his song, but Brian has stated that the lyrics make him cringe, as he was still “trying to find his feet” as a songwriter at the time.
I can admit that I’m a little biased. But there isn’t a bad song on this thing. Some tracks are probably a little more forgettable than the rest, like “I Know” or “Hang on to Your IQ.” But even then, there’s a catchy chorus or an interesting melody that keeps you intrigued and wanting to listen to more. Even its occasional imperfections, like the sometimes drowned out bass or Brian’s vocals being a little high in the mix, are somehow charming in this band’s overall context. Regardless, they’re all minor things they would eventually improve on releases like Black Market Music and, their masterpiece record (in my opinion), Sleeping With Ghosts.
Written by Dominic Abate
*Edited by Chris Aitkens