Review Summary: Despite possibly being their weakest yet, Battle For The Sun is another solid release from Placebo.
One of the largest factors that can affect a bands music and its progression over time is the addition or loss of a band member, something that has been proven many times by many artists. Dave Grohl joining Nirvana for instance totally reinvented the band, transforming them from a promising young trio into a powerhouse unit, who went on to become one of the most important bands of their time. Other examples of this include Manic Street Preachers swing to a more commercial sound after the disappearance of Richey Edwards, and Dave Grohl (him again) proving to be the key element behind Queens Of The Stone Age’s Songs For The Deaf
, his only album with the band, and arguably their best.
British alt-rock trio Placebo went through a change comparable to these when drummer Robert Schultzberg left following the success of their self titled debut album in 1996, being replaced by Steve Hewitt. The lineup change brought about a dark turn in the bands music, with their songs growing less and less accessible and Brain Molko’s lyrics becoming increasingly twisted. Although this change suited the band, many fans grew concerned that another major change lay ahead when Hewitt left in 2008, his replacement being Steve Forrest . Fortunately for those less fond of change, Battle For The Sun
, the bands first new material since the switch doesn’t mark such a great shift, although there are certainly ways in which it differs from the rest of Placebo’s back catalogue.
The most obvious of these is the more guitar driven sound the album adopts compared to their earlier work. This is evident right from the off on opener Kitty Litter
, which is driven by relentless power chords that characterise much of the rest of the album. This gives much of it a louder and more aggressive sound than most of Placebo’s previous material, making it possibly their most (for use of a better word) normal sounding work to date. As with the bands more recent albums, synths also contribute to most of the songs, but mostly take the backseat to Brian Molko’s guitar. There are a few exceptions to this trend however, such as Bright Lights
, which is in fact one of the highlights.
Something else that is obvious right from the start is that the album is going to be a rough ride concerning Molko’s vocals. His voice is one of the most important elements of Placebo’s music, and while it is certainly distinctive, it can at times be a little hard to take, subsequently putting many people off. But even his own fans may find it difficult to stomach some of the tortured wails he lets off here, and they may even leave some exhausted after the opening song. His lyrics on the other hand, while still revolving around the usual themes (sex, loss, failure, etc…) are not so extreme, never reaching their twisted peak as on albums such as Black Market Music
Another difference from other Placebo albums, (particually the older ones) is the lack of any truly outstanding standouts such as Nancy Boy
or Every You Every Me
. This is not to say that the songs on Battle For The Sun
are bad, they’re not, in fact their isn’t a bad song on it, the material is all just very solid but sadly rarely spectacular. This is not a weakness as such, but it's hard to listen to the album and not feel that it would be greatly improved by a killer single or two, even if they were the best songs by some distance. Instead, the highlights tend to be standard Placebo songs such as Ashtray Heart
that bear resemblence to songs the band has written before.
For What It’s Worth
, the song that was chosen as the albums lead single is underwhelming, and doesn’t sound much better in the context of the album than it does on its own. It is a safe choice for this position, keeping to a relatively simple verse chorus verse formula that alters little throughout. Perhaps a better choice would have been the aformentioned Bright Lights
, as it has a far more catchy melody that is more pleasant on the ear than For What It’s Worth’s
painfully unimaginative chorus. The title track was also released prior to the album, and although being a little repetative was a pretty good taster, though it’s unlikely to be remembered as a Placebo classic. The closest they come to one of those is Speak In Tongues
, the anthemic nature of which will probably see it remain a staple in future live sets.
Despite its obvious flaws, Battle For The Sun is another solid album from Placebo, and should see them continue with their mainstream success on mainland Europe. While it doesn’t mark a huge departure from their earlier sound, the band is showing signs of progression, but not enough to put off their existing fanbase, which is surprisingly large, especially in France. This loyal following hasn’t ammassed for nothing, and the fact that this may well be Placebo’s weakest album yet is testament to the strength and consistency of their back catalogue.
Battle For The Sun
Speak In Tongues