Sexual androgyny doesn't quite work when you’re approaching 40, but time makes fools of us all. Take Brian Molko, a man who marketed himself on his feminine looks whose sexually ambiguous image came toppling down when his hair started to recede and his once taut skin started to show the wear of over a decade on the road. He no longer caused confusion for teenage boys, but instead looked like one of their dads who’d been caught trying on some of his wife’s make-up when he thought that no one else was home.
Fast-forward to 2012 and something strange has happened: Molko’s hair has grown back, and the wrinkles and lines have been ironed out of his face. It’s as if the ageing process has magically reversed, presumably as the result of Dr Magnifico’s Wonderous Anti-Aging Serum, no doubt purchased on one of Placebo’s seemingly endless tours.
Indeed the anti-aging qualities that have struck Molko’s visage have also magically transferred to Placebo’s music – with the B3 EP sounding exactly as if it had been recorded almost a decade and a half ago. It is almost as if there has been no musical development since Placebo’s 2000 album Black Market Music – a great feat of temporal wizardry if ever there was one - I must look out for some of Dr Magnifico’s Wonderous Anti-Aging Serum for myself.
Pushing his voice to its limits is not the best idea though when your voice is a weak as Molko’s
EP-opener ‘B3’ kicks off with a dirty synth bass hook and spiralling guitars that point to something quite exciting. There are hints of the brilliance of tracks like ‘Pure Morning’ and ‘Taste In Men’, but this feeling quickly dissolves as the slow deliberate vocals of the verse make the song feel incredibly boring. Molko has never been known for his sweeping vocal range, but on B3 he is practically mono-tone. The chorus is a little more interesting as the guitars become heavier and more chaotic, but the vocals seem to hold the song back from becoming anything more than mediocre.
‘I Know You Want To Stop’ is jerky and urgent, with off-beat drumming and fractured vocals. This song makes for an intriguing listen, at least for a while, but soon becomes quite tiresome: an effect-laden guitar is added to the chorus, and a few grungy riffs added in beyond this. It’s as if ‘I Know You Want To Stop’ has the foundations of an innovative piece of music but fails to leave the starting blocks.
‘The Extra’ combines dark acoustic guitars with downbeat electronica, and continues the trend of a band bursting with ideas that they don’t know how to develop. The chorus is very good: bursts of synthesized bass and dampened piano chords resonate across the mix as Molko’s vocals pick up in energy and pace. What is striking about this song is how much effort Molko puts into making the vocals more powerful and dynamic than previous offerings on the EP. Pushing his voice to its limits is not the best idea though when your voice is a weak as Molko’s, as the words end up sounding horribly forced.
...it lacks imagination and sets you in the feeling of remarkable indifference
The first thing that strikes you about ‘I.K.W.Y.L.’ is that Molko’s vocals are far too loud in the mix and swamp the other instruments. Again, we see the roots of another excellent piece of music – the opening guitar riff is quite beautiful, but starts to lose its power as it is continually repeated, as if stuck on a perpetual loop, for the remaindered of the song. ‘I.K.W.Y.L.’ just seems to plod along in the usual verse-chorus-verse structure until it reaches a crescendo of distortion and noise. It’s a structure that has been used so many times in alternative rock that it has become something of a cliché – yet more evidence of Placebo’s lack of imagination.
‘Time is Money’ meanders around the same musical locale as the hidden track ‘A Fond Farewell’ from Placebo’s debut album, with its gorgeous piano and subtle guitar-work. Unlike ‘A Fond Farewell’, ‘Time is Money’ lacks the subtle dynamic fluctuations that made ‘A Fond Farewell sound so fantastic. Molko’s vocals sound particularly whiney in this one, and as he repeats the name Jesus over the chorus, I can imagine dogs would want to cover their ears lest they damage their poor eardrums. There are some great moments in this song, but as is characteristic of the rest of the EP, it lacks imagination and sets you in the feeling of remarkable indifference.
B3 is an unremarkable EP that won’t do anything to spark a renewed interest in Placebo. The songs seem laboured and out of date, and it is sad that an act who started off so revolutionary and innovative could slip into such a mundane rut of unimaginative song-writing.
Rating: 2 stars
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