Although antithetical, Placebo has often been called a glam version of Nirvana. The London quartet has been honing their blend of art and rock for over a decade and guitarist Stefan Olsdal sees a lot more in their sound than a simple (and oxymoronic) comparison to any one band.
"I hear elements of the Pixies, My Bloody Valentine and even Depeche Mode in our music," says Olsdal, who sounds a bit lethargic from an extended stay in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Placebo's newest release, Meds, continues the harder direction of 2003's Sleeping With Ghosts, while still featuring the compelling subject matter that has brought the band raves across Europe, especially in France.
"France is the first place that gave us a break," says Olsdal. "Maybe the audiences there have a bit more patience than those in the States."
Although the band has collaborated with British icons such as David Bowie and the Cure's Robert Smith, they have not been able to replicate their European success across the Atlantic.
"Americans seem to like homegrown music," says Olsdal. "There is just a wide selection of good music to choose from."
Perhaps a better explanation for Placebo's lack of achievement in America would be frontman Brian Molko's confrontationally theatrical vocal style and his penchant for homoerotic themes in his songs.
"You don't have many bands with a song about an adulterous relationship between two men," says Olsdal, referring to "Broken Promises," the band's collaboration with R.EM.'s Michael Stipe. The song, much like the band's entire output, is an unrelenting tale of lust and loss, full of as much bombast as insight. Although the band is often compared to Smashing Pumpkins, a more apt association would be with Live or some of the more current American emo acts, as Placebo plays music better suited to auditoriums than clubs, emphasizing epic songs with weighty themes.
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The band has shared the stage with the aforementioned Bowie and Smith as well as U2 and as the high-profile opening act for the Sex Pistols on their ill-fated reunion tour. Olsdal said the band likes the chance to connect with as many people as possible but questions many of the bands that Placebo has been paired with.
"I mean the Sex Pistols seemed like very good people," says the guitarist, "but the whole scene was definitely weird, so odd as to not make sense."
One gets the feeling that the members of Placebo feel a bit slighted having to open for anyone, as if their lack of success here is some slight misunderstanding that will eventually be solved just as soon as Americans get some taste.
"This new record is our best effort," says Olsdal. "It reflects more of the band's live side."