Placebo - Battle for the Sun
Record Label: Vagrant Records
Release Date: June 8, 2009
Presumably, Placebo have been around long enough to know what works, and distinctively whiny vocals, variety in instrumentation, and, every now and then, tracks featured in teen movies work for them. Battle for the Sun, the London band’s sixth studio release, employs the first two parts of that proven winning combination for enjoyable but not necessarily show-stopping results. The newest album’s thirteen tracks are solid, though they somewhat lack the biting edge that Placebo fans found on older hits like “Pure Morning” and “Post Blue.”
Battle for the Sun opens with “Kitty Litter,” a strong choice, since its style is easily identifiable as that of Placebo. The lyrics are mediocre, but the guitar and drum work by Stefan Olsdal and new drummer Steve Forrest is catchy and packed with that kick that goes perfectly with Brian Molko’s charming wail. “Ash Tray Heart” isn’t bad, but from there, the album goes slightly downhill. Its title track runs just over five and a half minutes, the first minute and a half of which is extremely dull. The dynamic guitar lines and the well-blended incorporation of a variety of other stringed instruments later in the song are blighted by the annoyingly repetitive lyrics. Apparently, audience understanding can only be achieved if Molko sings the last word of each phrase three times.
Thankfully, the keyboard and violins from “Battle for the Sun” pop up noticeably in other tracks on the album, where they can be more fully appreciated. Horns serve as a wonderful complement to Molko’s voice when he pleads “don’t leave me here” in the haunting and oddly beautiful closing track, “Kings of Medicine.” This track is second to none on the album, but there are a few other standout moments worth mentioning. “Happy You’re Gone” transitions nicely from a calming mixture of soft singing, light drums, and lulling keyboard progressions to a powerful, emotion-packed chorus. Other standout moments include “Devil in the Details,” which is simply arranged compared to the rest of the tracks on the album and relies heavily on Molko’s vocals for the song’s musicality, “Bright Lights” with its creative melody, and “Speak in Tongues,” a track with a climactic and powerful ending.
Unfortunately, the unique music on Battle for the Sun is not quite matched by the lyrical content. Tracks like “For What It’s Worth” and “The Never-Ending Why” are surprisingly unoriginal. The bitterness that sounds so natural being delivered by Molko does make an appearance every now and then, though, with lines like “this ain’t no singin’ in the rain; this is a twister that would destroy you” (“Julien”). In “Kings of Medicine,” Molko cleverly laments “on the tip of my tongue were words that always came out wrong, ‘cause they were drowned in Southern Comfort and left to dry out in the sun.” In “Speak in Tongues,” he issues the urgent appeal “you’re so beautiful and blasé, so please don’t let them have their way.” It may not be the most profound of sentiments, but it works.
While Battle for the Sun may not be considered an overwhelming victory for Placebo, they inarguably have quite a bit of fight in them. The album’s winning tracks are enough to balance the portions of the collection that fall short, making for an overall satisfying listen.