Many of us have learned over the past two years (whether by choice or not) that hitting the pause button can be a good thing. Placebo’s Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal were pretty drained from a 5-year touring schedule, which spanned from shows supporting 2013’s Loud Like Love to a retrospective 20-year anniversary tour. Those years proved to be drawn out rehashes of their past catalog and didn’t leave a lot of energy or space for new creative thinking.
In 2019, after a much-needed hiatus, the duo began recording their eight studio album Never Let Me Go. Taking a breather and regrouping has clearly worked well for them, with the result being some of the best work of their career. That’s a strong statement for a band that reached a level of mutual admiration with the likes of Bowie and Robert Smith.
The album’s opener “Forever Chemicals” is gritty yet slightly off-kilter, driven by Olsdal’s bass and controlled, precise vocals from Molko. Shades of Songs of Faith & Devotion or Ultra-era Depeche Mode can’t help but come to mind.
“Beautiful James” was the first teaser single, released back in Sept 2021 and is probably the closest thing to 20th century Placebo you’ll find this record. It kicks in immediately, with a captivating melodic line and strong vocals. “The Prodigal”, by comparison, is built around a string section, carrying a bright undertone and lyrics that ring cautiously hopeful “when I return a better me/you’ll see that sorrow can set you free.”
“Surrounded by Spies” is fueled by infectious, repetitive chants “I saw you jump from a burning building” and “I see pieces on the bathroom floor.” It’s hard to tell if the lines are being left behind like pieces of evidence or just paranoid delusions. The poppy, upbeat “Try Better Next Time” seems like a fun sing-along until it becomes an obvious call to the world – hey, we all fucked up and are on the edge of destruction – try better next time.
Never Let Me Go continually circles back the theme that there’s a lot to be corrected (the environment, our mental states, etc.) and the naked realization that we most likely don’t have enough time or the right skills to do so. A laid-back Casio keyboard Samba beat on the aptly titled “Fix Yourself” closes out the 13-track album with Molko having the final word – “go fix yourself/instead of someone else” descending into the ether.