Placebo
Sleeping With Ghosts (Special Edition)
Astralwerks/Hut
2003
C



this being one in the increasingly common line of special editions of albums which, regardless of their merits, are far too new and numerous to merit a special edition, the review has been broken up into two parts, the Album and then the Other Stuff.

The Album: Placebo’s lyrics are horrible. That’s a given. Most of us would not listen to Placebo for the lyrics, and the fact that Brian Molko is one of the most supremely divisive characters in modern UK rock doesn’t help either. But Placebo didn’t get to be big enough for people to be annoyed by Molko just by chance, and the start of this album is actually pretty fantastic, if situated firmly in the mainstream of vaguely “alternative” modern rock. Opener ‘Bulletproof Cupid’ is instrumental, short and loud, and therefore ace. ‘English Summer Rain’ possesses a certain blunt, repetitive, New Wave beauty. And ‘This Picture’ is easily my favorite Placebo song, zipping along with verve and style and energy, even though the lyrics are kind of off (of course).

And then the title track comes on, and all that momentum just mushrooms into the nearest brick wall. ‘The Bitter End’ picks the pace back up, as if they’d remembered they’re supposed to entertain us. The album sort of seesaws back and forth from there, at its best and then at its worst, never really falling into either the ‘good enough to be recommended’ or ‘bad enough to condemn’ categories. Out of the twelve tracks, a good seven of them were worthwhile, which is a higher average than I would have guessed from my first listen to the non-special edition months ago (I confess to a fondness for the shimmering ‘Special Needs’, despite, or maybe because of, its bad lyrics). I guess it’s grown on me a little bit. Must do better, though, less self-consciousness, more hooks. More ‘Second Sight’, less ‘Protect Me From What I Want’ (both have gruesome lyrics, but only the former succeeds despite them).

The Other Stuff: God bless Placebo for not including yet another DVD or remix collection as the bonus disc, and also for not foisting a separate covers collection on their audience for an extra twenty bucks. Having a bonus disc of covers is actually a really good idea – the only people who are going to buy the special edition are the fans, and they are the ones who would want this. Not that it’s awful (although ‘Where Is My Mind’ is disposable, and ‘20th Century Boy’ was a mistake), but fans of Placebo, rather than the bands covered, will get the most of it; the version here of ‘Running Up That Hill’ is interesting, for example (being rather more doomy and less dramatic than the original), but if you already love Kate Bush this version is likely to provoke rage rather than interest. The good news is you can tell that these are actually songs the band loves,rather than focus grouped selections. The raucous take on Boney M’s ‘Daddy Cool’, for example, is an actual joy.

So, to sum up; middling, pleasant rock album given special edition treatment, where the good stuff from both original album and cover disc would have made a quite good album. Sadly, as is all too common in this day and age, both are choked with filler.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2003-12-18
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