In England, singles matter. They get enormously hyped and then played on the radio with lengthy introductions by deejays. They’re anticipated, talked about and remembered. The entire Christmas season is built around them. People actually buy them, if you can believe such a thing. But in the States, they’re not even released anymore, which by default gives Placebo’s nineteen-track singles disc a leg up on most other collections. That it’s quite good is merely incidental.
I’ll stick my tongue to a freezing pole if you can name two Placebo singles. Despite a load of U.K. press, an endorsement from David Bowie and an opening tour spot for U2, they never won over U.S. audiences past “Pure Morning” (you know, the “friend with weed” song). But Placebo kept making records, and, as this collection points out, a lot of singles, regardless of whether or not we were listening.
In hindsight, we should’ve been, because there are more than a few gems stashed away here. Once More runs through them chronologically, though it doesn’t matter. Brian Molko’s unmistakable vocal chords pierce every track; no doubt a snarl creeps over his mug as the sarcasm in “Slave to the Wage” and “Black-Eyed” oozes out in a way that’s surprisingly unpretentious.
The early singles (“Nancy Boy”) play to the chugging rhythms of bassist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Robert Schultzberg (later replaced by Steve Hewitt), but there was a clear change in direction with “Pure Morning” that dictates most of what follows. Molko’s confidence seems to have gotten a boost, both as a singer and a lead guitarist. There’s more experimentation with sounds, melodies and themes, making room for a ballad, “Special Needs,” and a hold-their-own Bowie collabo, “Without You I’m Nothing.” And there was a necessity to do so: Whereas before they were stylistically riding bitch between the Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson, Placebo could now lay claim to an identity all its own. Once More is a satisfying look back at an evolution most of us missed the first time.