Let’s be honest. There are plenty of things about Placebo besides their music (queer sexiness, looking good while smoking cigarettes and wearing eyeliner) that might make the band attractive to fans. That said, Placebo also possesses plenty of those qualities that all good rock bands should have. Most importantly: memorable songs.
Sleeping With Ghosts, the London four-piece’s fourth album since their 1996 debut, is a mature and accessible effort. While synth-heavier than previous offerings, it’s these touches that suggest technical growth and enhance the songs’ catchiness. Sure, there are plenty of cringe-inducing lyrics (“Damn the government / Damn their killing / Damn their lies”) and worn-out ruminations on societal ills (“Don’t go and sell your soul for self-esteem”), but that doesn’t make this record at all unlistenable. Instead, the record as a whole is really quite infectious.
The two words most frequently used to describe singer/guitarist Brian Molko’s voice may be “androgynous” and “whine,” but here this is less an acquired taste than it has been in the past. The instrumental sound is often so thick and so full-speed-ahead that the down-tempo title track is one of the few spacious moments until the album’s tail end. The dense and driving opener, “Bulletproof Cupid,” rivals “Second Sight” and first single “The Bitter End” as the album’s heaviest song. There are more than a few tracks that sound like they could work as singles, such as the pretty and dreamy “English Summer Rain” and the more upbeat “This Picture.” “Something Rotten,” with its creepy synth burbles, admires Nine Inch Nails. The album closes with the somber, piano-driven “Centrefolds.”
In the end, while the occasionally silly lyrics and Placebo’s occasionally gimmicky style may make Sleeping With Ghosts a guilty pleasure, it’s a pleasure nonetheless.