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    Tue, 04 Apr 2006 08:50:45

    Album Reviews: Meds by Placebo

    Brian Molko's voice remains one of the most polarizing instruments in modern rock -- you either find that nasal, androgynous whine entrancing, or it sends you in search of some Advil. But Placebo's fifth album, Meds, might finally put him in the same league as such other acquired-taste frontmen as Billy Corgan and The Cure's Robert Smith. Not only is this by far Placebo's most accomplished set of songs, it's also their most radio-friendly -- a rare feat for any band, let alone one that's been around for a decade.

    Songs like the serrated title track (a duet with The Kills' Alison Mosshart) and the brooding, faux-industrial "Space Monkey" will be instantly recognizable to fans of Placebo's earlier work, but they're the exceptions in this set. More typical is the lead single "Infra-Red," which just uses touches of the band's goth-meets-glam roots to flesh out what is essentially an arena-ready slab of crunchy-guitar, soaring-chorus power pop. It's also one of at least half a dozen flat-out great songs on Meds, including "Drag," which evokes the Smashing Pumpkins when they were in power-pop mode, and "Broken Promise," a blistering quiet-loud exercise featuring Michael Stipe (who was once an acquired-taste frontman himself, before he graduated to elder statesman status).

    What's most exciting about Meds is that, as Placebo's music gets more accessible and less overwrought, Molko's lyrics are actually becoming smarter and more evocative. Even a woe-is-me, lover's quarrel track like "Pierrot the Clown" strikes just the right note of sardonic wit ("See you right back here tomorrow/For the next round/Keep this scene inside your head/As the bruises turn to yellow/The swelling goes down") to undercut its own literary pretensions. At a point in his career when many songwriters start to run out of ideas, Molko seems to be just hitting his stride.

    In a way, Meds establishes Placebo as Britain's darker, edgier answer to Death Cab for Cutie -- a band with a quirky, literate frontman and a sound that carries forward the best traditions of the so-called "college rock" sound of the late '80s. They certainly deserve the same amount of attention as Death Cab has gotten, and Meds should be the album that gives it to them. -- Andy Hermann

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