Welcome to a happy accident: When Brian Molko - singer songwriter with bleak-hearted rock three piece, Placebo - began writing his band's seventh studio album, his intention was to sketch out enough tracks to make the B3 EP. What followed wasa splurge of creativity and grand ambition that resulted in Loud Like Love, a release that marks Placebo as a band big on heart-scarred intimacy as well as anthemic pop hooks.
"I wanted to write a record that was all killer and no filler," says Molko."That's what we strived for when we first started what would become Loud Like Love.”
From its surging title track and the Jim Steinman-influenced Too Many Friends, to Bosco's desolate lyricism, the band's seventh studio album feels like aslow-burning addition to their 12 million-selling back catalogue. Gone are the waspish, immediate guitar rushes that defined the early salvos of Placebo's17-year career. In their place stand a collection of intimate, occasionally challenging songs that grow stronger with repeated plays.
"We'vehad the courage to lay ourselves bare on this album," says Molko."It's our most emotional record and the one where I've taken the mostrisks with what I'm prepared to write about because I also had to find thecourage to follow an avenue that I might have considered clichéd 20 years ago.I've written songs about love, but not love songs like I Love You Baby, orHello, but conceptually all the songs are about love, in one way or another.
"Sometimeslove is a really brutal thing, it can be violent and filled with suchdisappointment and rejection. I think the album is about that, rather than howgreat it is to love somebody. Love is hard. Sometimes it's hard to love yourpartner, sometimes it's hard to love your kid. Sometimes it's really hard tolove yourself, or feel like you're worthy of being loved. Once that themeemerged, I wanted to explore it further. The record has dramatic occasion, butthere's an emotional weight within it, too."
Writingon Loud Like Love began in April 2012, when Placebo - Molko plus bassist,Stefan Olsdal and drummer, Steve Forrest - recorded the five track EP, B3 withproducer Adam Noble (dEUS, Red Hot Chili Peppers) in a London studio. As ahandful of strong tracks emerged, the band became energised by their fertileworking atmosphere. "We were having such a good time working with Adamthat it almost felt that that we'd started recording our new album byaccident," says Molko.
"Itwas a weird experience making this record, like all our albums" saysOlsdal. "It was almost as if the other ones hadn't happened before - wealways have to go one better. I feel that we can't sit back and think, 'Well,me made six good records, so on this one we can relax.' We're our own harshestcritics."
Despitetheir eagerness to record new material, a lack of written songs quicklyhampered production; only a few tracks had been sketched out beyond therecording of the B3 EP. Meanwhile, Placebo found themselves working under thepressure of a ticking clock. A European tour was due to begin that spring andthe band were keen to make the most of their productive hot streak beforeheading out the road. To quicken the pace, Molko offered up a batch of materialpreviously written for a long-planned solo project.
"Itwas painful," he says. "But that’s part of my role. I have to thinkof the band's welfare over mine. It's like being a parent: you have to think ofthe child's welfare rather than your own. Some of the songs were rejected, ahandful were accepted, but of the ones chosen we added a Placebo twist to themusic."
Amongthese tracks was the bombastic, spiraling guitars of Too Many Friends, a taleof emotional disconnect in a world seemingly obsessed with onlinerelationships. Building on a haunting piano riff, and driving guitar curlicues,it arrives with a world-weary fragility.
"Thiswhole idea of knowing what people are doing all day doesn't interest me,"says Molko. "I want to connect with people properly, I hate it whensomeone is half-looking at me while they talk, half-checking their phone. Is itreally that difficult these days to find oneself alone with one’s own thoughtsor in another’s company without having to stare at a screen?”
Withfive songs demoed, Placebo took the unusual step of recording, producing andmixing the first half of the album before heading out on tour. The writingprocess reconvened two months later, though their unusual working methodscreated a hefty sense of expectation. Molko's next challenge was to match thework recorded in Loud Like Love's initial stages: Scene Of The Crime, Too ManyFriends, Hold On To Me and Rob The Bank.
"Itwas a completely head over heels way of making a record," says drummer,Steve Forrest. "We'd never done that before - I don't think many bandshave, and it put a great deal on pressure on us because we'd set a benchmarkfour ourselves. We had to better the first half of the record with thesecond."
ForMolko, the break provided a period of clarity, however. "It was incrediblyuseful for me because in the second half I had time to realise what it wasabout. It felt like I was writing a collection of short stories. Stepping backand looking what was written meant that I could give the lyrics some light andshade. I balanced out the theme of the record, but at the same time I found thecourage to admit to myself that I was writing about something that so manypeople had committed to before."
Theresult of this break is an album of two distinct halves: Placebo's openingsessions arrived amid a sense of excitement and optimism; Loud Like Lovetingles with the first rush of early love, Rob The Bank is a bristling hateletter. The later work carries a much darker energy. A Million Little Piecessighs with the desolate resignation of a suicide note; the stark, piano drivenBosco documents the catastrophic effects of alcohol and drugs in a strainedrelationship. It is, says Molko, his favourite song from an extensive backcatalogue and one that underpins his band's new found sense of vulnerability.
"Ifound it a completely liberating process," says Stefan Olsdal. "Oncewe recorded the first half, we could become adventurous. In my head, we werefree to experiment. The moreexperimental and layered tracks are on the second half of the record."
"Whenwe first started Placebo, our bravado was immense," says Molko. "Ithought I was invincible and that the sun shone out of my arse. I was reallyyoung and in my head I was amazing. But as I've got older, the more myconfidence has been chipped away. I don't have that bravado anymore, thevulnerability is what's left, and the result(s are) IS the most emotionalrecord we've made. I don't think we've written anything as honest as thisrecord before.
"Thealbum doesn't have to be consumed really quickly. It might take a while forpeople to fall in love with these songs; to digest what they are and tounderstand them. But in my experience, the music that I don't completelyunderstand the first time around - but I'm intrigued by - is the music I end upreally cherishing. I hope that people make that same connection with thisrecord. Because it is challenging in places, but I really think the challengeis worth it."