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 was a 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 a slow-burning addition to their 12 million-selling back catalogue. Gone are the waspish, immediate guitar rushes that defined the early salvos of Placebo’s 17-year career. In their place stand a collection of intimate, occasionally challenging songs that grow stronger with repeated plays.
“We’ve had 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 most risks with what I’m prepared to write about because I also had to find the courage 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, or Hello, but conceptually all the songs are about love, in one way or another.
“Sometimes love is a really brutal thing, it can be violent and filled with such disappointment and rejection. I think the album is about that, rather than how great it is to love somebody. Love is hard. Sometimes it’s hard to love your partner, sometimes it’s hard to love your kid. Sometimes it’s really hard to love yourself, or feel like you’re worthy of being loved. Once that theme emerged, I wanted to explore it further. The record has dramatic occasion, but there’s an emotional weight within it, too.”
Writing on Loud Like Love began in April 2012, when Placebo – Molko plus bassist, Stefan Olsdal and drummer, Steve Forrest – recorded the five track EP, B3 with producer Adam Noble (dEUS, Red Hot Chili Peppers) in a London studio. As a handful of strong tracks emerged, the band became energised by their fertile working atmosphere. “We were having such a good time working with Adam that it almost felt that that we’d started recording our new album by accident,” says Molko.
“It was a weird experience making this record, like all our albums” says Olsdal. “It was almost as if the other ones hadn’t happened before – we always 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 harshest critics.”
Despite their eagerness to record new material, a lack of written songs quickly hampered production; only a few tracks had been sketched out beyond the recording of the B3 EP. Meanwhile, Placebo found themselves working under the pressure of a ticking clock. A European tour was due to begin that spring and the band were keen to make the most of their productive hot streak before heading out the road. To quicken the pace, Molko offered up a batch of material previously written for a long-planned solo project.
“It was painful,” he says. “But that’s part of my role. I have to think of the band’s welfare over mine. It’s like being a parent: you have to think of the child’s welfare rather than your own. Some of the songs were rejected, a handful were accepted, but of the ones chosen we added a Placebo twist to the music.”
Among these tracks was the bombastic, spiraling guitars of Too Many Friends, a tale of emotional disconnect in a world seemingly obsessed with online relationships. Building on a haunting piano riff, and driving guitar curlicues, it arrives with a world-weary fragility.
“This whole 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 when someone is half-looking at me while they talk, half-checking their phone. Is it really that difficult these days to find oneself alone with one’s own thoughts or in another’s company without having to stare at a screen?”
With five songs demoed, Placebo took the unusual step of recording, producing and mixing the first half of the album before heading out on tour. The writing process reconvened two months later, though their unusual working methods created a hefty sense of expectation. Molko’s next challenge was to match the work recorded in Loud Like Love’s initial stages: Scene Of The Crime, Too Many Friends, Hold On To Me and Rob The Bank.
“It was 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 bands have, and it put a great deal on pressure on us because we’d set a benchmark four ourselves. We had to better the first half of the record with the second.”
For Molko, the break provided a period of clarity, however. “It was incredibly useful for me because in the second half I had time to realise what it was about. It felt like I was writing a collection of short stories. Stepping back and looking what was written meant that I could give the lyrics some light and shade. I balanced out the theme of the record, but at the same time I found the courage to admit to myself that I was writing about something that so many people had committed to before.”
The result of this break is an album of two distinct halves: Placebo’s opening sessions arrived amid a sense of excitement and optimism; Loud Like Love tingles with the first rush of early love, Rob The Bank is a bristling hate letter. The later work carries a much darker energy. A Million Little Pieces sighs with the desolate resignation of a suicide note; the stark, piano driven Bosco documents the catastrophic effects of alcohol and drugs in a strained relationship. It is, says Molko, his favourite song from an extensive back catalogue and one that underpins his band’s new found sense of vulnerability.
“I found it a completely liberating process,” says Stefan Olsdal. “Once we recorded the first half, we could become adventurous. In my head, we were free to experiment. The more experimental and layered tracks are on the second half of the record.”
“When we first started Placebo, our bravado was immense,” says Molko. “I thought I was invincible and that the sun shone out of my arse. I was really young and in my head I was amazing. But as I’ve got older, the more my confidence has been chipped away. I don’t have that bravado anymore, the vulnerability is what’s left, and the result(s are) IS the most emotional record we’ve made. I don’t think we’ve written anything as honest as this record before.
“The album doesn’t have to be consumed really quickly. It might take a while for people to fall in love with these songs; to digest what they are and to understand them. But in my experience, the music that I don’t completely understand the first time around – but I’m intrigued by – is the music I end up really cherishing. I hope that people make that same connection with this record. Because it is challenging in places, but I really think the challenge is worth it.”