Battle for the Sun


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Battle for the Sun Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Placebo's career is a living, breathing example of the power of a niche audience. After making a mild splash in the glam-friendly Brit-pop aftermath -- they ratcheted up the gothic androgyny of Suede, straightening out the guitars while piling up the makeup, vocal tics, and tortured poetry -- the group settled into an appreciative cult that never seemed to penetrate the pop consciousness on either side of the ocean. Battle for the Sun, the band's sixth album and first with drummer Steve Forrest, is given a steel-reinforced production by David Bottrill, a sound that could conceivably be placed on mainstream rock radio if that format still existed, or if it were used as a vehicle for something else than Placebo's music, which remains resolutely pitched toward a niche audience, no matter how many little frills of horns or farting synths grace their guitar grind. Certainly, a good portion of what makes Placebo a cult band is Brian Molko himself, how his strangled vocal affectations and enduring angst speak directly to a small, dedicated batch of listeners while alienating all others, something that Molko, after a decade and a half of semi-stardom, rightly wears as a badge of honor, but the increased care spent on the sound of Battle for the Sun emphasizes how the band's sound -- an extension of '80s growth, right down to its reflected love of '70s Bowie, but never unfriendly to any passing electronic fad -- is never quite hooky, nor does it have a rock kick. Instead, everything about Battle for the Sun -- the thumping rhythms, the subtly churning keyboards, the clanking grind of the digital distortion -- is coloring for the group's disaffected stance, not so much stylish but terminally out of time, alienation preserved in amber for those few who understand.

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