Since the band's 1996 self-titled debut, Placebo has penchant for delivering spiky, stylishly slick pop songs, in particular "Nancy Boy" and "Pure Morning." Brian Molko's femme-like vocals and androgynous appearance is matched with Stefan Olsdal and Steve Hewitt's solid glam-inspired instrumentation, giving Placebo a spot of its own in the typically cheeky Brit-pop scene. Fourth album Sleeping with Ghosts works with the band's post-grunge/experimental desire to keep things campy and emotionally intact; however, Placebo's a bit reserved this time around. While Without You I'm Nothing boasted a glam rock edge and Black Market Music captured more of a punk-glam polish, Sleeping With Ghosts crawls with mopish, gnarled ballads. "Bulletproof Cupid" is a vibrant album opener with classic guitar snarling, but the album's intensity quickly drops when "English Summer Rain"'s flimsy electronic bits lose step with Molko's dismal interpretation of nature. The electric riffs of "The Bitter End" stick with Placebo's frenzied rock style, and "Plasticine" and "Second Sight" are equally cool dark pop, but stand in contrast to the bigger standouts of "Taste in Men" from Black Market Music and "Every You Every Me" from Without You I'm Nothing. Placebo has an undeniable swagger, and any attempt to tame its overconfident character simply doesn't work. The whiny, synth-driven "Protect Me from What I Want" is a perfect example; Molko's sharp wit is much too literal in criticizing social conformity, typically mocking and self-deprecating as in the song "Special Needs." Sleeping with Ghosts doesn't venture out lyrically or sonically, but that's not to say it's a bad album. The members of Placebo, now in their early thirties, move beyond the spit and scowl of their previous albums, and new fans will find Sleeping with Ghosts to be a good record. Old fans, though, might think the band wimped out while growing up.
AllMusic Review by MacKenzie Wilson