10 Best Placebo Songs
As with any band that has been around for nearly two decades, Placebo have seen a fair bit of change over the years. With three different drummers, an extreme variety of haircuts sported by frontman Brian Molko and a musical shift from gritty grunge to slightly more anthemic stadium rock, Placebo are tough to peg. With the band gearing up to release their seventh studio album, ‘Loud Like Love,' on Sept. 17, we decided to take stock of their discography (from singles to covers to rare B-sides) and put together this list of the 10 Best Placebo Songs.
For Placebo fans waiting impatiently for a follow-up to 2009’s ‘Battle For the Sun,’ the 2012 EP ‘B3’ was a slightly unexpected treat to tide everyone over. ‘B3’ is one of Placebo’s most divisive releases, but fortunately, it contains a previously unreleased gem. ‘The Extra’ (said to have been recorded during their ‘Battle For the Sun’ sessions) may seem a bit lyrically straightforward (“If I am an extra in the film of my own life / Then who the hell is the director/If I am an extra in the film of my own life / Will someone please turn of the camera / And show me how to live”), but the idea of feeling like an extra in one’s own life makes this one of Placebo’s most universally relatable songs.
“You are one of god's mistakes / You crying, tragic waste of skin.” If we were giving out an award for the angriest, most vicious opening line to a song, then this one might just take home the gold medal. But it’s not referring to an ex or an enemy -- Brian Molko supposedly wrote this song as a letter to himself, after traveling to India in an attempt to better his lifestyle. Plus, the video that accompanies this song (which shows a young boy looking after his mentally ill father) is overwhelmingly beautiful and emotional.
‘Sleeping With Ghosts’ (2003)
“Soulmates never die”: quite a simply worded idea, yet it’s one of the most powerful, resonating lines from any Placebo song (and possibly one of the most popular band-related tattoos amongst fans). No. 8 on our list of the 10 Best Placebo Songs centers on the idea that the ghosts of your past relationships never leave you. That's something we can all appreciate.
‘Ashtray Heart’ B-side (2009)/Archive cover
Trying to stick with just one cover was difficult. Placebo have quite a few brilliant cover songs (‘Running Up That Hill’ being one of the most successfully popular and admired), but the best one has to be their cover of Archive’s 2004 song ‘F--- U.' With the general consensus being that this song is about self-hatred, there are some extremely harsh, bitterly cutting lyrics (“There's a space kept in hell with your name on the seat / With a spike in the chair just to make it complete / When you look at yourself do you see what I see? / If you do, why the f--- are you looking at me?”) that the original version doesn’t quite live up to. (Albeit, it’s still a great song). Yet Placebo manage to bring every ounce of hatred in this song to the surface.
‘Without You I’m Nothing’ (1998)
This is probably one of their most well-known tunes, due to its inclusion in the opening credits of everyone’s favorite coming-of-age/girl-on-girl-kiss/cult classic film, 'Cruel Intentions.' If you are -- or ever have been -- a Placebo fan, you probably first heard of them from that film, as this song has become synonymous with Sebastian driving his 1956 Jaguar down the highway. (Similarly, you can’t listen to the Verve without picturing Kathryn crying.)
Placebo have always regarded themselves as a band of outcasts, making music for outsiders like themselves. In many ways, ‘Teenage Angst,' next on our list of the 10 Best Placebo Songs, sums up that exact sentiment. As Molko once explained, this is a genuine yet “self-deprecating” song about being an adult trapped in a kid’s body, wanting to break out but being forced to close oneself off entirely. ‘Teenage Angst’ also features one of the greatest/most disturbing lines from Placebo’s debut album: “Since I was born I started to decay / Now nothing ever, ever goes my way.”
‘Battle For the Sun’ B-side (2009)
Unfortunately, there's very little information available on this song, aside from the fact that it was officially released as an extra track on the ‘Battle For the Sun’ vinyl edition. It’s one of the most gorgeous songs the band has recorded, yet it’s managed to stay hidden under all of their other material. The eerily soothing musical arrangement works perfectly with Brian Molko’s distinctive spoken-word vocals. This is a song about being emotionally disconnected from the one you love while desperately wishing to once again be the one that person dreams about. Lyrically, this is some of Molko’s finest poetic work. “I always watch you when you're dreaming / Because I know it's not of me / I smoke a dozen cancer sticks / Imagine there are two or three ways / To make you love me / And not dream of someone else / Become the movie on your eyelids / The reflection of yourself."
This is the song that defines the early stages of Placebo’s career. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to the extreme, along with a twist of androgyny, this was the raunchy, controversial material that highlighted the band’s sexual ambiguity (with the help of Brian Molko’s affinity for wearing dresses). ‘Nancy Boy’ characterized the unrivaled sound of Placebo’s debut album and kick-started their musical career.
‘Without You I’m Nothing’ (1998)
Any song that features vocals from David Bowie (on its remixed single version) deserves a high spot on this list for those credentials alone, although ‘Without You I’m Nothing’ is certainly worthy on its own merit. It’s one of the finest moments from the band’s second album, if not their entire career. Like most songs, it’s open to interpretation, and whatever or whomever Molko is singing about, the line “Without you I’m nothing at all” is a sentiment we’ve all felt at one point or another. It’s not overly soppy, yet it gets straight to the point while tugging slightly at your fragile heart.
‘Without You I’m Nothing’ (1998)
Brian Molko has stated that this, No. 1 on our list of the 10 Best Placebo Songs, is about two romances: one with a substance (heroin) and one with a person. Both, he says, ended “very, very tragically.” Although it’s quite simplistic musically, this song oozes with stunning raw emotion, and it’s apparent with just about any live performance available on YouTube (especially this one). Even though it’s been more than a decade since this song came out, each and every listen reminds fans why they fell head over heels in love with this band.