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Cover Art Placebo
Without You I'm Nothing
[Virgin]
Rating: 5.1

Meet deathly- pale, moon- booted Gary Numan disciple Bryan Molko. Placebo's lead singer opts for that drab George A. Romero zombie stage presence and sports a gratingly nasal Bowie- meets- Geddy Lee voice-- the end result, no doubt, of some rare Star Trekkian Vulcan voice- meld. Starship trooper Molko writes simple, abhorrently dumb- to- fairly decent songs that appeal mostly to gung-ho Dungeonmaster- types that speak fluent Klingon, and can recite the dialogue from every Monty Python episode by heart.

The snide and undeniably silly "Pure Morning," is the weakest track on the album (and, surprise-- a mainstream radio hit). It's a cynical take on friendship with the fair sex-- the kind of song that caters to 13 year old guys intimidated into asexuality by the early pubescent developments in their female peers. "A friend in need is a friend in deed/ A friend who bleeds is better/ My friend confessed she passed the test/ And we will never sever," sings Malko, while mindless distortion guitar wallpaper spreads itself thin over metronomic mechanical beats. On a later track, "Scared of Girls"-- the one with the more aggressive Siamese Dream- like guitar squall-- this topic concerning fear of female sexuality is elaborated on just as clumsily.

Strangely, Without You I'm Nothing appears to be late '90s alt-rock referencing a lot of early '90s alt-rock-- as if it were some nostalgic trip happening long before its time. Or maybe the record is ahead of its time in the sense that the '90s should be hugely popular around 2010, if the current trend shift patterns hold.

"Brick Shithouse" and "You Don't Care About Us" seem to be steps in the right direction, characterized by driving, crunchy guitar riffs reminiscent of Lou Barlow or J. Mascis's more notable work. It even boasts some lively human- like drumming. "Ask For Answers," after its annoying vocals depart, fades out with some pleasantly dreamy atmospheric strumming. The title track could be any easily- forgettable generic- sounding indie rock exercise in muddy guitar- slop with meaningless, oblique lyrics and amorphous song structure.

"Allergic (To Your Thoughts)" is an inherently idiotic song saved somewhat by emphatic noise- guitar choruses, and a churning Sonic Youth-ish underbelly. "My Sweet Prince" sounds like Molko's doing a half- assed tribute to Low's 1993 slowcore artifact, I Could Live In Hope-- it features the familiar echo- laden underwater guitar arpeggios cascading over a weightless, floating rhythm section. "The Crawl" is a blatant Man Who Sold the World rip-off. And like every other band that fancies themselves "weird" or pushing some sort of envelope, Placebo feel the need to end the disc with a shameless, boring 20+ minute elongation of the final track.

Sure, Moonboy Molko is a lousy songwriter; but his campy lyrical melodrama hits home with paste- eating geeks and plenty of hard- up, acne- ridden adolescents. And of course, cornering the market on teen- oriented sexual frustration is important to the power- hungry, monopolistic- minded Branson regime at Virgin. In this case, with Placebo's frigid nebbish- rock product, Virgin Records finally lives up to its name-- providing entertainment ideally suited for the young, cynical, insecure, and sexually- ambiguous male virgin.

-Michael Sandlin







10.0: Essential
9.5-9.9: Spectacular
9.0-9.4: Amazing
8.5-8.9: Exceptional; will likely rank among writer's top ten albums of the year
8.0-8.4: Very good
7.5-7.9: Above average; enjoyable
7.0-7.4: Not brilliant, but nice enough
6.0-6.9: Has its moments, but isn't strong
5.0-5.9: Mediocre; not good, but not awful
4.0-4.9: Just below average; bad outweighs good by just a little bit
3.0-3.9: Definitely below average, but a few redeeming qualities
2.0-2.9: Heard worse, but still pretty bad
1.0-1.9: Awful; not a single pleasant track
0.0-0.9: Breaks new ground for terrible