Placebo - Placebo

NEUROSES - NO serious artist should be without 'em. There's surely nothing better than the sound of an overwrought artist grappling with a sackful of psychological disorders. Frankly, if suffering for your art were made compulsory, then maybe everything would sound like Placebo's anxiety-packed (but inspired) debut.

Yep, it's pure teenage angst around here, because singer Brian Molko is worried about absolutely everything: his body decaying ('Teenage Angst'), his mind being frazzled by wilful substance abuse ('Hang On To Your IQ') and, of course, the omnipresent threat of being suffocated, paralysed or boiled alive (everywhere else). And when he's not fretting about those sort of things, he's putting on make-up, dousing himself with cheap perfume and having sex with a paper-bag on his head ("The greatest lay I ever had" - 'Nancy Boy'). So, he's just your everyday, cross-dressing, goth pervert then? Not half - but, at least, he's making an effort to slip copious amounts of abnormality into his indecently catchy pop songs, so people will be humming along with them, way before they realise what he's actually singing about. Which is exactly the sort of behaviour you might expect from an itinerant American, brought up in Luxembourg, who's now pretty convinced he's British. Confusing, eh?

Basically, we're talking a pan-continental three-piece (the bassist and drummer originally hail from Sweden), hellbent on giving drab, old Brit-muzak a spiky, sonic enema. The impeccably insistent singles ('Come Home', '36 Degrees' and 'Bruise Pristine') avoid the grey-boy clichŽs of The Jam, while still being penetratingly direct. In actual fact, Placebo are far more likely to remind you of the impassioned yelping of the fledgling Nirvana's 'Bleach' album - that is tortured, but darn energetic.

Like Kurt Cobain, Molko spends much of his time sounding like he's being poked in the vitals with a sharpened ice-lolly. So his voice is distinctive, but never irritating. He even proceeds to get all husky on the album's final (disappointing) track - 'Swallow' - where we enter the moody, but regrettable world of the Sonic Youth spoken-word pastiche.

Still, minor quibbles be cursed, because this is an all too rare pop record with intentions far beyond the drab recreation of vintage '60s moments. Instead, our drag-addicted frontman attempts to make our lives complete with a brutal lesson in the value of gloom'n'tunes.

The last person to try this was Robert Smith. He is now an extremely rich man.


James Oldham