Placebo Aim To Shed Drug-Crazed Hedonist Image

On upcoming second album, funk-punk trio takes mature look at personal toll of fame.

Some might argue that the emphasis on love -- rather than sex -- on funky punk-band Placebo's new album is in answer to U.K. critics who have labeled them drug-crazed hedonists.

But the more mature sentiments on the band's upcoming second release are real, claimed the group's provocative, American-born singer, Brian Molko, who says he has heard all the criticisms before.

"[It's] primarily packed-full of twisted, broken-hearted love songs," the 25-year-old Molko said of the new album, Without You I'm Nothing (Nov. 3). "It's kind-of what we've been through [personally] since things started to happen for us [professionally]."

The album is a move away from the wild and debauched ways of the band's past -- which Molko said were exaggerated by the media in their reviews of the album and the band.

"I became a cartoon character in the British music-press -- a priapic dwarf shoveling coke up [my] nose and f---ing anything that had a mouth ... It was far from the truth," the eye-makeup-wearing Molko said between sips of vodka and cranberry juice in the lounge of the Soho Grand Hotel in Manhattan, N.Y. "Partly it was my fault. But I reached the point where I felt like Dr. Frankenstein. I created this monster who was running around the village."

Molko does acknowledge that Placebo were into being rock stars -- especially after the band's David Bowie-inspired pop-metal and Molko's attention-grabbing personality brought them notoriety in England. "[We were] embracing things that were very rock 'n' roll," he said, referring to a spell of drug abuse and a confrontational attitude. "We were bearing dangerously close to becoming a bit of a rock 'n' roll cliche."

The sex-focused songs on Placebo's 1995 eponymous debut album -- such as "Nancy Boy" (RealAudio excerpt) -- didn't help matters.

But on the new album, the band's circle of concern has grown much wider, as the members have apparently matured in the past few years. "We've thankfully pulled ourselves back from [previous rock 'n' roll excesses]," Molko said.

On tracks such as "You Don't Care About Us" and "My Sweet Prince," Placebo examine romances that have been affected by their fame. The former combines a rapid-fire punk beat with Molko's vocals, which combine characteristics of Rush singer Geddy Lee, ex-Velvet Underground leader Lou Reed and R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, to create a vivid picture of bad love.

"[The song is] about an ex-lover of mine screaming at me for being crap at our relationship," Molko said. "The line 'You're in the wrong place, you're on the back page' is kind-of how I used to start relationships -- to imagine the end, when they were [just] starting -- and if you do that, you're f---ed."

In addition, Placebo will soon be serving U.S. radio stations with their new single, "Pure Morning" (RealAudio excerpt), a mix of punk and glam with a hip-hop backbeat. They will also be appearing in the movie "Velvet Goldmine," the just-released, fictional biography of a glam-rocker, based on the career of rock pioneer David Bowie, in which Placebo portray a glam-rock band and take a stab at the T. Rex song "20th Century Boy."

However, the band is focusing much of its efforts right now on getting the word out about Without You I'm Nothing. Produced by Steve Osborne (U2 and Happy Mondays) at singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios in Bath, England, the record finds the group venturing into new musical territory, both with songwriting and in the studio.

In addition to singer Molko and 24-year-old Swedish bass player/guitarist Stefan Olsdal, the album features the deft drumming of 27-year-old English drummer Steve Hewitt, who didn't play on Placebo's debut.

Hewitt contributed to Placebo's early demos in the mid-'90s, but was committed to another band. He stepped aside, and Robert Schultzberg helmed the drums on the debut album. But after a few years, tension erupted between Molko and Schultzberg.

Hewitt had heard that his former bandmates were attracting attention in England and was happy to jump back in, he said.

"I was scared [about recording] the second LP," Hewitt said. "The first LP goes gold in England, that's your next standard [and] I wasn't on the first one! [I felt] it's now or never, [but] we did it with great ease."

"The [early] reaction from America and around the world on this new LP is fantastic," Hewitt added.

The only U.S. gig scheduled this year for Placebo is in November, at the CMJ Music Convention in New York City. The band is looking, however, to return to the U.S. next year to do some touring, Molko said.