Being someone who relies primarily on Soulseek to hear most of the new music that passes through my ears, I often have a thought when downloading/listening to an advance copy of an album: Is this really the album? In that, have I just downloaded something which I will think for the rest of all time is truly the album, when in fact it's just a leaked teaser to throw off assholes like me? Can I truly be sure of what I'm hearing?
Granted, it's a fleeting thought, because quite frankly, who would do that? Who would release an entire dummy album that sounds enough like the band to deceive people into believing it is truly the album? I mean, Madonna releasing 30 second snippets and then laughing maniacally and cursing downloaders for the rest of the track(s)-- sure, I can see that. But the fear of a dummy album is largely unwarranted, and the thought quickly passes.
In a related note, at this point in my life, you would think I've learned not to overhype things in my mind before actually hearing them. I tend to do this often-- when I hear that a band I enjoy is releasing a new album, I get all giddy imagining the awesomeness that will soon explode in my eardrums. Inevitably, I am left disappointed as expectations are not met. Most recently, this happened with Kanye-- as I've written before, immediately upon hearing "Diamonds" I was ready to ink Late Registration
onto my Top 10 list, only to be severely underwhelmed upon hearing the full album.
Recently, I was confronted with both of these abject thoughts upon hearing the new albums from two bands that I unabashedly adore and was/am extremely excited for-- Elan Vital
by Pretty Girls Make Graves and Placebo's Meds
. One is a case in which both of these thoughts crash headlong into themselves, while the other is one in which these thoughts are quickly abandoned.
First, Elan Vital
. Now, I understand that certain albums are growers, ones in which you've got to invest a significant amount of time to discover the subtle nuances found within and allow the whole thing to sink into your brain. And maybe this is the case with Elan Vital
, that I just have to live with this album and let it sink into me a little bit more, grow to appreciate what the first handful of listens have failed to illuminate to my addled little brain. However, my first reaction upon finally hearing this album, an album I had mentally pegged as likely to be one of 2006's finer works, was Is this it?
It's not that it's a bad album-- in fact, I could easily see, if I give it a chance, it growing into a work of art that I truly appreciate and enjoy. However, upon first hearing it, I was forced to wonder if I had in fact downloaded the album or rather some unfinished demos. I mean, the songs are alright, but they seem to be lacking that trademark PGMG burst of intensity and white hot heat, found on tracks like "All Medicated Geniuses" or "This Is Our Emergency." The only real song found here that truly harkens back to that same vein is album opener "The Nocturnal House," with it's whistle blowing rev-up will sure to be a delight in the live experience. "Wildcat" is another song that harkens back to older PGMG, although again, lacking in that certain brand of intensity.
However, the rest of the album abounds in good ideas-- it just seems as if they've remained unfinished, like the band was gonna add the finishing sheen to them, only to move on and say "Fuck it." It's not to say that songs such as "Pyrite Pedestal" or "The Number" aren't interesting or worthwhile ideas, for they are-- they just seem to be missing that traditional spark that made previous PGMG albums so interesting and fun. "Pictures of a Night Scene" exemplifies this idea perfectly: it spends two minutes slowly building the tension, making you believe that another "This is Our Emergency" type monster is coming. Hell, get past the odd jazz flourishes, and the last 30 seconds begin to push the tempo, and you figure the big pay off is coming-- only to have the song simply peter out abrubtly. And thats sort of how the album is as a whole-- you can see where they were going, and what they were trying to do, but it doesn't seem as if they quite get there, at least not nearly as well as they did on The New Romance
As I wrote above, I am fairly certain there are things to be discovered within this album, and I would not be surprised if given time, this album winds up at least within sniffing distance of my Best of 2006. After all, it would be wrong of me to simply expect The New Romance Redux,
and I'm certainly willing to give a band as talented and esteemed (at least by me) as Pretty Girls Make Graves every opportunity to prove me wrong. So do not be surprised to hear me change my tune about this album in a month or so-
but as of right now, I can't help but once again be disappointed by my own minds overhyping and wonder if I did in fact download the true album.
This is not the case, however, with Placebo's Meds.
In a review of their last album for the Kenyon Collegian
, I wrote something like the Placebo blueprint was something to be studied and emulated by any young band stalking the Earth-- namely, that four albums in, they've continued to improve, each album better than the last. Well, with Meds
, album number five, they continue to back up that point, as this is unquestionably their best work yet.
Whereas previous Placebo album showed frequent flashes of catchy rocking and witty brilliance, they were often balanced out by boring clunkers that necessitated the fast forward button. Sleeping With Ghosts
came close to alleviating this problem, but still featured some songs which I could have done without ("Plasticine" and "Something Rotten" being two primary examples). With the exception of "Space Monkey," Meds
is primarily an exercise in enjoyable rocking out for this humble fan.
One of the things that Placebo has always had going for it is its ability to craft balls out, catchy as hell anthems seemingly at will-- see "Every Me, Every You," "The Bitter End," "Second Sight," "Slave To The Wage," etc. So when I read that this album was designed to be a return to their live rock roots, I was excited, and that excitement is well founded-- this album is chock ful of anthems which are sure to incite frenzies in arenas all over the globe.
"Infra-Red" might be the catchiest yet most chiling stalker song since The Police's "I'll Be Watching You", with it's lyrical refrain of "Someone call the ambulance, there's gonna be an accident/ I'm coming up on infra-red, there is no running that can hide you, cause I can see in the dark."
"Drag" is a typical catchy Placebo style love song, in that it manages to be heart warming yet slightly depressing/unnerving at the same time, if that makes sense. "Post Blue" and "One of A Kind" definitely rock out, while "Song To Say Goodbye," with its lurching guitar intro and kiss off of "You are one of God's mistakes, you crying, tragic waste of skin/ I'm well aware of how it aches, and you still won't let me in" closes the album in raucous fashion.
In addition to the anthems, every Placebo album has it's one epic, heart tugging ballad-- whether it's "Without You I'm Nothing" on the album of the same name, "Passive Aggressive" from Black Market Music
or "Special Needs"
from Sleeping With Ghosts
, it's gotta be there. And the boys come up with what just might be the best of the bunch in "Follow the Cops Home," nearly five minutes of melancholy bliss. Hell, even the track with R.E.M's Michael Stipe (!) works out surprisingly well, with Stipe and lead vocalist Brian Molko harmonizing quite well.
Add it all up, and you've got one hell of an album, certainly the best of Placebo's career, and one that is bound to find it's way high atop my list of albums for the year 2006. Although my expectations for this album were high, the boys from England have managed to batter them and better them by miles, an amazing feat. And in a weird way, I almost wish this was a dummy album-- because if the album leaked to throw people off is this good, could you imagine how dope the real
album would be?