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July 14, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Album: Placebo – Without You I’m Nothing (1998)

I will admit that my experiences with homosexuality aren’t many. Apart from watching the more bizarre documentaries on Animal Planet and staring with an unusual fixation at Grayson Gilmour crooning at the piano, I consider myself pretty straight and narrow. In fact in my younger years I wouldn’t have even permitted the thought of anything past a platonic relationship with my own gender to cross my mind; that is until Placebo forced me to meet and befriend the issue face to face.

Without You I’m Nothing is Brian Molko’s second entry in his journal about coming to grips with his bisexual instincts, and his general pain at living a fucked up existence as a fucked up person, stereotyped, branded, and ostracised from a fucked up society. It is the story of a battle that seems ultimately futile, but he never lets go of the foolish hope that with a bit of help from the dragon in his vain, the pain will subside.

Away from Placebo’s notoriously explicit image and Molko’s reputation for being controversially androgynous, it was this quality of melancholic expectation that made the album so unusually striking. For me, as a child of 11 years and horribly ignorant of the world of alternative music, it was Placebo’s portrayal of alternative ideas in such an original and accessible form that made the album so very compelling.

My initial relationship with Without You I’m Nothing was little more than chance hearings of Brian Molko’s, sweet, feminine voice carrying through my brother’s bedroom door. Every time I ventured to the bathroom at 3am I would catch snippets of such strange and uncomfortable lyrics about crawling skin, wasted chances, and stolen smiles. I couldn’t make a sandwich without being filled with sadomasochistic and homoerotic mental imagery of thighs bleeding through ripped stockings, and boys dressed up in leather gowns. For a young mind such ickiness was surely disturbing, but Placebo’s blunt honesty in discussing the seedy under-scrotum of society (that we are so afraid to discuss) made them undeniably awesome.

Despite being criticized as playing off an image to sell albums, it was this honesty that made them a genuine alternativepunk band. They were out to fulfill the objective only the best musicians aspire to: not to ‘rock out’, nor to ‘tear the shit apart’, only to express themselves justly with music. Molko’s lyrics are as brutally honest as they are bitter, spiteful grudging and yet somehow content. This tense confusion fuels the first half of the album, through ‘Pure Morning’, ‘Ask for Answers’ and is finally released in the title track ‘Without You I’m Nothing’. This is a song featuring an exasperated, meandering guitar part which gasps for breath after every line Molko slurs out. The song climaxes and the tension released as Molko realizes “Without you I’m nothing, Without you I’m nothing at all.”

The remainder of the album holds more of a confidence about it. ‘Summer’s Gone’, ‘My Sweet Prince’, and ‘Burger Queen are sweetened in the wake of ‘Without You I’m Nothing’s epiphany, and are more quietly reflective than disturbing.

Although it is hardly commonplace to see this album heralded as a ‘classic’, but based on its musical merits, its continuity, its message and its absolutely beautiful substance, it fucking well should be. At least Salient has the insight and the taste to see how amazing this album was, past the short-sighted focus of its two major singles ‘Pure Morning’ and ‘Every Me Every You’ and the impact they had on pop-culture. If you haven’t heard this album in its entirety (this is an ‘album’ from start to finish) then next time your dog dies, or your girlfriend leaves you, give it a shot. It makes life better.

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