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Placebo's Effect: A Dynamic, Enduring Sound

November 28, 1998|RICHARD CROMELIN

*** 1/2 Placebo "Without You I'm Nothing" / Virgin

"Pure Morning," the first single and the opening track from Placebo's new album, has the feel of some half-remembered glam-rock classic, but it's an original all the way. The combination of aggressive delivery, snaky melody and grinding, darkly erotic groove adds up to one of the most dynamic tracks of the year.

Of course, other Brits have knocked loudly with a great single and then quickly vanished (can you spell EMF?), but this London trio backs it up throughout this varied, often surprisingly touching second album. The band can suggest a vulnerability in the midst of its in-your-face attitude, and it has an Oasis-like ability to evoke a kaleidoscope of pop touchstones--the Cure, Bowie, U2, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Velvet Underground--without seeming like petty shoplifters.

Stefan Olsdal frequently uses his lurching, sputtering guitar to shatter a standard song structure, reinforcing the band's preoccupation with fragmentation--of relationships and of the individual. Singer Brian Molko sorts through these shards with a cheeky charm. Sexual ambiguity and emotional ambivalence are the predominant themes, but it's the tremble of reassurance in his voice that matters most. The band will be at the Whisky on Dec. 13.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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