New Placebo Single ‘Beautiful James’ is a Deft Stroke of Sexual Ambiguity

We miss the days when being a Placebo fan meant embracing a level of decadence and depravity that had otherwise since departed from the modern music scene – while also following Brian Molko through an ongoing emotional catharsis and confessional that was nothing less than operatic in its scale.

For practical purposes – and also surely for reasons of basic human survival – the band have toned things down a bit. But they still rarely fail in endeavoring to send a visceral chill up several thousands of spines, and striking a few chords of consequential poignancy. And so they have done once again with their first new single in more than half a decade.

‘Beautiful James’ (released today via Rise Records / BMG) is familiar in some of the best ways: those grindingly metallic guitars, lavish, affective atmospherics, and the clever, cagey employment of allusions to gender and sexuality. Indeed, Molko, a married man and father, has been open about his bisexuality. And here his lyrics dance mellifluously along the outskirts of sexual forthrightness – challenging listeners to discover their own interpretation.

“Bring me back to life
Never let me go
Your troubles and your heart strife
I saw them
Take me by the hand
As we cross through battlefields
Nobody understands
Cause there’s nobody at the wheel

Beautiful James
I don’t wanna wake you”

As ever, however, he steadfastly delights in all of the ambiguity.

“If the song serves to irritate the squares and the uptight,” he observes, “so gleefully be it. But it remains imperative for me that each listener discovers their own personal story within it – I really don’t want to tell you how to feel.”

As a new generation of bands seems to have collectively embraced stultifying obviousness as a modus operandi, Placebo honestly could not have returned sooner.

(N.B. Placebo have finished recording their eighth album, their first in eight years – though a release date has not yet been set.)

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