Every Placebo album ranked from worst to best

(Image credit: Mads Perch)

Placebo gatecrashed a British culture of football, pints and lads mags with absolutely no apologies. As frontman Brian Molko said "a lot of our cross-dressing and transvestism was a political statement against the music scene at the time which was very laddish and macho. We wanted to stand up and be counted. There's no better way to do that than by putting a bunch of slap on, wearing a skirt and fucking with people's heads."

Fuck with people’s heads is precisely what Placebo proceeded to do and it’s exactly this desire to goad, challenge and confront that has made them one of the most interesting and remarkable bands of the past 30 years. Placebo stuck out like a sore thumb when they emerged in a music scene where Britpop was king, but in 2022, most Britpop survivors are playing the retro revival circuit whilst Placebo are releasing new material and playing arenas.

With their first new album in 9 years Never Let Me Go having just been released, now seems as good a time as any to look back at this magnificent band’s discography and rank them from worst to best.

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8. Loud Like Love

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There’s only really one major dud in the Placebo back catalogue and this is it. Half the songs that made up Placebo’s seventh studio album were initially conceived for an abandoned Brian Molko solo record. Whether this is at the heart of Loud Like Love’s problems is hard to say; certainly the record’s bright, breezy uniform production does the songs no favours.

Much of the album comes off as self-parody, with lyrical couplets like "My computer thinks I’m gay / I threw that piece of shit away" sounding trite and adolescent. Molko described the album sessions as an "extremely upbeat experience", but the results were very much poor relations to his of band at their most potent.   

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7. Sleeping with Ghosts

Some might balk at the rather low placing of this, the band’s 4th album, especially considering Sleeping with Ghosts is home to some of Placebo’s most enduring songs, with The Bitter End, Special Needs and Plasticine in particular big favourites among the fanbase. These songs are rightly revered but there’s too much material on the record that simply isn’t up to scratch. 

Something Rotten aims for experimental and unorthodox but simply comes off as squalid and lumpen, I’ll Be Yours meanders without ever reaching a destination and English Summer Rain is essentially Pure Morning 2.0 (and like most sequels, it’s not as good). There’s more good material than bad though and, with hindsight, it’s possible to see the band’s experiments with electronics begin to flourish, which would prove vital for future Placebo albums.

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6. Black Market Music

Like Sleeping With Ghosts, Black Market Music has some treasured Placebo material, with Special K, Slave to the Wage, Haemoglobin and Taste in Men all thoroughly deserving of a place on anyone’s essential Placebo tracks playlist. But there are also awkward deviations into territory that didn’t really fit.

Spite & Malice, for instance, with Molko’s mantra of "Dope, Guns, Fuckin’ in the streets…Revolution" is easily one of the most cringe-worthy things the band have ever recorded. Black Market Music boats a handful of great songs, but a darkness drags the album down in its latter half.

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5. Meds

Placebo had wanted to delve even deeper into their love of analogue synths and keyboard driven-sounds on Meds, but producer Dimitri Tikovoi stepped in, suggesting a more back-to-basics approach. It paid dividends with Infra-Red, Because I Want You and Song To Say Goodbye all sounding like vintage Placebo but with a renewed 21st century kick.

This isn’t a record that looks entirely to the past however, as proven on the swampy electro-grind of Space Monkey and the post-rock tremolos on Follow the Cops Back Home. Meds was made during an emotionally tumultuous period of the band’s career; relations with long time drummer Steve Hewit had reached breaking point (this was his last album) whilst Molko suffered a ‘nervous breakdown’ during recording. Out of that commotion, Placebo somehow managed to will into being one of their most honest, powerful and potent records.

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4. Placebo

Placebo's self-titled debut album will always be close to the hearts of old school loyalists, and it's stacked with great songs. But go back to the record now and it is comfortably the most dated-sounding Placebo album. Brian Molko sounds surprisingly weedy and the songs just don’t quite hit with the punch that they do on the later records.

When all’s said and done though, Placebo contains some of the band’s greatest songs; Come Home, 36 Degrees, I Know, Teenage Angst and of course, Nancy Boy, a song that would prove an albatross rounds their necks. But as Molko said, reflecting in 2009, “we hadn't learned how to use a studio as an instrument itself yet” and there is a pronounced difference between how they would utilise the studio here and on later albums.

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3. Never Let Me Go

Nine years proved to be the longest wait between Placebo albums but Never Let Me Go is more than worth that wait. Finally, the electronic tapestries that Placebo had been experimenting with since the late '90s sound like intrinsic parts of the songs rather than bolted on extras. 

Beautiful James instantly enters the pantheon of great Placebo songs and The Prodigal, written around a string quartet, might be the most ambitious composition the band have put their name to. The first album released by the band as a two-piece, Never Let Me Go proves that there’s still plenty of fuel left in Placebo’s tank.

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2. Battle for the Sun

The most under-rated Placebo album? Produced by David Botrill (Tool, Muse, King Crimson), Battle for the Sun contains some of the biggest anthems of their career to date; Bright Lights, For What It’s Worth, Speak in Tongues, Happy You’re Gone, Kings of Medicine and the title track are all late era gold and this album gave the band an embarrassment of riches to cull from when putting together their setlists.

By 2009, Placebo were no longer the cool kids on the block, and the sixth full-length album from a band often sees them coasting, which may go some way to explaining why Battle for the Sun is often forgotten or ignored. But that doesn’t prevent it from being one of the most consistently brilliant Placebo albums.

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1. Without You I’m Nothing

1998’s Without You I’m Nothing secures the top spot for one simple reason; it is the most beloved Placebo album. Those that took this collection of outcast anthems to their hearts really love this album. And it includes some stellar material including Every You, Every Me, comfortably the most streamed Placebo song on streaming services. You Don’t Care About Us and the title track are anthems for the disenfranchised, and whilst the band’s relationship with the song has been patchy over the years, (the band retiring it completely from their setlists from 2008 – 2015) Pure Morning is quintessential Placebo distilled into a little more than 4 minutes.

That track almost didn’t make the album however, recorded as it was during a b-side session. With the pressure firmly off, Placebo were free to fool around with guitar loops and electronics in the studio and ended up creating one of their most timeless songs. Despite being about ‘that time of day when the sun is coming up and you’re coming down’, Pure Morning sound joyous, resonating with audiences the world over.

Placebo may have had their detractors but they had the backing of David Bowie, who called the band insisting they collaborate. With sessions for the album complete, a decision was made to release the title track as a duet with Bowie’s added vocal track. The album version is powerful enough, but the duality of Molko’s highs and Bowie’s lows make the single version an essential listen. Bassist Stefan Olsdal told NME "I don’t know what he saw in us; maybe something of himself as a younger Bowie. Maybe there was an outsider element to a lot of what we were doing. Maybe it was the romanticism. Maybe it was the stubbornness of not wanting to fit in."

Without You I’m Nothing isn’t perfect; Molko’s assertion that the album contained ‘too many slow songs for a second album’ rings true but it remains the point where people really fell head over heels for Placebo and despite its flaws, will always remain the band's masterpiece. 

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