Placebo 

Sleeping With Ghosts (Hut/Astralwerks)

Some people are just magnets for trouble. Whether it's a result of action or attitude or both, they travel the paths of life as constant targets. Members of this rare species have the ability to polarize, scandalize and frustrate anyone with whom they come in contact, fomenting either admiration or disdain. Everyone recognizes them, for better or for worse. Though this quality makes for an incredibly poor doctor or minister, it makes for a great rock star.

One such rock star is Brian Molko, frontman for Placebo and self-proclaimed "faggot who fucks your girlfriend," whose sex, drugs and rock & roll antics have cut a swath of destruction through much of the world. Molko and his two bandmates have made a career of getting under people's skin as much as under their sheets, and their dramaglamcore music, at times as abrasive as it is melodic, has followed suit. Unfortunately, the party must end eventually; age and abuse will always catch up.

For Placebo, that end has come. On their fourth album, Sleeping With Ghosts, they take a more reflective, subtle tone, and, surprisingly, it fits like the sheer dresses for which they're infamous. The hedonism of the past has been replaced by a sense of loss and longing, and that translates into their slowest-paced album to date. The introduction of new producer Jim Abbiss adds an electronic texture and depth to their three-piece-rock-combo sound, especially on "Something Rotten" and "I'll Be Yours." Reaching out to a lover on the somber title track, Molko whispers the words "Soulmates never die," then proclaims "The Bitter End" on the very next song. Molko's chainsaw guitars ride the rhythm section's propulsive backbeat on up-tempo kiss-off "Second Sight," spurned love and righteous rage rolling through clenched teeth. Sharp, twisted wordplay has always been a strong suit for the band, and lead single "This Picture," a diatribe about getting old cleverly disguised as a catchy three-minute pop song, illustrates this well. A pair of piano ballads, "Protect Me From What I Want" and "Centrefolds," close the album, with Molko begging in his nasal whine for someone to "be mine" at the final fade-out.

Love them or hate them -- it doesn't matter, because Molko and his crew of misfits have never cared about public opinion. On "Sleeping With Ghosts," however, it's apparent that they desperately crave love and approval on a personal level. Let's hope they don't find it anytime too soon, if the lack thereof means producing more music like this.

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