You went down like a dreamThis is an obscure one. And it's certainly not the Placebo you know. Instead it's the husband and wife (I assume) team of Gary and Michelle Wild, from somewhere in darkest England. Apparently in 1982 they found their way to the small village of Pity Me (I kid you not) near Durham and laid down nine tracks at Guardian Studios. And what tracks!
But I caught it all in colour.
Placebo is so totally obscure that there's no info on the net. Their records are so rare no-one has blogged them. So who would expect something so freaking good?
Certainly I didn't. Back in the early eighties I bought the album 90% on the basis of the fantastic cover, and 10% on the basis of the incredible title. In those days a good title could sell me on a band, and a cool photo like the one provided by Brian Griffin would certainly urge me towards the till. I am sure the obscure song titles sealed the deal.
But that band photo? Ugh. One might expect something sub-Cure or sub-Banshees inside, but I am happy to say neither is true. Michelle's high-pitched vocals recall perhaps early Moev (and we'll get to them in a future post) but thankfully she's no Siouxsie wannabe.
So what do these nine tracks sound like?
Well, any time a song has one guitar track in each channel picking away in syncopated arpeggios, someone has to say the magic word "Television". Yet this record sounds nothing like anything Tom Verlaine has ever touched. There's a bit of I'm So Hollow in the sporadic synth burblings. Once or twice I think of Faction, the equally obscure Liverpool project. But Placebo is very much in a league of its own, with flanged electric guitars stitching an intricate web of sound through which Michelle Wild's voice moves with delicate precision. At its best, as with the single, "Poppy Dance," or the thrilling rocker, "Paying Hommage," this is post punk of the highest order, more than deserving of the double CD re-release with accompanying booklet and hagiographic liner notes that lesser bands have earned.
If anything lets the album down, it's the production. With Steve Severin at the helm this might have gained a layer of psychedelic excess. With Mike Hedges maybe a stripped-down monochromaticism. And with Martin Hannett a dubbed out industrial edge. As it is, it mostly sounds like a demo, but at least it's a demo with some nice pulsing bass (Brian Dixson), work-a-day drumming (Stephen Robson) and great guitar interplay between Gary Wild and George Handleigh. By the time you get to the closing track "Pseudo Silhouette" you'd be forgiven for once again turning to Television as a reference point. It's one of those songs that's long but still not nearly long enough. And laced with strange lines that echo the band's name: "He didn't know about vitamins / administered by a hypodermic syringe."
At some point I bought the single, perhaps hoping for different versions, but these did not materialise. Incredibly, the album was re-issued on CD in 1998 by See for Miles. But that is out of print and more difficult to find than the vinyl.
Prepare yourself now, post-punk fans. Once you hear "Poppy Dance" there's no going back!
If this is the placebo, I'd rather not have the real drug.
-- Second Chameleon
01 Poppy Dance (3:43)
02 Comrade (4:10)
03 Velvet Claws (4:31)
04 Gita (4:12)
05 Blot (3:54)
06 Fabian Policy (3:38)
07 Punishing Pierrot (4:06)
08 Paying Homage (3:52)
09 Pseudo Silhouette (8:12)
UK LP Aura Records [AUL 721] 1982
UK LP WEA / Aura Records [AURA 58488] 1982
UK CD See for Miles [SEECD 488] 1998
01 Poppy Dance
02 Punishing Pierrot
UK 7" Aura Records [AUS 133] 1982
For completeness, here's what the CD looked like. They changed the typography and made a big deal about it not being "that" Placebo.