Placebo's seventh studio album, and their first full-length effort to be released by Universal, is a significantly less daunting proposition than much of their back catalogue. On first inspection, 'Loud Like Love' boasts a more positive title than the likes of 'Meds' and 'Battle For The Sun'. Equally, the record's technicolour artwork signals a creative shift for the three-piece on the eve of their twentieth anniversary. While the doom and gloom hasn't been completely washed away and the musical formula remains largely unchanged, there's a feeling the band has grown up. Less teenage angst and more mid life crisis, 'Loud Like Love' is enjoyable but not remarkable.
The re-birth that opener and title track 'Loud Like Love' seems to allude to, with Brian Molko's mantra of "breathe, breathe, believe", is somewhat of a false prophecy as the album progresses. But while the band doesn't stretch itself, there are subtle changes and touches that add to the feeling that this is a band coming to terms with the last two decades. Molko's voice isn't quite reaching the high notes he used to, but his delivery is as impressive as ever. However, when he does try to be more experimental with a spoken word section on 'Hold On To Me', it does feel a little misplaced. Meanwhile, the familiar guitar hooks are still as catchy and urgent as ever, without the album sounding like a band simply going through the motions. But it's Steve Forrest's drums that seem to elevate much of the material here. Various percussive tricks and samples are used to great effect. For example, the handclaps that ground 'Scene Of The Crime' or the ominous and distorted drum machine that opens 'Exit Wounds'.
There's a certain irony when Molko sings "This is my last communiqué down the super highway. All that I have to say in a single tome" on lead single 'Too Many Friends'. He's highlighting the isolating experience of online social networking and its sanitised version of human interaction, yet this is a band which launched the album on YouTube; perhaps Molko feels the sentiment is made stronger by the captive online audience that Placebo has nurtured. But it's also that feeling of disconnection that makes 'Loud Like Love' sound middle aged. Later on, in 'A Million Little Pieces', Molko crystallises the central problem with the album: "Whenever I was feeling wrong, I used to go and write a song from my heart. But now I feel I've lost my spark, no more glowing in the dark for my heart." While much of the material here is good, it lacks the rough edges (both musically and emotionally) that made Placebo so compelling in the late nineties.
A record that explores loose themes of love is a more positive statement than Placebo has presented previously. 'Rob The Bank' loosely displays unconditional love, as does closing track 'Bosco', which is tinged with regret and a drunken self-awareness of past mistakes. But there's no real feeling of growth in the relationships described. They're all vignettes displaying to a varying degree of dysfunctional love and desire with no real consideration as to how to resolve the issues raised.
By no means a disaster then, 'Loud Like Love' feels a little unsatisfying overall. Musically, it's what you expect and Molko presents some interesting ideas as he grapples with a shifting cultural landscape. But there's very little of lasting impact to take away from the experience. Perhaps Molko should pursue his long mooted solo album to explore these themes in a little more depth. As some of the songs here were originally intended for that purpose, it's perhaps unsurprising that 'Loud Like Love' isn't quite the creative re-birth that Placebo could have achieved.