Placebo's Brian Molko is crossdressed for success

by CHRIS YURKIW

"Make sure you tell Montreal that I'm modelling for Calvin these days."

Consider it done, Brian, but allow me to take that shout-out and double it up as a dynamic lead-in to this tale of Placebo, wherein the young and ambisexual Mr. Molko is calling me on one of those "flash" phones stuck flush into the aeroplane seat in front of him as he jets off to NYC for a CK ad shoot, leaving his bandmates (a Swedish fag and a British lad) somewhere in the American Midwest.

But let's just get this, um, straight: Placebo is most definitely a British band (post-Britpop, if you must) and vocalist-lyricist-guitarist Brian Molko is most certainly a crossdressing bisexual man--upping the ante on Suede's Brett Anderson, whose tag was merely "a bisexual man who's never had a homosexual experience."

That puts Molko in a neat position between the persuasions of his rhythm section, but you could also say that the whole of Placebo is an inbetweenie, their sound landing somewhere in the mid-Atlantic twixt the guitar grandiosity of Sonic Youth or Smashing Pumpkins and Molko's most effeminate voice, the latest in a British line you could trace from Marc Almond to Neil Tennant. And Molko has more bad news for Brett Anderson, via a recent revelation:

"I was having a conversation with [comedian] Eddie Izzard the other day," says Molko. "He's a good friend--and a self-confessed transvestite. And I'd never really considered myself to be a transvestite until this conversation with Eddie. But it just became glaringly obvious that if he was, then I definitely was.

"I don't go out without make-up on, just like girls don't usually go out without make-up on. Dresses, I find, are impractical in social situations, but I enjoy wearing them a great deal on stage."

Placebo's second album, Without You I'm Nothing, was released last autumn, and it simply shocked. Not because of the frocks and not because of Molko's jarring voice, but because it was so much superior to the group's 1996 debut. Can one explain such a leap? Can Molko? A departed, damnable drummer kicked it off...

"So we went from being tension-fuelled to friendship-fuelled," says Brian, "which makes the songwriting process far more instinctual. The first album was a bit of a party and the second album is kind of the hangover. I describe this record as a post-coital depression."

Inevitably, if you haven't figured it out by now (or if you didn't hear Placebo's tear through T. Rex's "20th Century Boy" for the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack), the band gets lumped into the revived interest in glam. And Molko, inevitably, renounces it vehemently.

"There's a difference between 'glamour' and 'glam rock.' Glam rock, to me, is a bunch of straight, hairy, football-liking lager lads dressed up in their mother's castoffs. And glamour is a certain sophistication, a certain other-worldliness, a certain unattainableness, which I think we certainly calculate. We believe that a band should be slightly larger than life--you should be transported to an alternative reality.

"I'm giving you some really good answers here. I'm very proud of myself."