Placebo: better than your average punk

It appears as though the next wave of British punk-pop has hit American shores, but ironically, there is not a Brit to be found in Placebo - the London-based trio consists of an American and two Swedes.

Lead singer and guitarist Brian Molko (the American), bassist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Robert Schultzberg (the Swedes) emulate many of the punk-pop cliches promulgated by such bands as Oasis and Bush, but members of Placebo, who are opening for Weezer tonight in Buffalo, offer listeners a bit more than the four chords and a toilet bowl full of distortion.

The most noticeable thing that sets Placebo apart is the band's use of lyrical imagery to describe a variety of topics. Among Molko's interests seems to be a fascination with gender-bending. The lyrics to "Nancy Boy" sound as if they are describing someone struggling with his or her sexuality.

Another startling aspect of Placebo's style is the band's occasional foray into the realm of the acoustic guitar. The song "I Know" demonstrates that the band has a softer side, as the guitar and bongo drums accent Molko's vocals during the first verse and then give way to the melodically dissonant body of the song before returning to the acoustic theme.

The bongos are merely one example of Schultzberg's versatility on the drums. He demonstrates an acumen for keeping the beat while creating some interesting fills.

Molko's unusual vocals take some getting used to. At first listen, he sounds like a cross between "Weird" Al Yankovic and Geddy Lee on speed. After the second or third time through the disc, however, Molko's whiny effectiveness comes through.

"Come Home" was an odd choice for the the album's first song. The song is a departure for the band because it sounds so much like everything else in the punk-pop genre.

The guitar and drums combine to form a wall of noise and the lyrics follow the same pattern as those of "Lump" by the Presidents of the United States of America.

The album's second track, "Teenage Angst," is a marked improvement over the first song. With lyrics like "Since I was born I started to decay/now nothing ever, ever goes my way" and giant musical hooks, this song actually has radio potential.

"Bionic" is the first song on the album in which the listener can really hear the bass work of Olsdal, whose simple but melodic basslines provide a rhythmic anchor for the band. Unfortunately, the vocals to "Bionic" are shrill and annoying, detracting from the tight musicality of the song.

"Placebo" spans a full range of emotions, from the anger of "Bionic" to the lower key "Hang on to Your IQ" to the melancholy "Lady of the Flowers."

Ironically, the best tune on the album is an unlisted, untitled instrumental that begins about 15 minutes after the last listed song, "Swallow."

The instrumental features a soaring piano part played over a droning guitar/bass combination. The drum beat here is very nicely syncopated and almost jazzy. The song builds in intensity before returning to its musically sparse starting point.

Overall, the disc is pretty good, especially for a debut album.

The band has potential, especially if it can avoid the hedonistic pitfalls of much of the rest of the punk-pop genre.