This 5 song E.P. was released digitally last November. It was also released physically, though the CD is a limited edition collector’s item. (I actually just saw the CD on Amazon for less $$ than the download, so I’d recommend grabbing that.) The Amazon product description states, “While not a reflection of the direction of the new album, the band felt strongly that their fans should get to hear new music in the interim.” So, if you totally love this then I guess it’s bad news for you because the album is going to be rather different? Or, if you hate this then you can rejoice because the album will be nothing like it? I’ve seen fans make both arguments in Amazon’s reader reviews. In fact, this E.P. seems to be a real dividing line for Placebo fans, a veritable love it or hate it release. Personally, I quite enjoyed it and don’t understand how fans of their earlier work could hate it because, in my opinion, it really isn’t all that different. Then again, my favorite Placebo album is Meds and most of the fans who hate this are saying that they want another Without You I’m Nothing or Sleeping With Ghosts.

The E.P. begins with the title track, “B3,” which starts off with some luscious synthesized bass and the sort of classic, raw Placebo guitar riffs that seem to spiral around inside of listeners’ heads. To that end, I really focused on the guitar parts the first time I heard the song and it gave me mild vertigo. The previous songs that it most reminds me of are “Because I Want You” and “Infra-Red,” two tracks from Meds, which I’ve admitted is my favorite Placebo album above, so perhaps that’s partially why I’m quite fond of this track. “Passion flower, Catherine Wheel, higher power, help me start to heal,” goes the first part of the chorus, Brian Molko begging for rebirth with deep longing in his voice.

“I Know You Want To Stop” is a cover of a song by Minxus, whom I’d never heard of until Placebo did this song. In preparation for this review, I downloaded the original version from Amazon and I have to say I regret it. It sounds like a bad demo that was recorded on a simple tape recorder in someone’s garage. The singer has so little energy it’s like he’s half asleep after a Benadryl overdose and can’t be bothered. But, musically, it’s easy to see why Brian would want to cover it. The thick, almost abrasive bass guitar part in particular sounds an awful lot like Placebo. And I’m glad Placebo covered it because their version fantastic. It’s funny how inspired it sounds, given that it’s a cover of a song that feels anything but inspired. That said, the lyrics are quite clever and those words were written by Minxus so I have to at least applaud them for that.

The percussion of “The Extra” is rather interesting, mixing simple programmed beats with subtle drumming from Steve Forrest. The barely noticeable guitars are sparse and would seem to be acoustic, though Stefan Olsdal’s slick bass dominates the mix during parts of the song. It also features minimal but beautiful piano. “If I am an extra in the film of my own life then who the hell is the director?” Brian asks before a refrain of “show me how to live” over and over again, provocative as ever.

“I.K.W.Y.L.” — or, “I Know Where You Live” — is a timely and fascinating threat to not just governments that oppress their citizens but to terrorists as well. “I know where you live,” they sing, driving their point home, and it’s an out and out battle cry. Musically, the song is deep and dark. There are layers of hypnotic, often droning guitars. It’s as though the music is supposed to put you in a trance to ensure that you hear and feel the lyrics. “For all the orphans you make, I don’t think your maker will forgive,” Brian sings, calling out any entity or government that would kill innocent people for, well, their stupid, selfish, evil reasons.

I wasn’t hugely impressed by the final track, “Time Is Money.” I think the production is largely to blame. Initially, it’s just Brian singing along to mellow guitar and a simple beat but the instruments are so far off in the background that it sounds like we’re hearing them muted by a wall. They get louder after the first chorus when some piano is added to the mix but by that point the song may have put you to sleep. On the plus side, the song has some of Brian’s most poetic lyrics ever. I especially love the line, “you are so beautiful that I would drink my fill.”

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An entertainment journalist for 20 years, Michael McCarthy was a columnist and contributing editor for the magazines Lollipop and LiveWire. He co-created and wrote for Cinezine, one of the '90's most popular movie E-zines. The only time he's not listening to music is when he's watching television shows and movies or reading, usually music magazines.

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