In 1998, Placebo switched to the major label Virgin Records, and issued their album Without You I’m Nothing in November. It was another large seller in England and initially appeared to be the group’s breakthrough in the US market, where MTV embraced the album’s lead single “Pure Morning”, but subsequent singles and videos failed to match the success of its predecessor.
The singles “You Don’t Care About Us”, from Placebo (1996), and “Pure Morning”, from Without You I’m Nothing, were the peak of their British success, both charting in the top ten. Since Without You I’m Nothing, the band have received less positive coverage from the British music press who, on occasion, have mocked the perceived pretension of front-man Molko. However, the band has retained a huge popular and critical following in continental Europe. By way of their English-accented fluent French front-man, France has become their first target market in Europe, which has led to them gaining a huge popularity there, even in excess of their British fan base.
The band’s third release, Black Market Music, added hip-hop and disco elements to their tense rock sound. The UK saw a release date of October 2000; US fans were treated to a re-sequenced version that autumn. The US version featured a slightly different track listing, adding the aforementioned Bowie version of “Without You I’m Nothing” and the band’s cover of Depeche Mode’s “I Feel You”. The recording spawned additional UK hits such as “Taste in Men” and “Slave to the Wage”.
Placebo encountered resistance from the British music industry upon release of the single “Special K” due to its reference of a ketamine high as a simile for love. The song was released in Australia as a single before eventually being made available in the UK as an EP featuring the B-sides and remixes that would have filled out a conventional two-disc single release. At the time the band claimed this was due to dissatisfaction with the two-disc single format, a claim somewhat undermined by their subsequent single releases all being made available in two-CD formats accompanied by a 7″ vinyl.
Their style altered little from Placebo through Black Market Music, based around fairly straightforward guitar playing, often influenced by the style of 1970s British and American rock, and Molko’s high-pitched vocals. The first single for the album, “Taste in Men”, was one of their most popular, with a trance synthesiser in the background and wailing distorted guitars. Black Market Music did not receive the same level of long term recognition and media hype as Without You I’m Nothing did, but its peak sales outperformed those of its predecessor, in both the UK and France.
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