While I don't understand its title (you could and still can get the album in pretty much every decent record store, where's the black market part?), Placebo's third studio album is a surprisingly solid addition to their discography. It's not breaking any new ground and the band is still exploring familiar territories - heartbreak, drug abuse, personal torment - yet the music is oddly enticing, even though I was looking forward to an evolution in their sound.
Black Market Music kicks things off with three of the most engaging and energetic tracks on this album: the hypnotic, trance-infused Taste in Men, the fast and crunchy Days Before You Came and the drug-addled Special K, which is one of my favorite Placebo songs ever. All three of these songs are great at showcasing the band's rockin' chops, as the distorted power chords and punk-ish drumming, along with Molko's passionate vocal delivery, make for some of Placebo's most headbanging tunes.
After an awkward rap-metal moment in collaboration with rapper Justin Warfield - Spite & Malice - that's meant to be thought-provoking and provide social commentary in the form of a weird deck of cards metaphor but ends up sounding out of place, the album moves on to calmer, more introspective waters. Passive Aggressive is a piece that's constantly building up tempo on a nice guitar riff, only to repeatedly crash, time and time again, as if following the lyrics: "every time I rise I see you falling". Blue American is a soft ballad with a jarring acoustic guitar line in which Brian Molko's lyrics take center stage, playing back and forth between your own life and the role you play in the lives of others. The best ballad on Black Market Music, though, is the hauntingly beautiful Peeping Tom, with its pulsating keyboard notes and Molko's distinctive voice singing his simple, yet moving lyrics: "The face that fills the hole / That stole my broken soul / The one that makes me feel much taller than you are / I'm just a Peeping Tom." Other highlights include Black Eyed and the acoustic rocker Commercial for Levi, both highly selfish odes to hedonism and living only for one's self. The most mind-boggling song on this album is Haemoglobin, a weird, fuzzy, tripped-out song in which, apparently, Molko is some sort of pacifist fruit catching Jesus' curiosity: "I was hanging from a tree / Unaccustomed to such violence / Jesus looking down on me / I'm prepared for one big silence." STRANGE.
All in all, Black Market Music is a good mix of great, catchy alternative rock songs and quieter songs, which allow Brian Molko to showcase his lyrical abilities through his emotional vocal delivery. It may not go down in history, but it will go down on your little, sexually-confused, brother. To close it off nicely, here's an old live video of Placebo performing Black Eyed. Is Brian wearing cargo pants? LOL