While much of the UK were puffing at the dying fag-ends of the Britpop party in the mid-to-late 90s, Placebo entered through the side door – kicked it down, even – with a fervid reminder that there was more to UK rock history than wry 60s kitchen-sink observation. Their self-titled debut album, released in 1996, hit the No. 5 spot in the UK charts thanks to the group’s visceral update of the 70s glam rock sound. Placebo was such a vital addition to the rock landscape that it gained plaudits from David Bowie, who invited the band to support him on tour.
For its follow-up, Placebo had to go bigger and harder – and they did. Released over two years later, in October 1998, Without You I’m Nothing built on the visceral rock of its predecessor, as the group created a sound that belied their status as a three-piece. Adding a more layered – at times almost oppressive – production to their established template, the heavier Placebo that emerged on the album served to underscore the more personal nature of frontman Brian Molko’s lyrics; songs such as “My Sweet Prince” emerged as his most confessional to that point. Elsewhere, on tracks such as “Brick Shithouse,” new producer Steve Osborne gave the group a dance music edge that nodded towards the industrial rock scene emanating from the US courtesy of Nine Inch Nails (Osborne had pedigree: he’d cut his teeth with Happy Mondays, helping to facilitate that guitar band’s crossover into the dance-rock world on Pills’n’Thrills And Bellyaches).
The world was listening. Without You I’m Nothing opened with Placebo’s joint highest-placing UK single, “Pure Morning” (also their highest-charting US single, entering the Top 20 Stateside), and included other big-hitters “You Don’t Care About Us” and “Every You Every Me.” Hitting No. 7 in the UK charts and entering the Top 20 in four countries, the album built upon a growing fanbase for whom the band had become – well, everything. Even Bowie returned to give his approval, cementing his relationship with the group by appearing on the title track, released as the fourth single from the album, and joining them on stage at the 1999 BRIT Awards for a live duet of T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy,” a cover of which Placebo had contributed to the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack. Yet though the band would retain strong links to their glam roots, Without You I’m Nothing set them on a new path entirely.