A Belgian Placebo

It’s not often that Record Store Day gives me a true musical gift. Sure, there’s usually some cool colored vinyl from the Flaming Lips, a rare live release, or some reissues you didn’t know you needed till you see it on that RSD release sheet. But for the most part I’m not discovering anything new on RSD that will blow my mind. Well my friends, RSD 2014 gave me something that indeed blew my mind, and clued me in to an artist I didn’t even know existed until April of 2014. That artist is Marc Moulin, and the band is Placebo.

No, not THAT Placebo. Not that alternative, androgynous, and mildly industrial Placebo from the 90s. No, this Placebo is a band that was put together by keyboardist Marc Moulin in the early 70s. Moulin was a Belgian jazz musician that had a pretty decent career putting out solid jazz-infused records clear up to his death in 2008 from throat cancer. But the era of his career I’m quite fond of is his time with the band Placebo. From 1971 to 1974 he put out three album with Placebo, and they are some of the funkiest records I’ve ever heard. Electric piano and horn-driven with some amazing tight drumming, these records exude a coolness and slickness I thought only existed on records by guys with the names, Davis, Hancock, and Shorter. Oh how wrong I was.

I took my wife up to Fort Wayne for her birthday in April. April 26th, to be exact. Her birthday is on the 28th, but we wanted to do something over the weekend so we headed up on Saturday for a great meal at Koto Hibachi Grill, then we thought we’d see where the evening would take us. We stopped off at Neat Neat Neat Records after dinner as I wanted to grab the LCD Soundsystem live album that was put out on RSD. We made it to NNN and chatted with the owner Morrison for a bit. He was playing me some of the leftover RSD stuff and one of the albums he played me was simply called Placebo. I’d never heard of this version of Placebo, just the weirdos from the 90s. I was immediately drawn into the jazz-infused keys and tight horn arrangements. It wasn’t emulating Davis’ electric jazz fusion so much as running it through some weird filter and giving it this European lean. It wasn’t messy like Bitches Brew. It was slick as hell and very funky. I immediately loved it, but as I was spending $130 on a 6-LP collection from LCD Soundsystem I didn’t feel like I should spend anymore. Besides, it was my wife’s birthday and it didn’t seem right. So we left and I bought her a $5 waffle cone at Coldstone Creamery and felt like we were even then.

About a month later I contacted another record shop to see if they had a copy of this Placebo record. They did, so my son and I took an after school drive on a Friday evening back to Fort Wayne and I grabbed a copy of the self-titled record at the only record shop in the mall. We got home around 6pm and I immediately put the album on the turntable. The record is pure genius. Sophisticated, street, and grooves for miles, Placebo is this amazing slice of jazz fusion history that the greater part of the US isn’t aware of. At times it’s part electric Miles, and at other times it has the temperament of a Lalo Schifrin score(think his work in Dirty Harry and Enter The Dragon.) The driving force here though is Marc Moulin, whose playing definitely resembles that of Herbie Hancock, but slightly more restrained. Something like “Red Net”, off of the album 1973, is restrained yet longing. His keys are the driving force behind this elegant track, but with some great horns coming in to accent certain points only goes to improve the already great song. “Balek”, another incredible track on 1973 opens with some wavering synth, then some tight funky drums come in. Moulin colors the song with some tasty electric piano while some woodwind instruments take the limelight for a bit with perfectly panned brass blasts from the left and right. This track is like spaced-out funk from some other dimension. It’s infectious and I can’t get enough of it. The first Placebo record, the oddly named Ball of Eyes, holds some real gems as well. “Humpty Dumpty” sounds like the Ides of March got a shot of street cred and a touch of darkness, while the cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” holds all the original’s soul and sizzle, and there’s even some righteous vocals courtesy of someone named Guy Theisen(nice job, Guy.) “N.W.”, off of the third and final Placebo record, simply self-titled, definitely has that Dirty Harry/Lalo Schifrin vibe. Very Streets of San Francisco. Moulin sports some great acoustic piano on this one, more bluesy than something Chick Corea would do. This track is very restrained. It builds some amazing tension. “Stomp” off of this album is also a masterwork in restraint and holding back. Moulin loved running his keys through a wah-wah pedal, giving the illusion that there’s some master picker on the track, but really it’s just Moulin running a synth through a Cry Baby. The drums are extra funky on this track as well. There’s some Miles Davis-like trumpet parts in the distance here as well. Great stuff.

So yes, over the course of the summer I tracked down all three records that Moulin put out with Placebo. Music On Vinyl did a masterful job of reissuing these amazing lost gems. Placebo made a mix of jazz, fusion, and funk that fans of Hancock’s Headhunters and Thrust would drool over, yet there was this European complexity to what he created that sets Placebo’s catalog apart from their jazz fusion contemporaries. I find it sad that Marc Moulin couldn’t have lived long enough to see a resurgence of his masterful Placebo days. Hopefully there are other music geeks out there like myself that will discover the genius of this man and his band called Placebo and spread the word like wildfire. Or at the very least a small flame that could build into a wildfire. If you can get your hands on these records, do so. And quickly.

One more thing, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Marc Moulin’s other musical adventures. If you dig the Placebo stuff and want to see how versatile an artist Moulin was, check out Aksak Maboul and Telex. Two completely different projects, but further proof of the man’s musical ingenuity.


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