It is the most disgusting thing I have ever read,' guffaws Steve Hewitt, Placebo's drummer. 'I remember opening the papers and reading it and saying 'God, it's terrible'...' Not that Hewitt is blaming the tabloids for printing something fake and obscene about the band - nor is he referring to some huge backlash against the band's creative output. The centre of controversy, in fact, was something that came straight from his bandmate's mouth - when Placebo's frontman Brian Molko famously pronounced that the band had 'left behind a trail of blood and spunk' while touring Britain and Europe. The mere mention of his bandmate's glorious proclamation draws a sigh from Hewitt. 'I wasn't there when they said all that,' he says, detaching himself from the excessive bigmouthing Molko and bassist Stefan Olsdal are partial to. He was there, however, when the band landed in the public's consciousness with more-than-public bouts of rock 'n' roll behaviour: they once commented in a magazine on their on-tour carnal adventures - country by country. Hewitt might well be laughing now, but Placebo earned their place in the high echelons of the pop hierarchy partly - if not solely - on gay abandon. Having a self-confessed bisexual singer who wears skirts and sings about 'different partner every night, so narcotic outta sight' (on their hit single Nancy Boy) was what propelled Placebo to the Top Ten. And this is not taking the band out of context - their eponymous debut features machine-gun punk songs that invited controversy: Bionic was simply based on repeating the mantra 'harder, faster - forever after', while Hang On To Your IQ was Molko's rundown of his daily routine - rolling joints and making out. So when Pure Morning, the tastier single for their follow-up album, sold by the bucketful with lyrics praising friends with weed, with breasts and dressed in leather, the public was looking forward - some with anticipation and some with disdain - to another instalment of Placebo's excesses. 'People are basically waiting to tear us apart physically because they expect the album to be about [Molko's] make-up and stuff like that,' Hewitt says. 'But we were getting bored by the fact that they were trying to bring out Brian on his own - just the singer - while the music was getting completely lost. We want to turn it around and make it more real - more about the band and more about the music. 'So when we released this album, they couldn't even touch us.' Indeed, their sophomore album could not be farther from anyone's expectations of just another hedonistic adventure. While retaining the gritty angst their debut album harboured, the wantonness was replaced with gloom on Without You I'm Nothing. If Placebo was all about the celebration of sex and drugs, Without You I'm Nothing is all about the hollowness and hangover the morning-after - the comedown from a chemically-induced high or par-for-the-course carnal gratification. And Hewitt admits that the album was exactly what the band felt after all the damage was done. 'With the last two or three years of touring, the whole band was going through weird situations - and yes, definitely the kind of hedonistic things you get up to. With three young guys travelling the world, what would you expect us to do? You are going to go out and party for the world. But when we came back, each of our relationships was falling apart.' Molko - who is the band's sole lyricist - has indeed delivered a very poignant picture of the tedium he and his friends found with their excesses. He has written about sex and drugs again, but this time around they are just jarring tales rather than wily events - just as the music has become more subtle compared with the speedy rock of the past. Hewitt had not yet joined Placebo when the band recorded their debut album - he was roped in after original drummer Robert Schultzberg jumped ship - but having played with the band before their breakthrough he can comment on the difference in tone. 'It was Robert and Brian's first time ever in a band together, so it's very young and erratically punky,' he says. 'The second one is more mature, more confident and it's got more connection [between the band members] - but it is still like a rollercoaster ride - it takes you on a journey. It's gone a bit deeper.' While Molko and Olsdal were getting all the attention, it was Hewitt who helped anchor Placebo's musical directions. Being the most experienced musician in the band - he was in K-Klass when it first became groovy in the beginning of the 1990s - he was the one who balanced out his bandmates' flamboyance. Placebo's slant towards technology and dance music was all Hewitt's influence. Hewitt, however, maintains that Placebo is 'a punk band', so the band's skirmish with disco might be limited to a few remixes and - true - dancing to Abba on the tour bus. In any case, a change in direction was definitely unnecessary, seeing the critical acclaim Placebo has received for Without You I'm Nothing, and finally being scrutinised for their musical output rather than who they were sleeping with. 'It is definitely a release of pressure - it is good that we managed to turn it around. Now people are more attracted to us as a whole band. We managed to hold the bait and people are really turned on by the music,' he says.