Retrospective #8 – Therapy?

Therapy? are a band from Northern Ireland originally formed in 1989 by Andy Cairns and Fyfe Ewing. After recording their first demo, they recruited Michael Mckeegan on bass guitar. Both Andy and Michael have been the mainstay throughout the bands 15 studio albums.

My introduction to Therapy? was at Castle Donington’s ‘Monsters of Rock’ festival in 1994. I remember being on the band’s right-hand side of the stage (left hand side from the fans viewpoint), watch a trio tear up the stage early on in the afternoon. My abiding memory is Andy Cairns opening his mouth wide and it looking like a massive black hole due to the goatee he was sporting. Their set was absolutely fantastic and I immediately started buying their CD’s after returning from the festival. To my eternal shame, I cannot recall seeing the band again since – I possibly have, I used to booze a wee bit at festivals and have rather, lets refer to them as, ‘hazy’ memories, but I have never seen a dedicated Therapy? tour. That said, one of my favourite ever band t-shirts (sadly gone) was red, featuring the name Therapy? on my left breast, with a huge question mark and the word ‘Irony’ written on the back. If the band ever read this blog, I’d buy this t-shirt again if they re-issued it!

As Therapy? are still an active band, I have the opportunity see them in the future.

Please welcome to part 1 of Retrospective #8, Therapy?.

Album Retrospective – Therapy?.

1991 saw the debut ‘album’ from Therapy?, entitled Babyteeth. With its short running length and featuring only 7 tracks, it is slightly longer than an EP but shorter than an album. Incredibly raw, the album doesn’t really have any real stand-out tracks, with only the single, ‘Meat Abstract’ really making any sort of impact. It is probably fair to say that, back then, my musical taste would have caused me to write Therapy? off if this was my first introduction to the band. Fortunately, it wasn’t, and so I can see the mini-album for what it is, a stepping stone to greatness.  5/10

Early 1992 saw the 2nd release from Therapy?, Pleasure Death. Again, it is a massive stretch to call this an album due to the lack of tracks and running time, but I have decided to include it in the retrospective in an effort to elucidate the growth of the band. Pleasure Death is a step up from their debut. It allowed the band to impact on the Independent Charts, demonstrating a growing maturity with a sound that hinted at an alternative punk genre.

Similar to their previous release, there are few stand-out tracks. It is an album of the whole rather than the individual, with only ‘Potatoe Junkie’ making any real impact. However, Pleasure Death saw the band courted by major labels, before they settled on A&M Records for, what I would describe as their debut album proper. 5/10

As these 2 releases are not proper albums, they will not form part of my Album rating in this retrospective.

Later on in 1992, the band released ‘Nurse’on the A&M label. The album eschews their previous punk leanings, introducing what has been described as a more, ‘grunge’ sound. Whilst I dispute this comparison, there can be no doubt that the boys were beginning to gain their own self-identity and the delivery on ‘Nurse’ reflected this. That said, once again, to myself at least, there is only 1 stand-out track on the album, namely ‘Teethgrinder’. This is an album that is not as good as people think it is, and once again, it is an album that didn’t immediately grab me when I bought it, albeit long after its initial release. However, the next album was about to change everything for the band. 5/10

In 1994, I went to my 2nd Monsters of Rock Festival, where the 2nd band to appear on the main stage was Therapy?. They blew my tiny mind. It wasn’t long after that I had a shiny CD in my fledgling CD collection filed under ‘T’. Yes, I file my music in alphabetical and chronological order.

Troublegum, in my humble opinion, has a subtle hint of classic about it. This is the first Therapy? release to have multiple tracks that stand-out. Released in 1994, it opens with ‘Knives’ and you know that this is a band who have discovered who they are. Long gone are the punky leanings of the 2 mini-albums, with their 2nd A&M album also delivering a robust boot to the testicles of the previous release.

Ironically, a friend from my university days, am man I wish I was still in touch with, told me in 1996 that the bands earlier releases were far superior to Troublegum. Will, my friend, if you ever read this, I would love to have a beer with you to see if you think the same way, hell I’d like to have a beer anyway.

There are issues with the album. Although it consistently holds your attention. It is front loaded. The best songs would be side A of a record. I found that on listening for this retrospective, it was the first half of the album that reminded me more of my life in the mid 90’s. Although a minor quibble, it did disappoint me a little. 8/10

1995 saw the release of the band 3rd full album, ‘Infernal Love’. I remember playing this at work, working in a bakery where my brother and I ‘ruled’ the CD player. Alas, my brothers taste in music is not the same as mine and so this album went down like a lead balloon. The band made a decision, let’s call it a dubious decision, to fill the ‘gaps’ between songs with what can only be described as am ambient distracting annoyance. This was incredibly disappointing, as there are a number of decent tracks on the album, a number of which are ballads. It would be interesting to hear a thoroughly modern remix of this album without the incidental nonsense.

This album was unfairly maligned in my opinion. Although not as strong as Troublegum, it again demonstrates the progression of the band. I love ‘Me vs You’ and ‘Misery’ is a truly brilliant track. This album still has a warm place in my 90’s heart. 7/10

1996 saw founding member and drummer, Fyfe Ewing, leave the band, as well as seeing the band add a cellist in Martin McCarrick. After all, what rock band cannot be improved by a cellist. To be fair, the dude also played guitar!

Semi-Detached was the 4th full album released in 1998 and it has a handful of bangers about it. ‘Safe’ is a truly superb song and ‘Stay Happy’ also impresses. Although the loss of Fyfe Ewing was probably felt keenly by the remaining duo, the album doesn’t reflect this. It is an enjoyable romp, shorn of the shenanigans of the interludes interrupting the previous album. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this album in my retrospective, as I didn’t remember it as being so strong. 7/10

 Not long after, 1999 to be precise, Therapy released, what this retrospective has determined, my favourite album. Suicide Pact – You First does not merely have a dark title, it is a dark album. Although the first 2 tracks are incredibly strong, it is ‘Jam Jar Jail’ where Therapy? really hit their stride. This song is truly stunning. Another banger is ‘Ten Year Plan’ where I have my favourite lyric by the band, ‘I just wanna get drunk and headbang’.   This album has nothing but top tunes and my retrospective reaffirmed by love.  9/10

In 2001, I was a couple of years out of University, living with my 1st ex-fiancée and having to have a real job to pay a mortgage. Alas, this has no impact on my opinion of Shameless, the 6th full album by Therapy?. I recall the anticipation for this album prior to its release…. and then the stifling disappointment upon listening to it. This album sounds like a band going through the motions, unhappy and devoid of inspiration. I was gutted. I don’t recall listening to this album in the last 20 years before this retrospective and I cannot say if I will ever visit it again. Shameless is a disappointing album where no single track stands out. 5/10

The 7th full length album, High Anxiety was released in 2003 and this album saw Neil Cooper replacing Hopkins on the, erm, skins (rubbish pun intended)…. and it immediately saw an improvement from the previous effort. Unlike the previous album, and by no means perfect, this album has a handful of superior tracks. This includes ‘Hey Satan – You Rock’ and the superb ‘If it Kills me’. High Anxiety appears to see Cairns and McKeegan recover their mojo with a band change, with McCarrick standing firm with his cello, prior to exiting the band!  6/10

Shameless was the last Therapy? album I bought. As previous retrospectives have stated, my musical taste evolved and Therapy? were a band that disappointedly fell by the wayside, only to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the flames. 

Part 2 of this retrospective will soon follow.

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