It’s always seemed to me – ever since I first heard “Nurse” in 1992 – that Therapy? were one of the great “slogan bands”. By that I mean, they were always a group that wrote brilliant lines and somehow spun them into gold.
Back then, 26 years ago (and how the fuck 1992 got to be 26 years ago is another debate for another day) I was obsessed with a combination of US glam and British hard rock. And it was this latter strand that led me to Therapy?
I’d read an interview with Ricky Warwick – then the singer in The Almighty, a band I worshipped as Gods – where he’d talked about this other Northern Irish band, and when I heard “Teethgrinder” I’d never heard anything like it. I didn’t know what it was. I just knew I loved it.
In many ways, actually, that sums up Therapy? As Andy Cairns, the bands redoubtable singer, put it in the build up to this record, the bands 15th no less: “I know that we can be a difficult sell, because we have no particular niche and no desire to conform” and in that respect, they are a little similar to those other wonderful rascals of Britain, The Wildhearts.
And whilst all of that is still true – on “Cleave” you absolutely best believe that they sound like no one else on the planet – it is also true to say that “Cleave” is their most focused work in about 20 years. The whole thing is just over half an hour and it is as short and sharp as it is searingly honest and nihilistic.
Oh and the sloganeering? Well don’t worry. There are hooks here that you could put on tshirts, on graffiti, on epitaph’s if you wanted. What about this: “I feel hopeless, I feel cursed. It don’t get better than this – it gets worse.”. Or this. “The cream of this country, rich and thick, will always rise to the top. Those beneath, on hands and knees, left to curdle and rot.”
The former is on the piece of brilliance they choose to open this with. “Wreck It Like Beckett”, while the latter is from the glorious centrepiece of the collection, “Success Success Is Survival” and both might give a clue that this is the soundtrack to how Therapy? see the world in 2018.
If “Loose” from their mid-90s classic “Infernal Love” (sample line: “let me try on your dress, it turns me on when we’re a mess”) was about pilled up escape, then “Save Me From The Ordinary” (first line: “life has punched me drunk, and now I am all blacked out….”) is the realisation there is no escape.
All of this is done too, with the Therapy? sound as it were. Those drum patterns that no one else would conceive, from Neil Cooper, that bass from Michael McKeegan, and those guitar riffs from Cairns that are as heavy as hell, yet don’t piss about with solos. This is their Church Of Noise still, and no one can deliver these sermons like them.
“Kakistocracy” has a Helmet-ish feel, so crushing is it, and the chorus of “its ok, to not be ok,” is classic Therapy? tactics. “Callow” – the first single they picked from the record – comes in with their trademark chug, never mind the lyrics (which are fabulous and catchy).
“Expelled, ” built around its mighty bass groove is brilliant, “Crutch” manages to brood like a stadium rock anthem – and Cairns has never sounded more Northern Irish than he does here – while “I Stand Alone” has a slab of a riff, combined with the unsettling nature of a Life Of Agony record and when “Dumbdown” does its work, it basically lays waste to everyone who follows like a sheep – that has never been the way here and it never will be. “I’m literally on the verge of collapse” offers Cairns, and it sounds like he means it.
A number of the tracks here deal with depression. “No Sunshine” is another, perhaps the most overtly too. “depression is a thief, it robs you of friends and self-belief” goes the line and it sounds as fragile as you like. It is interesting too that this is the only time the album veers into the more experimental waters that the band sometimes inhabit, but here it does so entirely within the confines of the vibe of the album as a whole.
And, what an album it is! Therapy? have not sounded this fresh or hard-hitting in a very long time, and “Cleave” may well open them up to a brand new audience – which at this stage of their career they might not have expected. It really is that good.
It would be unfair to say it is an unexpected gem, because that implies there has been deficiencies in their recent work, there hasn’t. But it would be reasonable to suggest that “Cleave” is right up there with the very best in the Therapy? back catalogue.