Being in a rock band presents certain challenges. You start off conflicted about whether you want to maintain your integrity or sell enough records to buy a nice house. Then you have a few hits and the trouble really starts. Do you give the people more of what they want or less? At this point, most bands simply get so confused that they break up, but what about those that go beyond that ten-year plan and keep on doing what they’ve always done? Let’s see how Therapy? have got this far…
They started off as Northern Irish noise punks, releasing steamrollering mini-albums like Babyteeth and Pleasure Death, which sounded like normal rock music being played in an abattoir, and didn’t soften their approach much on full-length debut Nurse. Breakthrough album Troublegum saw them not compromise their vision but expand on it by adding some astonishingly good pop songs underneath the buzzsaw guitars and howling vocals, and follow-up Infernal Love added to their tally of UK Top 40 singles with poptastic Loose and that haunting cover of Husker Du’s Diane.
But then things started to get a little muddy. Drummer Fyfe Ewing left and was replaced by Graham Hopkins, while the band took the unusual option of hiring a full-time cellist (no, seriously), and 1998’s Semi-Detatched found them seemingly uncertain of what direction to take their music in. Did they want to be a mainstream rock band or not? Unfortunately, mainstream rock had moved on by then, and had left Therapy? behind in a world of nu-metal rap-rock idiocy. This is the point at which many other bands would have called it a day, but if anything it only made them more determined.
“So much for the ten-year plan” was a line from their next album, Suicide Pact – You First, and that saw them ditch any semblance of chart-friendly material to return to their angry roots. It didn’t even make the UK Top 40 Album chart, but this was almost a victory for them rather than a defeat. In the years since then, their approach has been effectively summed up by the album title Never Apologise, Never Explain. Hopkins was replaced by Neil Cooper in 2002 and cellist Martin McCarrick left a couple of years later, returning the band to its ‘power trio’ line-up.
So, 22 years after the release of Babyteeth, Therapy? are still going strong and new album A Brief Crack Of Light has just come out. It won’t get them any hits and you won’t hear Fearne Cotton play any of it, but Andy Cairns and Michael McKeegan won’t care because they’ve found what every rock band really needs. They’ve got a core fanbase large enough and loyal enough to sustain them, without needing the pressures and confusion that the limelight can bring. It’s a really good album too, one of their best even. Tracks like Before You, With You, After You and the wonderfully-titled Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder are classic Therapy?, with Cooper’s drums catching that same unique sound that Ewing brought to those early recordings. It may sound like a drummer playing a different song to the rest of the band, but it works and makes them still sound like no-one else.
They aren’t afraid to try new things either, as album closer Ecclesiastes shows, taking the pace right down and using a vocoder-effect on Cairns’ vocals to give it a haunting kind of feel. It’s an unconventional approach for Therapy? but makes for a good ending to another very impressive album. Most of their fellow Brit-Rock acts of the 90s have come and gone and come back again, but they’ve kept on going, kept true to what they wanted to achieve (even in the face of achieving a lot more), and you get the feeling that there’s a lot more left in the tank. Their continued existence shows that, whatever problems there are in the music industry, all you really need is great music and great fans. They’re here till the end.