Therapy? have never been a band to be beholden to any one genre or scene. Their 33-year career has seen them flirt with everything from indie and punk to metal and noise rock, as well as getting lumped in with more niche sub-genres and scenes such as alt.metal, Britrock and even nu metal whenever fashion dictated that the industry find a neat new pigeonhole for them. But, for all of that, nothing truly stuck that could accurately describe what Therapy? are at any given time. A band as likely to cite Hüsker Dü or Big Black as an influence as Black Sabbath or Judas Priest, Therapy?’s career has been a decades-long exercise in pursuing an unfettered love for music, no matter how obscure or warped a rabbit hole they find themselves going down.
Of course, that makes any attempt at quantifying the band’s catalogue almost hilariously difficult. From a love of their early industrial-tinged (some might even say ‘proto-rave-rock’) mini-albums to unabashed adulation for their most pop- tastic inclinations, every Therapy? fan will likely have their own personal assembly of what constitutes ‘Essential’, ‘Superior’ and below categorisation. Some might even argue that every Therapy? album is essential, as each offers an insight into a unique avenue the band saw fit to explore at one time or another. Those people are, of course, wrong; even the band own up to having at least one dud, in execution if not in concept. (Although we must admit to taking some considerable pleasure from listening to even those in this article’s ‘Avoid’ category, so take that tag more as advisory than gospel.)
Nevertheless, we must persevere, picking apart the sonic banquet the band have prepared across 15 full-length albums and two mini-releases to get to the heart of who Therapy? actually are – namely one of the finest creative forces to come out of Northern Ireland since Stiff Little Fingers. From gangly noise-rock-loving layabouts to unlikely chart sensations and creep-rock champions, Therapy? have lasted more than 30 years by simple virtue of playing their own game even when numbers dwindled, labels backed away and reviewers started giving them the side-eye. Therapy? were never about that guff anyway. Theirs is – and always will be – a discography forged by music-loving oddballs for music-loving oddballs, revelling in their own sheer madness.
Troublegum (A&M, 1994) (opens in new tab)
There can be no real argument over whether this album constitutes essential Therapy?. Peaking at No.5 in the UK, their highest-charting release remains their most enduring, its songs still dominating their live shows nearly 30 years after its release.
Troublegum (opens in new tab) offers a near-perfect synthesis of the ingredients that sit at Therapy?’s core: a harmonious balance of punk simplicity, metal physicality and indie cool. Admittedly, Troublegum lacks for skewed noise-rock so prevalent in the band’s first three releases, but this fourth makes up for it with twisted pop sensibilities that turned damn near every track into a bona fide anthem.
Crooked Timber (Demolition, 2009) (opens in new tab)
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If Troublegum represents Therapy? at their poppiest, then Crooked Timber represents them at their most twisted and idiosyncratic. Producer Andy Gill nonetheless ensured songs such as Somnambulist, I Told You I Was Ill and the title track retained addictive melodic hooks.
Favouring groove and rhythm above all else, Crooked Timber shows just how tight the band’s longest-lasting line-up had become, giving the pessimism and bleak humour of Andy Cairns’s (opens in new tab) lyrics a suitably claustrophobic accompaniment. The result was the moodiest release since Infernal Love 14 years earlier and a way point for sonic avenues they would soon explore.
Suicide Pact – You First (Ark 21, 1999)
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Therapy? had a fire in their bellies when recording Suicide Pact – You First, with their former label A&M having failed to promote its predecessor before unceremoniously dumping them. Luckily this just fuelled their most experimental record to date, with producer Head capturing Therapy?’s unpredictable energy while not letting their other elements fall by the wayside. Jazz-adjacent opener He’s Not That Kind Of Girl is representative of the album’s warped, chaotic tone, but elsewhere you’ll still find punchy rock in Ten Year Plan and moody melancholia in Six Mile Water and God Kicks.
High Anxiety (Spitfire, 2003) (opens in new tab)
Never ones to let commerce dictate creative direction, Therapy? spent much of the 90s deconstructing their sound to escape the commercial shadow cast by Troublegum. By the 2000s, however, they were looking to return to punky rock ’n’ roll tunes. Shameless (2001) was a misstep, but with High Anxiety Therapy? were cramming their albums with wall-to-wall tunes again. Hey Satan You Rock, Nobody Here But Us, Watch You Go and If It Kills Me are every bit as addictive as anything on the band’s best releases, with drummer Neil Cooper giving the band a fresh vitality on his studio debut.
Infernal Love (A&M, 1995) (opens in new tab)
In many ways, Infernal Love (opens in new tab) was an attempt by Therapy? at bridging the divide in their fan base that had emerged between fans who had fallen in love with their pop-punk anthems and those who pined for their noise- rock roots, and the days when Therapy? fit snugly on a bill with bands such as The Jesus Lizard (opens in new tab) and Helmet (opens in new tab).
It may not have matched its predecessor’s commercial peaks (although it did still make the Top 10 in the UK), but Infernal Love was a critical creative moment for Therapy?, with cellist (and later full-time member) Martin McCarrick helping mature the band’s sound.
Disquiet (Amazing Record Co, 2015) (opens in new tab)
Studio album number 14 feels like the band taking stock of everything that came before, and cutting away the fat to leave only nuggets of pure gold. Disquiet’s mixture of short, sharp bursts of punk (Still Hurts, Words Fail Me), moody anthemic rock (Tides, Insecurity) and thumping metal brutishness (Vulgar Display Of Powder) comes across like a ‘greatest hits’, producer Tom Dalgety capturing their sound at its most direct and insistent. Deathstimate’s lyric ‘The road ahead looks shorter than the one behind’ acknowledges that the band’s youth was far behind them, but they were showing no signs of creative fatigue.
Babyteeth (Wiiija, 1991)
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Listening now to the decidedly Big Black/Steve Albini-inspired bent to Therapy?’s early sound, it’s hard to believe that within three years the band would be UK Top 10 artists. But even as far back as their first mini-album, Babyteeth, they were deftly nailing their warped pop sensibilities to the wall.
With a more polished production, Skyward could be a Troublegum or Infernal Love track, while Dancin’ With Manson fittingly has one of the band’s most danceable beats. Over seven tracks, and just under half an hour, Babyteeth gnashes and claws with almost obnoxious insistence, and more than 30 years later remains a choice record in the band’s canon.
Semi-Detached (A&M, 1998) (opens in new tab)
In another, more just universe, Semi-Detached would have seen Therapy? complete a commercial triptych to make them one of the UK’s most reliable rock breakthroughs. With label A&M being subsumed by Universal Music Group just as Semi-Detached was being released, the album never received the support of its predecessors, and Therapy? suffered as a result. It’s a shame, as with producer Chris Sheldon returning after taking the band to glory with Troublegum, pop-rock bangers such as Church Of Noise, Lonely, Cryin’, Only and Don’t Expect Roses could have done big business were they released under better circumstances.
Nurse (A&M, 1992) (opens in new tab)
It’s Therapy?, but not as we know them. At least that was the sentiment when the band went to record their first full-length album, with producer Harvey Birrell helping dial back the abrasion from Babyteeth and Pleasure Death to let those pop hooks really shine. The squat punks they had grown up with may have hated them for it, but Nurse was a vital evolutionary step to take Therapy? from the abrasive noise- thrash of Animal Bones to the fizzy punk of Nowhere. It’s not as if the band lost their bite either; the album opens with the line ’Here I am, motherfucker!’ and features industrial-bop Teethgrinder. It’s hardly Duran Duran.
And one to avoid...
Shameless (Ark 21, 2001) (opens in new tab)
Poor Shameless. If this album had come from a Scandinavian glam-punk group, we would probably be extolling its virtues as a brilliant throwback to straight-ahead rock ’n’ roll. But Therapy? just aren’t that band. A little too straight for its own good, Shameless suffers by dint of being that most unforgivable sin in Therapy?’s catalogue: ignorable. Songs such as Gimme Back My Brain and Stalk & Slash would be fun ditties on any other Therapy? album, but here feel like misplaced highlights, wonky production showing just how perfunctory the likes of I Am The Money and Body Bag Girl really are, the latter galumphing along like toilet-era Elvis.