It’s ironic that Therapy?’s breakthrough into the mainstream came courtesy of an album that didn’t sound very much like them at all. There was little trace of the band’s key influences (Big Black, Sonic Youth, Captain Beefheart, techno) in 1994’s million-selling Troublegum, but its streamlined punk-metal sound, allied to Andy Cairns’s black-humoured ‘I was a teenage fuck-up’ lyricism, connected on such a scale that the trio’s early years as misfit noisemakers were effectively airbrushed from history. The arty, awkward Infernal Love soon torpedoed any notion that this was a path Therapy? intended to pursue.
In the ensuing 20 years, Therapy? have maintained a cult following with a succession of albums owing more to the abrasive underground noise of their debut EP, 1991’s Babyteeth, than the aggression of Troublegum. But revisiting that landmark release for a 20th-anniversary tour in 2014 led Cairns to wonder how the protagonist of Screamager/Nowhere/Trigger Inside might be feeling two decades on.
The end result of such musings is Disquiet, an album that taps back into Troublegum’s black heart and emerges as something akin to a survivor’s manual for lost souls.
Disquiet offers no pat resolutions to the Troublegum story. Where that album opened with chaos and confusion (‘My girlfriend says that I need help,’ sang Cairns on Knives. ‘My boyfriend says I’d be better off dead’), album number 14 opens with Still Hurts’ chorus of ‘Each year it gets worse, it won’t stop, still hurts’.
The Hüsker Dü-influenced Tides is fashioned from notions of life passing one by, while Fall Behind cautions against nostalgia and has the marvellously joyless lyric: ‘Everything is in flux, everything is totally fucked.’
So far, so feel-bad, and yet there’s something perversely life-affirming about this salty bleakness, particularly when it’s accompanied by some of the sharpest riffs Cairns has crafted in years. Helpless Still Lost knowingly references the down-tuned attack of Troublegum’s Unbeliever, Insecurity is a cheekily upbeat rewrite of Joy Division’s Isolation and the fabulously titled Vulgar Display Of Powder is a clear- headed look back at the coke-fuelled hedonism of the Britpop era.
Disquiet ends on another downer with Deathstimate, its protagonist contemplating the end of the road with weary resignation. And yet amid all this doom, Therapy? sound reborn, utterly at ease with a sound they largely abandoned 20 years back.
If this brilliant set propels them from the margins once more, that would surely be the greatest irony of all./o:p