Therapy? release 'a sequel of sorts' to 1994's seminal Troublegum, a fearsome album that deals with addiction, ageing and expectation with typical vigour
After 40 seconds of Therapy?'s 14th album, Disquiet, we've already had two crunching riffs, a stop-start verse, a soaring bridge and an anthemic two fingers up chorus. Gentlemen, it's just like old times.
Twenty years ago, the east Antrim band were top of the world, propelled by an album – Troublegum – that tapped into the zeitgeist for all things angst-ridden and hard-rocking yet whistle-it tuneful. The serrated edge of the trio's noise rock past was still present and correct on their second album, as were Andy Cairns's despairing howl and nihilistic lyrics, but this time they were welded to catchy melodies and massive, Top Of The Pops-ready choruses.
Instead of capitalising on the chart-bothering success of that album by repeating the formula next time around, however, the band took a famously different tack. The follow-up record, Infernal Love, was wilfully uncommercial, and after the pressures of success and touring led drummer Fyfe Ewing to leave the band, Therapy? moved further from the mainstream, continuing to tour and mutate their sound over album after album to a still-devoted core fanbase.
Rabid followers of new music in all genres (Cairns especially is an avid fan of underground electronic music), recent Therapy? albums have been increasingly experimental – to very good effect. But what's this? Disquiet is proudly touted as 'a sequel of sorts' to Troublegum, in which Cairns asks, ‘What would the protagonist of Troublegum be doing 20 years on?’.
Recent years have seen Therapy? celebrate Troublegum as never before (though its songs have always been central to their live sets) by playing it in full live, and the response those shows have garnered, plus the leftfield nature of the last two records and the passage of a landmark two decades, have brought them full circle.
That rip-roaring opening track is 'Still Hurts', the first single and a song that has slotted seamlessly into recent setlists, including the encore of their Troublegum show at the Mandela Hall in Belfast last November. True to Cairns' vision, it sees him examine his state of mind in middle age and concluding that, yes, 'it' still hurts as much as it did in his 20s. The stark words are coupled to a grinding, staccato song reminiscent of Troublegum's opener, 'Knives'.
There are a couple more of these sonic references to Troublegum throughout the record. 'Insecurity' sounds like Therapy?'s own version of their Joy Division cover, 'Isolation'; 'Helpless Still Lost's churning riff is a dead ringer for 'Unbeliever'.
There are echoes, too, of other bands. Bob Mould's Sugar looms large on a few songs while 'Torment, Sorrow, Misery and Strife' seems to crib its urgent riff and galloping drums from The Offspring's 'The Kids Aren't Alright', and there is a strong whiff of Nirvana on 'Idiot Cousin'.
Comparisons and callbacks aside, the conceptual conceit stands up, as long as you are happy to hear a middle-aged man rail at the world and himself with all the acidic vigour of a snotty teenager. At times, Cairns sounds tired and disappointed in himself – 'trust us to f••k it all up as we get to the top' he sings at one point; 'everything is in flux, everything is totally f••ked' at another.
As on Troublegum, much of the anger is directed inwards but not all. 'Vulgar Display Of Powder' boasts the album's best title, best riff, best vocal and one of its best lyrics, a furious tirade at a self-destructive coke addict. 'You've finally turned into what you've despised and now you're a joke, you coward,' Cairns howls amid the most dynamic music on the record. Likewise the anthemic 'Good News Is No News' is a searing – and unforgiving – takedown of a self-indulgent character wallowing in bitterness and hatred.
Also worthy of note is the seven-minute 'Deathstimate', the one track that really departs from the Troublegum model, as it continues the band's recent penchant for epic closing tracks. Over a bludgeoning, slo-mo riff the like of which Sabbath or Kyuss would be proud, a weary Cairns contemplates life and death from the perspective of a man approaching 50. 'The road ahead looks shorter than the one behind,' he sings, and the sense of mortality is chilling. It's the most convincing, honest song on the album, where Cairns really strips himself bare.
It was always going to be a big call for Therapy? to so openly reanimate the ghost of Troublegum, by far their most successful album and probably their best. On that front, they are partially successful – the nihilistic anger is still there, though it sits a little awkwardly at times, and Cairns' words ring most true when he addresses the present and the future rather than the past. And though the songs are strong, the production doesn't have the bite that Troublegum had – everything sounds a little pillowy when you want it to cut like freshly sharpened knives.
But what's also true is that Disquiet is a much better album than Therapy? have any right to be making at this stage of their careers. It's fearless, fearsome and, all things considered, a qualified success.
Disquiet is out now on Amazing Records.