Belfast rockers return with no fear of growing old. Click Play Audio for a podcast interview

Rock has seldom been a pensionable profession. The Who preferred death to old age, while erstwhile godfather of grunge Neil Young famously sang ‘it’s better to burn out than to fade away’. But almost two decades since bursting onto the scene, everyone’s favourite punk rockers, Therapy? are showing no signs of leaving graciously, or, for that matter, leaving at all.

Released this week, Crooked Timber is the band’s 12th studio album, and their first since 2006’s One Cure Fits All. In their mid 90s pomp a new album from Therapy? was a major music event, generally prefaced by the phrase ‘eagerly awaited’ in the inevitable reviews in NME, Melody Maker, Kerrang!, etc.

How times have changed. In 2009 Therapy? are signed to indie label DR2 and today (Monday, March 23) launch Crooked Timber with a low-key instore gig in HMV in Belfast city centre.

If the drop in stature bothers Therapy? it certainly does not show. ‘I think 80% of bands, if they got dropped by their major record label (A&M) and went from playing to 8,000 people to playing to 800 would have given up,’ lead singer Andy Cairns, minus his trademark goatee, says with admirable honesty.

‘It didn’t dent our dignity and pride to go from playing the Point to playing the Village (in Dublin),’ he continues. ‘I think what saved us is that we always worked so hard and had a worldwide fan base. So we were still able to tour the world and get punters in.’

Musically Crooked Timber is something of a departure for Therapy?. Having made their name with the pop-punk of Troublegum, the intervening years saw their sound became steadily harder and closer to heavy metal, something that concerned the band prior to this latest recording. 

‘We were a bit worried that we were churning out things in a generic fashion with some of the last few albums,’ explains Cairns. ‘On this record the rhythm and guitar sound is slightly different. It’s very heavy and intense as opposed to heavy metal.’

Not content with drifting away from heavy metal, with their new album Therapy? have also committed that most heinous of musical crimes – a concept album. ‘The album was written together as a band, and each track has its own concept and inspirations,’ says Cairns.

Never ones for writing about cars and girls, Crooked Timber is Therapy? at their most reflective, even philosophical. The album’s title is an abridged quote from the German rationalist Immanuel Kant, and the lyrics for new single ‘Enjoy the Silence’ were inspired by the myth of Sisyphus, the Greek fable of a man condemned by the Gods to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a hill.

‘I am a massive Beckett fan and the Kant quote I got directly from Beckett. That led me to Camus (who wrote a treatise entitled The Myth of Sisyphus),’ Cairns comments. ‘There’s a riff in ‘Enjoy the Silence’ that almost sounds like it’s collapsing back on itself, which got us to thinking about the myth of Sisyphus.’

Beckett. Kant. Camus. It’s hard to think of any other pop-punk acts, like Green Day and The Offspring reaching back into the pantheon of great thinkers for inspiration. Then again Therapy? never were an average pop-punk band.

‘Where we were coming from when we did Troublegum was Sugar and Husker Du, bands like that. I think Green Day/The Offspring took it off into a level of dunderheaded simplicity.’

Unlike many of the three-chord wonders that flowed in their slipstream, Therapy? were never content to stay within punk’s rather stultifying confines. Hardcore acts like Big Black and Fugazi are still major influences but so too are genre-bending Irish group My Bloody Valentine.

‘With a lot of people who listen to The Offspring and the like, if you said you liked My Bloody Valentine you’d be told to leave the skate park,’ Cairns laughs.

Such catholic tastes help explain why Therapy? still feel the need to make records and to challenge themselves. While Cairns is adamant that if the group split up they would never reform - ‘That would be it. Game Over’ – a break-up is not on the cards.

With their platinum anniversary fast approaching Therapy?’s mega-selling days are long over but they are still planning an ‘extravaganza’ next year to mark 20 years together. Though exact details are sketchy, Cairns guarantees it’ll be a bash to remember. ‘Jim McDonald. James Nesbitt doing a bit of rap. All the greats will be there.’ 

Crooked Timber is out now on DR2 Records. 

Peter Geoghegan