Review Summary: Irish noise-oiks Therapy? throw caution to the wind gambling their career on a scuzzy, mangy, beast of an album, and come up with a handful of aces.
Comeback albums. Fu
cking great aren't they? Either you're losing all bladder control in anticipation of your favourite band's return from hiatus, or you're wrapped in a pre-meditated smugness that says "they're so 4 years ago, they'll never top [insert critically acclaimed album.]" But either way, there's usually plenty to keep the hype machine rolling and the suspense levels high. But put yourself in the shoes of Andy Cairns and Michael McKeegan in 1999. Along with childhood friend Fyfe Ewing, they'd steadily built up a reputation as a solid touring band with a penchant for making their particular brand of melodic metal-edged punk a little more twisted than their contemporaries, when seemingly out of nowhere, their record sales went up tenfold with the release of Troublegum
in 1994. A period of rock-star overindulgence followed, resulting in some rather unhealthy drug habits and the overblown (yet underrated) Infernal Love
a year later. This period culminated in Ewing leaving the band, and replaced by Graham Hopkins and Martin McCarrick, before the whole band were shoved into a studio with record company expectations of them emerging with an album that would make them "The Irish Metallica." When the unprecedentedly strong Semi-Detached
was released in 1998 after a string of stressful recording sessions, the band's record company repaid their efforts by folding and leaving the band for dead.
This brings us back to 1999. Commercially crippled by such a false start for the new incarnation of the band, Therapy? were label-less, near penniless, and as far as the general public were aware, defunct. So, in a last ditch attempt to hold onto their career as musicians, they gathered what money they had together and began recording what would become Suicide Pact - You First
. Shortly after recording had commenced, they signed to the well-respected, but relatively small indie label Ark 21, informing their new bosses that the album they'd recieve in a few weeks' time would be uncompromising, un-commercial, and un-promoted. To release an album of such a petulant nature on such a small label (as a proposed comeback, no less), is like shaving a swear word in your pubic hair - you've got to really go out of your way to get many people to notice. Sure enough, Therapy? took razor to crotch and, smiling devilishly, began carving a massive "FU
The lack of melodic hooks and commercial sheen to be found on Suicide Pact
are indicative of the band's attitude at the time, and through the thick layers of distortion and fuzz, Cairns' songwriting panache and trademark black humour shine through brilliantly. Lines like "A handful of sour glory, a cup of poison joy/We're the devil's playthings; hate, kill, and destroy!"
give insight into the mind of man with nothing to lose. It's no coincidence that Cairns adopts a much more menacing and growly vocal style here - it would seem that the general mindset of the band when writing these songs was "This could be our last record, so let's make sure we go out with a bang." Throwing convention to the wind, the melodic guitar lines and soaring vocal melodies of previous outings are all but absent here, replaced with scuzzy, dirty rock riffs, and a production that makes the listener feel as if he or she is sat in the middle of a darkened room while the music creeps menacingly out from the shadows, leaving a trail of dust and cobwebs behind it.
This dark and menacing feel perfectly compliments the angrier songs, like the groove-tastic "Jam Jar Jail"
and the wild-eyed punk spazz-out that is "Other People's Misery,"
but the album centrepiece and surely one of the most emotionally hard-hitting songs Therapy? have written to date, "Six Mile Water"
takes the darkness to new depths. Sounding like the bastard son of Joy Division
and Lynyrd Skynyrd
, it combines the bleak depression of the latter with the former's affinity for epic ballads laced with soulful guitar licks, all topped off with subtle cello work from McCarrick, making for a cinematic, beatiful piece of music. Another groove-based highlight is "Ten Year Plan,"
a savage spitting of bile at bands who "work for the man," showing that the band still harbour bitterness towards the major-label system that chewed them up and spat them out, but this anger only helps fuel the album's fire even more. All the anger and mournfulness collides with the "fu
ck you" attitude and comes to a head on album closer "Sister"
, itching and crawling with menace before exploding into a full-on rock chorus with Cairn's overdubbed wails carrying the album to an end.
Without promotion, the band had to rely solely on the strength of the music and their hard-touring work ethic to continue. Suicide Pact - You First
was the sound of Therapy?'s last stand, a huge risk, and 8 years and 4 albums (and counting!) down the line, it's one that has paid off massively. No pretences, no tricks, no compromises; this is Therapy? Take them as they are or not at all.