Review Summary: Excellent, if somewhat over-stuffed collection, summarising the band from it's indy beginnings to Major sucesses. Priceless for long-time fans, a bit much for the casual listener.
Right off the bat let me say I gave this album such high marks because it's amazing it exists in the first place. But to do the collection justice you need to look at it not only as a whole, but in the context on the band and it's history.
To say Therapy? fans (and probably the band) were shocked when Universal released an "Odds and Sods" collection of Therapy?s appearances on BBC radio is an understatement.
It had been almost nine years after the band last made an appearance (or was on a major label for that matter), and the band's A&M catalog is out of print in most countries. Therapy? was clearly an odd choice for the BBC Collection treatment (especially now), but Universal did every Therapy? fan a huge solid with such a big selection of material mostly unheard since thier air dates, except on MP3s scattered on the web with various degrees of quality. To have them all collected in one set as an official release is quite a treat.
Even though Therapy?s days as a major player are well behind them, they have continued to put out a steady stream of diverse , yet always solid releases. All the while touring regularly and maintaining a steady and fervent fanbase. At the time of this release Therapy? was fresh of the release of the solid One CUre Fits All LP...still I know I was shocked. (Now if Universal would just do a solid re-master and re-issue campaign with Therapy?s A&M catalog, I for one would be in heaven)...anyways now to Music Through a Cheap Transistor.
The greatest value of this collection is in the number tracks from the original line-up of Andy Cairns, Mike McKeegan and Fyfe Ewing, Ewing having left the band after their Infernal Love release in 1995. But it's the inclusion of the post-Ewing Semi-Detatched material showing the evolution of the band from it's original three-piece line-up with Ewing to the four-piece collection with Graham Hopkins and Martin McCarrick that makes it so effective. Not many bands go through as many changes as Therapy? in so short a time, but still retain the same heart and soul.
The collection is not quite complete, since the band released two more LPs with Hopkins, and a third with McCarrick and current uber-drummer Neil "Super" Cooper, plus two more (with a third comming in 2009) as a scaled back three piece. Without those vital contributions no Therapy? collection can be called complete.
Still, MTACT gives the ardent fan and the casual listener a great cross-section of the band's formative history.
From their indie-label beginnings in 1991 to their final major label release, Semi-Detatched in 1998.
Babyteeth is represented here by an Innocent-X / Meat Abstract medley, which in my opinion drives harder than the originals....especially the Meat Abstract portion.
A heavy industrial -tinged rendition of Prison Breaker is the lone entry from Pleasure Death.
These illustrate the band at it's rawest, most experimental beginnings.
1992-1995 was by far the bands high point. Not only in terms of quality of releases, but the quantity.
The band release Nurse in 1992, followed by several EPs, Shortsharpshock, Face the Strange, and Opal Mantra (the three were compiled into Hats of to the Insane for US release). in 1993 and 1994.
1994 was the big year with the release of Troublegum and it's 6 singles.
Infernal Love ended the era (literally with the departure of Fyfe Ewing) in 1995. Here you get the gradual transition from a drum and bass dominated rhytmic sound to more (but not quite) traditional guitar driven metallic sound.
What is astounding is not only the productivity by the band, but the growth. Nurse is very different from the Babyteeth and Pleasure Death but not quite.. the relation is clearly there but the band is obviously going in a different direction.
Troublegum which is very different from Nurse, polished but still hard hitting.
Infernal Love shows the band at it's most polished and cinematic.
We lead up to Nurse with an early version of Perversonality..more on that later
The tracks from Nurse itself are Nausea, Accelerator and Teethgrinder.
The first two are simply hard rocking renditions of the originals. But the band has some fun wih Teethgrinder, opening up with a Metallica like speed-metal version of the main riff before settling into the song proper.
This is also a part of the collection which can frustrate some, because several tracks are repeated. I personally find this invaluable becuase the different versions of the songs are in many ways dissimilar.
Two versions of Perversonality are represented here. The first a pre-Nurse version from 1991 and one from 1993. The 1991 version is very reflective of the band at the time, heavily laced with samples and overdubs and quasi-indistrial. Whereas the 1993 is a more straight forward, live in-studio version and as such is more metallic.
I admit I could have done without three versions of Totally Random Man. But again they are very interesting. The first version from 11/21/1992 is very raw, plodding and the lyrics are different than the official version released on the Shortsharpshock EP.
The second version, recorded a week later on 11/29/1992 is much closer to the final product, yet again with different lyrics. How often do you get to hear the maturation of a song done over the air?
The final version was recorded in 1993 well after it's official release and is a pretty-much the same as the EP version.
Rounding out the Nurse/ EP era is
A raw versions of Auto Surgery
A slower early version of the hit Screamager
A B-Side in Bloody Blue
A live in-studio performace of Disgracelands. A partner with the version of Perversonality mentioned earlier...
And an impromptu jam session called "Ton of Bricks" available here for the first time...
any chance for some new Fyfe drumming, never all bad, but it's not much a repeat listen.
1994 begins the band's hayday, with the release of Troublegum. This is represented here with a quartet of songs performed live in-studio on January 7th 1994.. (which the BBC is famous for). Even though "live" the material is clearly maturing, and the band is getting much tighter and more professional and polished from the previous year,
First off is a scathing version of Brainsaw (kind of ironic since it's Troublegum's closer). This is one of my personal highlights.
Next is a rocking rendition of Trigger Inside, followed by an amusing version of Knives, where Andy Cairns cleans up the lyrics for public consumption... "come round and mess you up!" , "old people get hit".
Last and not least is an excellent version of Isolation (the Joy Division cover), Fyfe's drumming is especially sharp here.
The end of the Ewing Era is summed up with another set live in-studio performaces from the Infernal Love LP in April of 1995. Just like the jump from Nurse/EP eras to Troublegum, the difference is marked.
Here you get a pair of immaculate tracks from the album again performed live in-studio BBC style!
First Bad Mother, with future full-time member Martin McCarrick on cello, followed up by a ripping version of Misery.
The Fyfe era comes to a close with the original "The Sweeney", and a cover of Hank William's Lost Highway.
Between 1996 and 1998 the band went through some upheaval. As mentioned before, co-founding member Fyfe Ewing departed the band. Session musician Martin McCarrick (who provided strings to both Troublegum and Infernal Love) was brought in as a full-time member on both guitar and cello (which became an interesting feature of the bands later sound..until McCarrick departed in 2003). Graham Hopkins was recruited to fill the drumming slot.
The only post-Fyfe era material present on this collection is from the bands final release for A&M, the ultimate (what could have been) Semi-Detatched.
Semi-Detatched is a retooling of the band. At the same time the band reverts a bit of a return to more of a Troublegum approach, but with a sound all it's own, using the addition of new members to expand the sound.
It's not just what left the band with Fyfe, but what the new members brought to the table that is on display in the new sound. Gone were the samples, world beats and quirky timing changes provided by Fyfe Ewing.
Here the band's sound is more dynamic yet straight forward...more accessable.
But as the collection clearly shows, this was quite organic. With each subsequent release the band bacame more and more guitar driven. (Best illustrated by the harmonized guitars on the excellent Tightrope Walker)
Hopkins was more of the traditional backbeat to compliment the guitar. Early on the guitar was more of a compliment to Ewing's drums.
For this era, we are treated to rousing versions of
Church of Noise, Black Eye Purple Sky, the aforementioned Tightrope Walker, the instrumental High Noon, and a metalled up version of Teethgrinder.
This again is a repeated track, but more than any other it is the best demonstration of where the band was in 1998 as a quartet, versus 1993 as a trio. It was the band's evolution in microcosm.
In 1993 the song was dominated by Ewing's inspired drumming, and McKeegan's driving bass. Here the guitars dominate, with McCarrick even providing some lead cello.
But coming to the end you couldn't help thinking "What happened?!"
The material from Semi-Detatched was just as strong as the Troublegum and Infernal Love era stuff. Why'd they disappear? We'll they didn't.... their label did.
It took Therapy? a few years to get it's act back together and resurface on a series on Indy labels. The music is still high quality, but a lot harder to find.
Each subsequent album they've released into the 21st century, again is different from it's predecessor, but with more time between releases it's not as shocking as the metamorphosis the band undertook in it's initial four years.
In my intro I stated that the collection must be viewed as a whole and in the context of the band up to 1998.
The collection succeeds in giving one of the most thorough glimpses of the bands evolution through 1998. But in doing so, it can lose the casual listener.
For the casual fan this 2-CD set has too many of the rarities and out-takes for the casual listener. But to long time Therapy? fans each track provides a precious glimpses back to a time long gone.
Not every version of a song on here is as good as the original.
In my opinion the version of Screamager (their most sucessful single) is too subdued, and lacks the punch of the original.
The instrumentals are so/so and won't invite much repeat listening.
One could easily trim this down to a single CD with every song a hit.
But to do that would be to over-look a big part of the picture of this overlooked band.
And to me.. that would be missing something really special.