Review Summary: Therapy? have fun putting the angry young male psyche under the microscope
It's always a source of wonder when a fledgling act with just a scrappy debut album under their belts emerge a mere year later with a fully formed classic. This was certainly the case in 1994 when the still wet behind the ears Northern Irish three-piece Therapy? dropped 'Troublegum' on an unsuspecting public; rarely has there been such a marked increase in quality between a first and second album, and it arrived at the most opportune time imaginable having no trouble peeking the interest of both the rock and indie crowds. Therapy? had the riffs and a well cultivated outsider aesthetic that instantly appealed to fans of heavy music yet also boasted slyly subversive lyrics and weren't afraid to employ a lighter touch when required which won them the support of the indie community. 'Troublegum' would prove to be the only time they truly mastered this tightrope act of balancing perfectly between these two stools and as such it's no surprise that despite recording no less than ten subsequent albums this is still widely regarded as their defining work.
Comparisons with other artists are difficult as Therapy? for the most part stood apart from the crowd, one contemporary act that bore certain similarities to them were the Manic Street Preachers who'd also just followed up a lacklustre album ('Gold Against the Soul') with their own magnum opus, humbly titled 'The Holy Bible'. Both albums take the listener into the dark recesses of the human psyche but that is where the similarities end in so much as for a listener to truly relate to 'The Holy Bible' in relation to their day to day existence they'd effectively need to be a suicidal history student with an encyclopaedic knowledge of serial killers. 'Troublegum' was the complete opposite in this respect being totally relatable to any young male aged between their late teens and early twenties. I'm aware that singling out the male gender here may appear sexist but there's no getting around the fact that this album serves as one of the greatest ever monuments to formative masculine angst. The genius here is that the tone of this work never takes a turn towards the misogynistic as Cairns' lyrics always make you fully aware that his focus is set exclusively on the male mind and it's inherent weaknesses.
The lyrics pull no punches and are enough to make grown men wince. 'Masturbation saved my life' anyone? How about 'you never make love with a smile on your face'? Maybe 'here comes a girl with perfect teeth, I bet she won't be smiling at me' is the one that registers deep? If none quite capture that certain je ne sai quoi for you perhaps the last 15 seconds of full throated screaming that close the tellingly titled 'Unrequited' will drive it home. The honesty and raw emotion on display is head turning, what makes you keep listening to these lyrics is their level of wit and variety; Cairns has struggled to match this passionate outpouring ever since.
All this would of course fall flat if the music couldn't keep up with the words; needless to say such fears are misplaced as 'Troublegum' also sees the band peak in terms of both songwriting and musicianship. From the opening power chords of 'Knives' you can tell the band are pumped up, the drums wasting no time in laying down an incredibly tight rhythmic foundation from the off. The first five songs come thick and fast flowing into one another perfectly, the pop hooks of 'Screamager' and 'Nowhere' offset by the chugging riffs of 'Hellbelly' and breakneck pace of 'Stop it You're killing Me'. Therapy? show their range with moodier offerings like 'Unbeliever' and 'Turn', as well as more experimental tracks like the unrelenting 'Femtex' and the quirky vocal workout 'Unrequited'. The inclusion of a cover version of Joy Division's 'Isolation' is another masterstroke and a trick they pulled off again on their next album 'Infernal Love' which included a dark reading of Husker Du's murder ballad 'Diane'.
It is rare to conclude that a fourteen song album is devoid of any excess fat or bloat but that is the case with 'Troublegum', quite simply one of the most consistent rock albums of all time.