Posted by: Nick Walters | March 6, 2012

THERAPY?: A Brief Crack of Light

Therapy? are best known for their 1994 album Troublegum which contained such hits as Screamager, Nowhere and Trigger Inside. Since then they have receded from the public and critical consciousness to the extent that I could find no reviews of this album in the mainstream press (plenty of metal and specialist music sites have reviewed it though). This is a shame as since before and after Troublegum they have released a string of consistently entertaining and musically superlative albums, all pivoting around their trademark style of buzzsaw guitars and distinctive, inventive drumming, with Andy Cairns’ often manic vocals well to the fore, singing songs about death, madness, love, drink, drugs, depression, suicide and, well, generally, the darker side of human nature. The band are well-named; even though the question-mark came out of a need to ensure accurate spacing on a poster, it seems to call into question, is listening to this stuff making me better, or worse?

A Brief Crack of Light is their 13th album, and continues much in the same vein as 2009’s Crooked Timber, except it’s even more experimental. Like many, this perplexed me at first. I think because it’s far more diverse than any other Therapy? album, ranging over many different styles, that it seems like rather a mess at first. It has its own sound – the production is IMMENSE (never have guitars sounded so raging) but the songwriting is all over the place. We get generic T? in Before You, With You, After You, weird sing-along metal/folk in the instrumental Marlow, dub influences in Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder, echoes of Joy Division in Ghost Trio, and shades of Radiohead and Grandaddy in Ecclesiastes. This is off-putting at first, but works, as the album sticks in the memory far more than the likes of, say, High Anxiety, which I know I have heard, many times, but cannot remember much about.

Now, I’ve always been a fan of the band for their black humour, which was sadly lacking on their previous two albums One Cure Fits All and Crooked Timber. My archetypal T? track is Knives, which rocks, is funny, scary, depressing and true all at once. “You! Can’t help! My life! But you! Can hide… THE KNIVES!” Cairns sings. You laugh nervously. But then he sings “I WANNA CRAWL UP INSIDE YOU AND DIE”, like he means it, and its actually upsetting, like the guy is actually suffering right there in the song. “All people are shit! Bad trip tattooed on my brain!” It’s strong stuff, but exhilarating, liberating, the sound of someone giving full vent to their demons. And yet it always makes me laugh. This blend of humour and seriousness is the main selling point of the band to me, but recently the humour seems to have fallen away and the seriousness amped up (like the change of tone between Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only).

But maybe this new focus is a good thing. Crooked Timber seemed to me a conscious effort to address, seriously and philosophically, what Therapy? represent. To drop the mask of japery exhibited on such tracks as Hey Satan You Rock! and Die Like A Motherfucker (excellent as they are) and set out, clearly, what they stand for. And what they stand for is: sanity barely hanging on in a world of madness and growing older. We are fucked up, twisted, drunk and mad, but… we are the best we can be. “My shade will comfort you”, the title track of Crooked Timber states, and that is absolutely the core of T? to me. We may be fuck-ups, but we are human and we care about you (i.e. their loved ones). It’s intensely moving, and they were reaching for it on Walk Through Darkness from OCFA, but on CT finally nailed it.

Now we realise this, A Brief Crack of Light makes total sense, its title drawn again from philosophy, its themes again the fuckedupness of the human race and making do with what we are. But the message is much more depressing this time around. “If you take away the future the present collapses – COLLAPSES!” sings Cairns on opening track Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing (there’s some of that T? humour), a lyric that’s particularly resonant in these uncertain times. In Plague Bell, past angst is brushed aside, but only because “there’s fresh problems” now. That is the most depressing ever T? lyric to me, and an amazingly perceptive piece of writing by Cairns. No wonder he chose to follow it with cheery instrumental Marlow! I dismiss Before You… as a generic T? track, and The Buzzing, whilst fun, seems ludicrously gauche for such a talented writer, railing against “information anxiety” 15 years too late. At least it rocks and is a fun track.

Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder is, in its simplicity both lyrically and musically, the best track here, and one of the best ever T? songs, and one of the best songs about mortality, ever:

Time speeds up
I get older
TAKE YOUR DEAD HAND OFF MY SHOULDER

What more needs to be said? Stunning.

And Ghost Trio, though owing rather too much to Joy Division, forms with Dead Hand the cold, implacable heart of the album.

Two rather standard but jolly T? rockers lead us into the final track. It’s a weird, brittle thing, with Cairns’ voice treated so he sounds like a crooning Cyberman as he intones “everything under the sun… is absurd.” The title is of course taken from a book of the Old Testament (hey, if T? are gonna get biblical on our arses ‘twas always gonna be the OT). Ecclesiastes “emphatically proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently “vain”, “futile”, “empty”, “meaningless”, “temporary”, “transitory”, “fleeting,” or “mere breath,” depending on translation, as the lives of both wise and foolish men end in death. ”

Everything under the sun is absurd, in other words.

What other conclusion can be drawn from the themes explored in this and CT? What a stunning conclusion to the album. What a stunning album.

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Responses

  1. […] springtime an ancient myth, and summer a parallel dimension never to be glimpsed again. The new Therapy? album, with its themes of mortality and doom, helped to cheer me up a bit, but in those dark days I […]


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