You always want to fight the corner of your hometown heroes, be it your local football team or a band that have helped to put your part of the world on the musical map. You want to stand, as one, with ‘your boys’ and, shoulder to shoulder, take on all comers. Which is why, being a proud citizen of the tiny piece of earth called Northern Ireland, I always look forward to the release of the latest offering from the likes of Therapy? – and always want to like it, so that I can stand tall and say “yes, look what we can do… we’ve done it again, so fuck you!”.
It’s a major disappointment when that eagerness, that hope, that anticipation is deflated by an album that ultimately proves to be, not to put too fine a point on it, disappointing.
Things start well enough, with the single ‘Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing’ as visceral, as raw, as captivating as ‘Teethgrinder’. ‘Plague Bell’ is punky and industrial, built around a throbbing bass line and clashing guitar and drum melodies, but the opening lyric of “I think this record is stuck…” is somewhat of an unfortunate prediction of what is to come. The picked guitar into hi-hat intro of the instrumental ‘Marlow’ quickly outstays its overlong intro, as does the rest of the track, which sounds like Big Country playing The Stranglers covering a neutered Nine Inch Nails for one of those backing tracks you hear playing tinnily in your local Chinese restaurant while waiting for your Friday chop suey takeaway.
‘Before You, With You, After You’ – a title that reminds me of an Afrikaans toast an old South African friend taught me – benefits from a chugging riff, but Andy Cairns sounds like Alice Cooper imitating John Lydon the chanted lyric and the album is starting to disappear into the ether of disinterest: ‘The Buzzing’ starts brutal and in your face, with its distorted guitars but ultimately is unsatisfying as it ends like a reject for the latest Trent Reznor soundtrack, while the country punk grind of ‘Get Your Hand Off My Dead Shoulder’, with its acerbic lyric, recaptures some of Cairns’ old venom and fire, but the song itself falls flat in both delivery and production.
‘Ghost Trio’ initially is much more like the Therapy? of old, but again outstays its welcome quicker than a Mormon missionary at your door, while ‘Why Turbulence’, with its psychedelic vocal over a staccato, punky riff, has you just asking “why?”. However, just when you think you’re going completely bonkers, along comes ‘Stark Raving Sane’: this is classic Therapy? – an exciting, punchy, unhinged riff, a stunning, fulfilling bass line from Michael McKeegan and a great distorted vocal. Closer ‘Ecclesiastes’, however, is a post-millennial Joy Division style dirge and ends the album on a definite anti-climax.
I so much wanted this album to recapture the energy, the excitement, the elation I felt when I felt as I tramped home, in the pouring rain, along a deserted railway line after I had witnessed a Therapy? show for the first time, in a tiny club on the outskirts of the Northern Ireland ferry port from which the band exploded a little over 20 years ago. What I got was a real curate’s egg: some absolutely great moments, some brief cracks of light, combined with a large amount of dross.
An unsatisfying 6.5/10.
‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ is released on Blast Records on February 6.