A Brief Crack Of Light is the new album by Therapy? Co-produced by the band and Adam Sinclair (New York Dolls, The Unthanks) in Blast Studios in Newcastle, it’s the influential Northern Ireland trio’s thirteenth studio album. The follow-up to 2009’s acclaimed Crooked Timber and their first recording for new label Blast Records, it also just might be the most compelling album of Therapy?’s distinguished career.
Written, says frontman Andy Cairns, about the absurdity of human life, A Brief Crack Of Light draws upon myriad disparate influences – Black Flag’s primal clenched fist aggression, the skewed genius of Stewart Lee’s coruscating comic monologues, the writings of Samuel Beckett, the irresistible swing and swagger of Charlie Mingus among them – to deliver a dark, unsettling compendium of 21st century schizoid noise.
From the foreboding, ominous lurch of ‘Living In The Shadow Of A Terrible Thing’ (the album’s first single, set for release on January 23) to the haunting, sparse, shimmering beauty of ‘Ecclesiastes’, the ten tracks which make up A Brief Crack Of Light are claustrophobic, corrosive and challenging. It’s a pitch-black survivor’s manual for lost souls cast adrift in an uncomprehending, incomprehensible world, a beautifully delineated road map of man’s ugliest impulses and starkest dreads. Baldly put, it’s the finest distillation yet of an uncompromising, idiosyncratic sound and vision Therapy? have honed to a dark art across a remarkable 23 year career.
The band’s story stretches back to 1989, when vocalist/guitarist Andy Cairns, bassist Michael McKeegan and drummer Fyfe Ewing – three young men in thrall to Captain Beefheart, The Stooges, Killing Joke, Motorhead, Detroit techno and the most scarifying, scabrous loathe songs oozing from the American noise rock underground – first set to forging their own none-more-bleak tales of alienation, desolation and dislocation in small town Ulster rehearsal rooms. The first fruit of their unholy union, the whirring, grinding ‘Meat Abstract’, a seven inch vinyl single released on their own Multifuckingnational Records label, was championed by venerable Radio 1 DJ John Peel, bringing the trio to the attention of respected London indie label Wiiija. Two thrillingly aggressive mini albums – 1991’s Babyteeth and 1992’s Pleasure Death – followed: both topped the independent music charts in the UK and Ireland as the word-of-mouth underground buzz on the band was amplified from a whisper to a scream. After a major label bidding war, the trio signed to A&M Records, delivering a Top 30 single (the gleefully unpleasant amphetamine-abuse anthem ‘Teethgrinder’) and Top 40 album (Nurse) for their major label paymasters in 1993.
The following year saw the Larne trio hit their commercial peak: a Trojan horse pushed into the mainstream, the tightly wound punk-metal of Troublegum propelled the band into the UK Top 5, sold 750,000 copies worldwide and spawned no less than five Top 40 singles (‘Turn’, ‘Nowhere’, Die Laughing’, Trigger Inside’ and ‘Screamager’, the lead cut from the 1993’s Shortsharpshock EP), landing the band a Mercury Music Prize nomination in the process. Short-sighted music executives began hailing the band as “the new Metallica”: Therapy? themselves had a rather different blueprint for the future…
The black-hearted melancholia of 1995’s Infernal Love was a radical departure for the trio. Bound together by Belfast-born DJ David Holmes’ cinematic soundscapes, the album was a brooding, twisted, heroically unhinged affair: drugs and comedy moustaches may have been involved. “We were supposed to be writing ‘Enter Sandman’, but we’d be out in a rowing boat in a lake at 2am, off our heads, recording geese and ducks for a sprawling piece of noise called Duck Symphony,” chuckles Andy Cairns. “Perhaps it wasn’t for everyone.” In the boardrooms of their major label, the phrase ‘career suicide’ was muttered darkly. With drummer Fyfe Ewing subsequently departing to be replaced by young Dubliner Graham Hopkins, and Infernal Love collaborator Martin McCarrick (guitar/cello) becoming a full-time member of the group, the quartet delivered one final album for A&M, 1998’s fractured and fractious Semi-Detached, before the label imploded in one of the music industry’s periodic down-sizing moves.
With their backs against the wall, in 1999 Therapy? returned with one of their most off-kilter, challenging and most perfectly realised albums in Sucide Pact – You First, their first release for former IRS boss Miles Copeland’s new independent imprint Ark 21. A sardonically-titled compilation album So Much For The Ten Year Plan – A Retrospective 1990 – 2000 followed, rounding up the ‘greatest hits’ and serving notice, on new tracks Fat Camp and Bad Karma, of the quartet’s increasing infatuation with old fashioned speaker-shredding, head-caving, shit-kicking rock ‘n’ roll ramalama. Recorded in Seattle with famed grunge production guru Jack Endino, 2001’s Shameless was the logical conclusion of this burgeoning love affair, dishing up white-knuckle hooligan blues rumbles for a generation who’d fallen in love anew with the sound of distorted guitars.
2002 saw the departure of Hopkins, with ex-The Beyond/Cable man Neil Cooper becoming the band’s third drummer. Perfectly attuned to the group aesthetic, Cooper’s arrival brought fresh energy and urgency to the band, showcased on the following year’s adrenalised High Anxiety set. Guitarist/cellist Martin McCarrick’s departure in the wake of the release saw Therapy? return to their three piece roots: 2004’s raw, feral Never Apologise, Never Explain album was evidence of their renewed hunger. In 2006, the band returned with album number eleven, One Cure Fits All, a concise, wired amalgam of their trademark angular riffs and slow-burning melodic nous, eclipsed in 2009 by the superb Crooked Timber, a dynamic, assured and powerful set recorded by Gang Of Four guitarist Andy Gill. As they entered the third decade of their career, Therapy? had never sounded more confident, more muscular or more driven. Fans responded in kind, pushing the album to silver status in Europe and demanding the most rigorous touring schedule from the band in a decade. Callow youths no longer, Therapy? had become men. Which brings us neatly up to date, and the release of A Brief Crack Of Light.
“The success of this album won’t be measured in sales but in the knowledge that we’ll be happy with it for years to come,” says Andy Cairns confidently. “It’s important to us to keep moving forward and keep challenging ourselves and the audience. I can put on albums like Babyteeth and Suicide Pact… and Crooked Timber and feel totally proud to have been involved in making them and at the risk of sounding pretentious, we wanted to make an album that stands up strong within our canon. And we’ve done that. With A Brief Crack Of Light we’ve never sounded more like us, slightly odd and slightly apart as always. We can’t wait for people to hear it.”
Official website www.therapyquestionmark.co.uk
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