Every Therapy? album ranked from worst to best
Andy Cairns rates the Northern Ireland trio's albums in order of greatness
Since forming in Northern Ireland in 1989, Therapy? have released 12 albums, two mini-albums, four compilations and a live collection. We challenged frontman and founding member Andy Cairns to rank their studio albums in ascending order.
Here’s how the trio’s considerable back catalogue fared…
12. Shameless (2001)
Andy Cairns: "Everything about this album bar the finished result was perfect for me. We recorded it out in Seattle, which is my favourite place in America, at the incredible Robert Lang Studios where Nirvana and the Foo Fighters recorded. We worked with the legendary producer Jack Endino [Mudhoney/Soundgarden] who couldn’t have been nicer; he was a really good cheerleader in regards to getting the album done. The problem was the material. At this point in time, because Therapy? had been around for over a decade, we had a clear idea of what we wanted to do and we didn’t want to follow the nu-metal trend, which was at its height at this point. As a reaction to that movement, I started listening to lots of old punk and punk ‘n’ roll records. I felt like some of the stuff we’d done on Nurse, Troublegum and Infernal Love was almost like a precursor to nu-metal, so we’d done that already and there was no need to jump onboard that band wagon. Michael [McKeegan, bass] and I went in the direction of wanting to do a raw punk record, but the other two guys in the band – Graham [Hopkins, drums] and Martin [McCarrick, guitar & cello] – were really into the whole nu-metal thing and I suppose they didn’t really see what Michael and I were trying to do. They thought we were being old-fashioned but I said, ‘No, I’m trying to make an absurd rock ‘n’ roll record.’
“The tracks were written by the time we got over to Seattle, but it was obvious from the start that Graham in particular wasn’t into it – we actually found out later on that he’d already planned to leave the band and the motions were already in place. So he just wanted to go and that made for a not very nice atmosphere. Martin wanted the material to be more nu-metal as well, and he was constantly playing White Pony by the Deftones. To overcompensate for that, rather disturbingly, they wanted to play as many instruments as possible and originally what started as a very back to basics rock ‘n’ roll record ended up being this kind of half-finished album that didn’t really sound like Therapy?. It just sounded a bit weird, like a lost rhythm & blues band, and it definitely didn’t come out the way we wanted it to, which is a shame because we had a really good time doing it. I remember thinking at the time, ‘What happened to our band?’ But we had a great holiday in Seattle and we hung out with some very cool people – the guys in Pearl Jam and Soundgarden lent us some of their gear, so it wasn’t all bad.”
11. One Cure Fits All (2006)
“This was the third record we made with Neil Cooper [drums], and he’d really established himself as a really shit hot drummer by this point. He really blew away old memories of previous line-ups and everyone was comparing him to the original drummer Fyfe [Ewing], saying he was the best drummer we’d had since him. We’d written a bunch of songs and we met with Pedro [Ferreira, producer] who’d done a chart album [Permission to Land by The Darkness], as we certainly wanted to go back down the road of Troublegum again. But unfortunately this time around the songs weren’t as strong as what he had in our head. Pedro was great, and he really tried to bring out the best in the songs, but I think the fact that we’d booked such an expensive studio worked against us because we only had it for a short period of time, so rather than going for a cheaper studio and maybe being there for four weeks we went to an expensive one and only stayed for a fortnight, which meant we basically rushed the whole thing.
“Whenever I listen back to these songs now I can often hear one idea extended into three and a half minutes; there’s not enough changes and a lot of it is way too simple, and it just didn’t do what we wanted it to do. It’s not as big a failure in my eyes as Shameless, but it’s certainly a record that I look back at and think, ‘That could’ve been a lot better.’ On the positive side, we did get a couple of great songs out of it like Dopamine, Seratonin, Adrenaline and Walk Through Darkness, and we recorded it at the now-defunct Jacobs Studios in Surrey where The Queen is Dead by The Smiths was recorded, which is one of my favourite albums. According to one of the catering staff who’d been there for years, I was staying in the same room that Morrissey had.”
10. High Anxiety (2003)
“This is the first album we did with Neil on the drums. At the time, the record label took a bit of a punt on us and we got to record the album down at the again now-defunct Parkgate Studios in Hastings. We had about two or three weeks to do it and we made it with our live engineer Pete Bartlett, who'd made records with Lush and The Jesus and Mary Chain. The sound on the record, to me, is faultless and I think 70% of the tracks are amazing. But it has got a few tracks on it that fall really flat. There’s one track on it called My Voodoo Doll, which was originally written as a sort of mid-paced song in the style of Nothing or bands like that, but the way we ended up doing it made it sound like cartoonish pop-punk. There was also a song on there called Watch You Go that ended up the same way, and we had this kind of groove rock track called Who Knows that didn’t turn out the way we wanted it either.
“It does have Rust, If It Kills Me, Hey Satan – You Rock and Stand in Line though, which are all really great, and Neil’s drumming on this record is fantastic. The production was really strong too, and Chris Sheldon who produced Troublegum and Semi-Detached mixed it, so the whole thing sounds really amazing and hi-def. I know that a lot of Therapy? fans really like this record as well. The only reason it’s so low is because there’s a few weak tracks on there that we could’ve done better, and I’m a ‘glass is half-empty’ kind of guy. But we listen to so many different styles of music and sometimes the things that we try fail; you’re always going to have that when you’ve got 12 albums like we have. Maybe if instead of making Infernal Love in 1995 with the frilly shirts and ‘taches, if we’d have just repeated what we’d done on Troublegum and made every single record that followed a variation on that theme then we probably would’ve made our lives a lot easier. But then again, I don’t even know if I’d be talking to you right now. We probably would’ve just made another couple of albums then split up.”
9. Semi-Detached (1998)
“This was the first record we made with Graham Hopkins on the drums and Martin McCarrick as a fully-fledged member of the band. Initially what happened with this record was in January 1996 our original drummer Fyfe Ewing left the band, and because things had been so tense between all three of us we decided that whatever drummer we got in next would be a bit more of a ‘life and soul of the party’ type character, since the last Infernal Love tour that we did in 1995 with the original line-up wasn’t any kind of fun at all. So Michael and I sat down and as a reaction to that we chose a drummer that was a lot more easy going. Martin had been a touring member of the band for a while already and he was a positive guy, so the band was in a better place, but the reason there was a three year gap between Infernal Love and Semi-Detached was because the four of us didn’t really gel, although no one wanted to admit it, and the last three albums we’d done had been very popular and sold really well worldwide, so there was a lot of pressure to follow them up successfully.
“I actually really like the lyrics and the melodies on this album, I just think the production is a bit overcooked and some of the arrangements could’ve been a lot better. There’s a song on there called Church of Noise, which was actually a hit single for Therapy?, and I think that could’ve been done a lot better. I think we were a bit enthralled with Rocket From The Crypt at the time, and it was almost a bit too comedy rock ‘n’ roll as a result of that; the band that had done Troublegum would’ve done it in the style of The Black Album by Metallica and it would’ve been much tougher and more aggressive. The same goes for Straight Life, which still has a really great melody and groove but it’s just not aggressive enough. And Tramline was an absolute waste of space. But then there are great tracks like Tightrope Walker on there, and one of my favourite Therapy? songs, Lonely Cryin’ Only, which was our attempt to write a David Lynch/Misfits ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll song with slightly more twisted lyrics.”
8. Nurse (1992)
“This was the first major label album that we did. I’ve got a lot of time for this record. For a band like Therapy?, who started out doing anarcho gigs around the squat scene in Northern Ireland, when we got signed to a major label we lost a lot of friends. People forget that, in 1992, that was seen as a mass betrayal. No one cares anymore, but post-Fugazi and Big Black it was all very much if you went to a major label, unless you had a massive hit overnight like Nirvana, then you were the enemy. So a lot of our punk friends back home called us ‘sellout fuckers’, and that was quite bizarre because we didn’t expect it to be quite as hostile as that. And we signed to A&M for a huge amount of money so we were really nervous about blowing it, which is why we decided to do the album with our sound engineer Harvey Birrell; we trusted him and he’d done a lot of bands already like the Subhumans and people like that. So we said, ‘Let’s trust Harvey who does our front of house sound.’ After that it was just like this huge soap opera of events.
“We rented a house in southern Ireland with the intention of writing some songs, and turned up with loads of beer and loads of speed. We all got along great for the first couple of weeks, but one night we went to the pub and we got into this huge fight and all walked back separately. When I got back I trashed a load of my gear and we trashed the room that we were rehearsing in, including a massive mirror. The next day we found a dictaphone that Michael used to carry around for ideas and it had recorded the entire argument back at rehearsal room; it had been sitting on top of an amplifier and when we came back it switched itself on. We actually released a box-set last year and hidden in the box set is that argument, and it’s just us totally plastered going ‘Right, we’re going to have to just pretend the mirror fell off the wall.’ So we got all the songs demoed there and then we moved to a studio in Wales, and turned up with a load of acid. I was that guy that whenever I wasn’t doing my parts I was quite impatient, and I’d just run around and drop acid all day waiting to record vocals. There was crazy shit like that going on every day. But eventually we got the record done and there’s a lot of really good stuff on there, including Nausea, Teethgrinder and Disgracelands. Perversonality is an amazing tune, too. I suppose my only criticism of it is the production; I think the drums sound fantastic, but the guitars sound shit, the bass could be more powerful and the vocals sound like they were added on the end, which is basically what happened. I remember saying at the time, ‘When the reviews come out I just hope they don’t pick up on the thin guitar sound.’ The first one I read was in Metal Hammer which said, ‘Not bad, but it would’ve been better without the weedy guitar sound!'”
7. Never Apologise, Never Explain (2004)
“This is a pretty straight forward record. As a kid listening to all my favourite bands, this was how I always thought albums were made. We wrote the music up in Derby where Neil is from. There’s a place there called The Hive, which is a rehearsal and recording studio, and we all got together there for a fortnight and got all our ideas down. We wrote the 13 songs for the album there, and then we went to Parkgate Studios in Hastings and recorded the guitars, bass and drums in one take. Then we listened back to them and corrected any mistakes, did some overdubs on the guitars, and then added the vocals at the end. Hey presto, two weeks later the thing was done.
“I think what I like about this record is that it might not have any of our better known songs on it, but it’s got a uniformity that I think all good albums should have. There’s not one Beach Boys-esque symphonic odyssey followed by something that sounds like it was knocked out at an Exploited soundcheck, and it’s very consistent all the way through. The drums sound great too, particularly on songs like Rise Up and Polar Bear, and I think this album contains some of Neil's best work. It’s also got two of my favourite Therapy? songs on it; Long Distance and This Ship is Sinking, which I absolutely love. So I think it’s a really solid record. It maybe lacks a hooky single and one or two killer songs, but all the songs sound good together and everything from the artwork to the lyrical concepts just work, and it sounds like a record that’s been made by a band that’s focused.”
6. A Brief Crack of Light (2012)
“It’s hard putting this album at number six because I really love it. It got good reviews and it sold quite well too, and it’s a record that a lot of our fans like. We started experimenting a lot more and the lyrics got a lot more literary. The arrangements of the rhythm were influenced a lot more by things by dub music as well, and modern classical and jazz. It was almost like Crooked Timber’s twin brother or sister. So a lot of it was good and there are some amazing tracks on it; Living in the Shadow of the Terrible Thing is brilliant, and Before You, With You, After You is great too. But it’s a bit like High Anxiety in the sense that it’s two or three songs short of a classic.
“One of the good things about it is it’s got songs on it that we still play live and they go down really well, so it’s good for that reason. But I think it didn’t have enough of its own identity after Crooked Timber. Crooked Timber was such a strong record that this one almost paled in its shadow when it came out. I’m still really proud of it though.”
5. Infernal Love (1995)
“Infernal Love was an album that until last year I completely and utterly despised. We’d just come off the back of Troublegum and that album hadn’t even been out a year by the time we started working on this one. The record company basically panicked because they thought Britpop was going to take over and people weren’t going to buy rock records anymore, so they said to us ‘Whilst you guys are still hot you need to get the next record out just in case rock music goes underground for the next few years and no one cares.’ We were in the middle of a massive tour and they put us into the studio to write some demos even though we had no ideas, and then they put us into Real World Studios, which is Peter Gabriel’s studio, with no ideas and absolutely nothing written. We were told that Troublegum had been out nine months and sold over 600,000 copies, but that the follow up needed to do at least a million. So that was the last words the record company said before they left us in the studio with no songs written.
“By this point in time, the band wasn’t getting on whatsoever. Fyfe didn’t like touring. I was just partying way too much, and Michael was desperately trying to keep the whole thing together. By the time the record was finished I was so cut up that I didn’t know whether I liked it or not. It was released just over a year after Troublegum came out in the UK and the reaction was so divisive. Everyone just went, ‘What the hell is this?’ I know that a lot of hardcore metal fans that had adored Troublegum felt completely and utterly betrayed. This was before we started dabbling in the internet and we were getting sacks of mail, and I’d say about 80% of it was people saying ‘What the fuck have you done?’ – and that’s putting it politely. So for ages I couldn’t listen to this record. But then when we toured it last year, we realised how much the record meant to so many people, and for a lot of people songs like Diane and A Moment of Clarity are their favourite Therapy? songs. Looking back there is some unusual stuff on it, but since it was released there’s been cellos all over rock; about a year after it came out you had Design for Life [Manic Street Preachers] and Bittersweet Symphony [The Verve], then Metallica did S&M and Yellowcard started using electric violins, so it just seems like we stepped above the trench at the wrong time. But I’m glad that at the height of Britpop we didn’t revert to type. We did something that nobody expected.”
4. Suicide Pact – You First (1999)
“After we put out Semi-Detached in 1998, we basically got downgraded. A&M Records had folded and been taken over by Universal. Universal said you’re going to Mercury Records, and Mercury Records said they didn’t want anything to do with the band. So we got sent to an independent branch of Universal called Ark 21 and we were put to the back of the rack in importance stakes. But that rubbed off on us and we became determined to make a record for ourselves. We sent the demos to Dave Sardy and he said ‘No man, I don’t get this.’ After that we sent them to GGGarth Richardson who also turned us down, and we asked Terry Date who said he’d do it for a quarter of a million dollars. So ended up going with Head, who did the first PJ Harvey album [Dry, 1992] and was a massive fan of early Therapy? material. He didn’t like Troublegum, but really liked the songs that we had written for Suicide Pact because they sounded so pissed off.
“We locked ourselves away in the studio and it was basically just like the early days; we lived and breathed music, and even when we weren’t writing and recording we were listening to other bands. We had ghetto blasters in every room and it was a very rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere, and there was a lot of drinking going on but not in a nihilistic way. When the whole thing was finished we felt really good about it and we delivered the whole package exactly the way we wanted. Again, like Infernal Love, it was divisive, but the people who liked it were a lot more vocal and when we toured the album worldwide it was one of the best the band has ever been. We all loved the record and we were all playing well. It’s such an odd album, there’s bits of Captain Beefheart, The Jesus Lizard and Nick Cave in there, but it’s still very heavy. I’m remember Mary Anne Hobbs, bless her soul, said live on the Radio 1 Rock Show, ‘I think this album should be destroyed.’ If she’d said that about Infernal Love, that would’ve broken my heart. For this record, though, I felt like that was kind of the reaction we wanted to get – if you don’t like it then you should really despise it. But for the hardcore Therapy? fans that’ve been with us since the Babyteeth EP, this is one of the albums that they love. I’d love to do an anniversary tour of it at some point.”
3. Disquiet (2015)
“I’ve put Disquiet at number three because it’s the most fun I’ve had making a record since Troublegum. When we did Troublegum there was a really good feeling in the studio and everyone was getting on really well, and it was the same with this album. Plus, we’d written a bunch of songs that we knew were really good. We did the record with a friend of ours, Tom Dalgety, who's worked with Royal Blood and Ghost. We’ve been friends with him for years and he’s never pushed himself on us or asked to produce one of our albums, he’s just always said ‘I’m around if you want.’ So it was great to finally work with him and the atmosphere in the studio was brilliant.
“When we toured the album last year, we played for two hours every night and we played all the songs off the album in the set. Ever since then, every set list we do has Still Hurts and Tides, and a lot of the time we play Idiot Cousin and Words Fail Me too. It’s got so many good strong tracks on it, all the reviews were amazing, and it sold well and charted in quite a few countries across Europe, which we hadn’t done in a while. So it’s created a really positive feeling within the band again, and it was such a shot in the arm after 20 plus years as a band. The songs all sound cohesive too, like I explained earlier with Never Apologise, Never Explain, and it’s a classic Therapy? record in that it’s got big chunky metallic riffs and catchy choruses, and the drum patterns are really interesting and the bass lines are really melodic. I think it’s a really strong record.”
2. Crooked Timber (2009)
“At this point in time I’d just suffered from a really bad illness and I’d been debilitated really bad, so a lot of the songs I’d written were really dark. I was listening to a lot of modern classical, electronic and dub music as well, and very little in the way of rock; because we’d lost another record deal I thought maybe it was over for the band and I just lost myself in lots of music outside of rock. I also thought if we went and made another Troublegum and it flopped then I couldn’t take the rejection, so I wanted to do something completely left of centre. We went to the record label and said that Andy Gill from Gang of Four was the man we wanted to work with, because he’d done an album with Killing Joke [Killing Joke, 2003] that sounded great. I was expecting them to say, ‘Who’s Andy Gill?’ but instead they went ‘No problem, we’ll give him a ring.’ I’m a massive Gang of Four fan and he called me at home asking me to send him some tracks, then he phoned me back after he’d heard them and we had a good chat about what we were trying to achieve.
“We spent two weeks at Blast Studios in Newcastle and then we took a rest before going down to Andy’s studio in London [The Beauchamp Building] to finish off the rest of it. So much thought and artistry went into the album; The Head That Tried to Strangle Itself is based on this concept of consciousness but it’s put to this bizarre time rhythm that Neil worked out from listening to this avant-garde piece of music. Clowns Galore is based on a short story about people eating each other in order to survive and I Told You I Was Ill is based on Spike Milligan’s idea for a headstone, as he’s one of our favourite comedians. The verse rhythm for Bad Excuse for Daylight is taken from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring too, and then we had a dubstep chorus come in. So we had all this stuff going on and I think it all sounds very artistic and sophisticated, and for us it was almost like a fresh start. By the time the record was finished my health had improved and I was in a lot better place, and I remember saying when it was done, ‘No matter what this record does it’s a really good piece of work.’ When it did come out all the reviews were fantastic and most of our fans loved it, and we hadn’t seen gold or silver discs since 1996 so that was brilliant. I’m not sure where it would stand on our fans’ lists, but from a personal point of view I’d put it at number two because it’s got a really special place in my heart.”
“Number one was always going to be a toss up between the Babyteeth EP and Troublegum, but since we’re only doing full length albums it goes to Troublegum. Babyteeth will always have a special place in my heart because it was the first record that we ever did, and coming from Northern Ireland where we were from there wasn’t really any albums released after the initial explosion of punk with The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers. But Troublegum is the one that everyone knows and I think it’s our best album for several reasons. People always say to me, ‘Do you ever get pissed off with people always just thinking of Therapy? as the band that did Troublegum?’ Someone asked Lemmy the same question years ago in regards to Ace of Spades being what people associated Motörhead with and he said ‘Well, if you’re going to be known for one song then make sure it’s a good one.’ I feel that way about Troublegum; all the songs on it are amazing and it changed so many people’s lives. So many people have told me that over the twenty odd years that it’s been out, and it was an absolute joy to make."
“We’d already done our apprenticeship on the major label with Nurse, and we sort of learned the mistakes that we shouldn’t make with this one; like, not to take acid and run around in a field full of cows, and or not to take speed and get into fist fights. We worked with Chris Sheldon who was a really up-and-coming producer at the time, and he’d already worked on the Screamager single with us. I remember him saying, ‘This is a real step-up for Therapy? People will be singing this and it could go into the charts. Have you got any other stuff like this?’ We had a bunch of songs that were inspired by the Ulster punk of Stiff Little Fingers, but also by Helmet and Metallica, which were bands we also loved. We played him Nowhere and Die Laughing and he said, ‘Guys, these are all singles.’ At that time people knew us for songs like Teethgrinder and Potato Junkie; we’d only written one song in the five years we’d been together that was poppy and it became a top ten single. So writing a whole album that was complimentary to Screamager was a big risk. But Sheldon said, ‘You’ve got the songs there. Why don’t you give it a go?’ So we did.
“The whole album happened so effortlessly and easily, and everyone was in a really great mood and the sound that we wanted was there. The songs were done really quickly and when we played them together they sounded like they were all off the same album. When it came out it was a big success, and it took the band out of being a cult concern that had a small fan base in Ireland and the UK to being a band that was an international concern. After the album came out, we spent the next 18 months on tour and we got gold and silver discs from all across the world. We were asked to do a collaboration with Ozzy Osbourne on the Nativity in Black album [a Black Sabbath tribute album released in 1994], which we did, and we were asked to do a song for the Judgement Night soundtrack [Come & Die] off the back of that as well. That was all from this one album. When I grew up as a kid punk rock changed my life, and this was almost my way of paying it back. So this album was the story of my life growing up. I suppose that’s why it’s my favourite record. Every song on it you can play with an acoustic guitar and it still sounds good, and to this day playing those songs on stage still fills me with joy, and I just have to look at people’s faces to see what it means to them.”