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Troublegum / Infernal Love (Reissues) JR Moores , April 7th, 2014 06:57

You can keep your Definitely Maybe. You can spare me your Dog Man Star. You can clench Buckley's Grace between your buttocks and shove your arse into an industrial incinerator. For me, Troublegum is the greatest album of 1994 (arguably the greatest album of the 90s, no less).

Therapy? (the question mark is silent) formed in 1989 in Larne, Northern Ireland. Escaping their small-town birdcage with garuda-sized wings, they released two mini-albums of Big Black/Killing Joke/early-Hüsker Dü-ish punky metal with digressions into noise and jazz, festooned with nightmarish soundbites. Snapped up by A&M Records, their debut full-length (Nurse) refined the trio's sound, birthing the industrial mini-hit 'Teethgrinder'. Their next record would be the real classic, briefly thrusting them into Top Of The Pops-worthy stardom. Shooting to number five in the UK album charts, spawning no less than five top-30 singles and selling over a million copies worldwide, Troublegum would be described by the greatest cultural commentator of our time as "1994's first truly magnificent record. I am its slave. It has me. ... I have given it four stars, because five says any Q reader could walk out and buy it and not be in any way disappointed. I'm too clever to believe that" (Andrew Collins).

Therapy? were soon touted as "the next Nirvana". The prediction was accurate in at least one sense, and one that those excitable prophets may never have intended. Just as Dr Victkurt Cobainstein quickly regretted giving life to his Nevermind monster, almost as soon as he'd made it Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns was striving to escape the success of his own crossover masterpiece. 
In subsequent years Cairns would dismiss the album as teen-angst pop-punk and, although never offending his audiences by refusing to perform Troublegum tracks, when touring his most defiantly anti-commercial record since those early scuzzy mini-LPs (1999's Suicide Pact - You First) he would declare that Troublegum "belongs to the fans now" and invite audience members onstage to sing hits such as 'Nowhere' so that he didn't have to. "I'm sick and tired of going nowhere", he would sing on the next album Shameless.
Granted, you're most likely to fall in love with Troublegum if you first hear it when you're about fourteen-years-old, don't appreciate your parents and are not exactly a veritable Fonzie with the girls at school. (BTW, The Quietus' stereotypical demographic may consist of facially-hirsute ale-bellied blokes in HP-stained Coil t-shirts, but you never know, if you are around the age of fourteen and happen to be reading this, please, please do buy these records. They'll change your life. Now with bonus b-sides, demos, remixes, acoustic versions and superfluous remastering of their already-perfect production.) Granted, singles like 'Nowhere' and 'Screamager' are bouncy, hummable 'Teenage Kicks' for Generation X. They're hardly as brainlessly straightforward as Green Day though, are they? There is a brash ingeniousness to the ear-snatching opener 'Knives'. And there is plenty more depth to be found in Troublegum. The infectious riffs are thrashed out with buzzsaw guitars. Michael McKeegan's bass rattles along with post-punk authority. There are layers of remarkable guitar textures, short blasts of terrifying feedback, and solos that bleed sheer anguish.

Furthermore, Troublegum flows like nothing else. Gravely rocking pissed-off gems fly past one after the other, blending seamlessly, never dipping in quality, with no pause for listeners to catch their breath. If the odd rhyming couplet seems a tad adolescent ("Idiots' authority / Promising equality"; "I think I've gone insane / Can't remember my own name") other darkly comic lyrics will remain etched into the stone of the heavy music pantheon until the planet is decimated by environmental catastrophe, extraterrestrial invasion, or the return of Godzilla. 

"Here comes a girl with perfect teeth / I bet she won't be smiling at me / I know how Jeffrey Dahmer feels: (lonely, lonely)".

Flaunting far greater intelligence than your average rock star half-wits, over the years Therapy?'s songs have referenced Burroughs' characters, Francis Bacon's paintings, Nabokov, Kant, Beckett and countless other cultural heavyweights. Like their buddies the Manic Street Preachers, Therapy? have actually read books and stuff, so their words are actually worth paying attention to. If the "I'M GONNA GET DRUNK, COME ROUND AND FUCK YOU UP" refrain on 'Knives' appears aggressively, bone-headedly masculine, its "my girlfriend says... / my boyfriend says..." dichotomy offers a more fragile layer of bisexual confusion, whereas "I wanna crawl up inside you and die" ventures into weird oedipal subtext territory (again, like Cobain, who had begged "throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back").

Countless songwriters have penned thinly-veiled odes to the pleasures of onanism. 'Pictures of Lily'. 'Teenage Kicks'. 'Turning Japanese'. 'Blister in the Sun'. The subversive 'Me Party' from 2011's Muppet Movie. Few have been so candid as to open a song by bawling the lines "Masturbation saved my life / I was nervous as a child", especially not in the overly macho and libidinous world of heavy metal. I mean, can you imagine Dave Mustaine doing that?
If you're one of those dour pedants who think that Troublegum's riffs are a little too obvious for your nuanced metal connoisseurship, well, firstly, what are you listening to metal for? Sod off and stroke your chin-beard to the intricate details of Tchaikovsky or something. And secondly, you can always concentrate on the drums.

Therapy?'s trump card Fyfe Ewing was armed with literally the best sound that any man has ever made with a stick and a drum. Each beat of his tighter-than-tight snare skin feels like a surprise blow round the temple from a lead-pipe wielded by a big, hairy arm with a deadly vendetta. What's more, Ewing's style was refreshingly odd. Influenced by everything from thumping house anthems to freeform jazz, he had the habit of sneaking in extra beats where you didn't expect them and excluding them where you would.

With hindsight, Ewing's departure seems to be imprinted within the grooves of Infernal Love. Not only is he lower in the mix, his playing seems far less expressive, strangely muted, already disillusioned perhaps. Ewing quit the group during the Infernal Love tour, fearing that if he didn't he would "go mad". He then disappeared into obscurity, depriving the world of one its most exciting young drummers.

Incidentally, you can keep What's The Story, The Bends, and that Sparklehorse album with the clown on the front. The best album of 1995 (and second best album of the 90s) was Infernal Love. Dr Victkurt Cobainstein dealt with the unsettling success of his second album by doing too much heroin, hitching a lift on Captain Albini's expeditionary ship, pursuing his Nevermind monster to a mansion in the North Pole hoping to slay it with nothing but a borrowed shotgun and a copy of In Utero, before slipping tragically under the ice. Andy Cairns dealt with the unsettling success of his second album by taking lots of cocaine, shaving his head, investing in false moustaches, and making a bizarre goth-pop album in Peter Gabriel's recording studio.

Even when you know this record back-to-front and inside-out, with every lyric etched permanently onto your sorry brain, Infernal Love still strikes as distinctly peculiar. Yes, it is somewhat bloated, though not without irony - see that cover with those silly fake moustaches and Cairns' raised eyebrow. Apart from the comparatively jaunty 'Loose', it is a pitch-black, sordid and forlorn affair peppered with further unjolly lyrical nuggets such as "fucking you got boring when it didn't feel so wrong". Influenced by Nick Cave, Tindersticks, Afghan Whigs and the 4AD roster, Infernal Love's guitars are cleaner, Cairns' vocals are at their croonsome peak, there is plenty of cello (provided by This Mortal Coil's Martin McCarrick) and even a saxophone. Adding to the atmospheric creepiness, the then-up-and-coming DJ David Holmes was enlisted to provide the ambient, cinematic between-song soundscapes. The new gothic sound reached its logical conclusion in the harrowing barebones reinvention of Hüsker Dü's rape-and-murder narrative 'Diane'.

This was 1995, remember. The height of Britpop. For some strange reason, fake moustaches, cello-laden chamber-rock and songs about rape, maggots, wire, bowels, bad mothers and misery didn't exactly chime with a public who were rather more interested in carrying photos of Paul Weller into the barbershop, drinking too much Boddingtons, and roaring out karaoke renditions of 'Some Might Say', 'Free As A Bird' and 'Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)'.

Yet Therapy?'s decline thereafter cannot be blamed solely on the Britpop tsunami. If he'd been embarrassed by Troublegum's triumphant (supposed) simplicity, the sensitive and self-critical Cairns had a similarly ambivalent relationship with the unbridled ego-trippin' indulgencies of its gothic younger brother. It's admirable that Cairns would never repeat himself or resort to cynically churning out Troublegum 2 (or, indeed, Infernal Love 2). There is plenty to admire in Therapy?'s later discography. Semi-Detached and Suicide Pact are excellent and after a sad dip in the early noughties, Therapy?'s recent work has picked up with tracks like 'Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder' and 'Ecclesiastes' flaunting a renewed love for out-of-their-comfort-zone experimentation. Even so, everything since 1995 has trodden the middle ground between the immediacy of Troublegum and the insane, flamboyant excess of Infernal Love. Between Cairns' Catch-22 and his Something Happened. Between his Transformer and Berlin. His Rumours and his Tusk. His Introducing The Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby and Neither Fish Nor Flesh.

Cairns once wrote a song called 'Tightrope Walker'. I love the man, but I'd quite like to see him lose his balance again.