- 07 Feb 20
26 years ago today, Therapy? released their second major label album, Troublegum. To celebrate, we're revisiting Bill Graham's original review of the classic album.
I don't claim to fully understand the syndrome but America definitely changes the novice touring band from over the water. Some collapse, some get overawed and disorientated but the hardier breeds return, recharged as leaner, meaner machines, endowed with a streamlined sound.
Certainly American experience may be one input into Troublegum. Not necessarily lyrically, but more likely in its economy and velocity. Some indie sludge-lovers may smart at its almost Ramoniac cleanliness but then I’ve always had a hunch that murky production values are oft a ploy to disguise creaky rhythm sections that can’t slipstream at over 100 mph as Therapy?’s can.
Besides its title isn’t a silly, inconsequential pun. Some album titles are affectations and distractions but Troublegum literally describes the goods on display: basic punk, speed-metal and power-pop structures enlivened and envenomed by snarling lyrics and re-routed by Andy Cairns’ guitar.
Somewhere in his neurones, Cairns must hide and hoard a digest, a library, a compendium of every guitar riff with any link to the punk heritage. Certainly you can spend one happy hour, playing hunt the reference. ‘Nowhere’ has a Joe Strummer skank while I approve the mischief of ‘Hellbelly’ where they’re shouting ‘Jesus without the suffering’ after an exceedingly Edge-like solo.
I’m still figuring out the intro to ‘Lunacy Booth’ and I swear there’s a small slice of Horslips on ‘Isolation’ but you can switch tracks and approach Troublegum from another angle as the long-lost orphan of earlier Belfast punks like Stiff Little Fingers, Rudi And The Outcasts.
Certainly the pogoing and moshing never stops. Troublegum allows no pauses for recuperation and the only criticism, worth venturing, is a fear that its velocity and slightly flat and two-dimensional sound leave you looking for some more variety as it accelerates towards the finishing-tape. Even then, the far more circuitous ‘Turn’ makes you realise, the three Therapists of the Apocalypse share that concern.
Quite honestly with a white-label copy without a lyrical sheet with the latest ejaculations of James Joyce’s carnally inspirational sister, this is a somewhat superficial review but not inappropriate since Troublegum does have a brilliantly designed and executed surface plus an economy in its editing out of anything extraneous that seems second-nature to the best Northerners. This is not a record with any desire to outstay its welcome with loose and befuddling talk.
Other favourite bits, so far: What I can glean of their unsentimental angle on religion on ‘Unbeliever’, their equally sharp take on male teenage lust on Screemager with its chorus: “I’ve just nothing to do but hang around and get screwed upon on you”; and Cairns’ playing at the coda of ‘Stop It, You’re Killing Me’ when he nonchalantly flips from various styles from the basic toolbox of punk feedback.
The three-man band is notoriously the most difficult format to keep refreshed but whatever about their future, Therapy? have no problems here. Troublegum could be a big one and, deservedly so.