Therapy? – Cleave (Album Review)

Breaking onto the Northern Ireland scene of the tailend of the 1980s, Therapy? has built quite a name for themselves as an Alternative Rock band.

Initially formed as a duo, with Andrew James Cairns on vocals/guitar/bass, and Fyfe Ewing on drums, the band quickly added Michael McKeegan on bass to take its familiar identity as a three-piece. After releasing a pair of “mini” albums, 1991’s Babyteeth and 1992’s Pleasure Death, the band signed with major label A&M Records, crafting their first full-length, 1992’s Nurse, soon thereafter. Two years later returning with Troublegum, and received significant airplay on both sides of the Atlantic, Therapy? would continue to make waves since.

Now nearly thirty years since initially coming together, releasing fourteen studio albums and selling over two million of them worldwide, Therapy? are set to return with their newest collection of songs, Cleave. Set for release on Friday, September 21st via new UK label Marshall Records, part of the Marshall Amplification company, it marks their fifteenth overall studio album. Finding comfort as a trio, the current lineup of Andrew James Cairns, Michael McKeegan, and Neil Cooper on drums team up with Chris Sheldon, who previously produced 1994’s Troublegum and 1998’s Semi-Detached.  

The track “Callow” emerged as the first single off Cleave back in May. Accompanied by a music video showing zombified everyday workers shuffling around their surroundings, swallowing numbing medications (in this case, labelled “ZOMBEX”), over which Cairns decries, “I don’t need your medicine/ I don’t need anything from you / and if you take my demons/ you’ll take my angels too,” it keeps alive the spirit of duality throughout the album. The video also makes a point of advertising for the band itself, as a sign boasts, “THERAPY? / helping the afflicted since 1990.”

Consisting of ten songs in total, later, “Save Me from the Ordinary” is a bit of a departure, with deep low ebbs over which Cairns muses in an almost romantic voice for the song’s verses. The bass work here is odd and infectious, lulling the listener into a strange sense of peace outside of each hasty chorus. Then, “Kakistocracy” arrives and stresses a single point to the listener, “It’s OK not to be OK.

Moving forward, the familiar Therapy? vibe of quick chord changes opens “Crutch,” but lasts perhaps a chorus too long, leading into “I Stand Alone,” a cut that manages to pack several different song structures into its frame. Topping four minutes, it is the longest entry on Cleave, but its brisk pace shortens the experience. Ultimately, this track sits well with “Save Me from the Ordinary,” which features airy, distant verses, punctuated by violent choral entries. 

Then there are songs such as “Success? Success is Survival,” which is a haunting warning tale about those left behind when the cream rises to the top. It is hard to decide which is more chilling, the sound of the chorus as sung by Cairns, or the writhing guitar playing in between syllables. Maybe it is even the haunting bass line that connects everything. Going by at a relatively quick pace, the album closes on a pair of downers – “Dumbdown” and “No Sunshine.” First, “Dumbdown” is a droning march of Cairns punctuating verses with the title yelled as a chorus. Finally, “No Sunshine” takes its turn as a depressing descent into madness with lyrics such as, “walking around in circles / like my head’s wrapped in a chain,” as if the author is a pet trapped in the corner of an otherwise dark yard or basement. Certainly dark, this pair of songs wraps Cleave with a nice, bitter bow.

Overall, most of the tracks on Cleave keep true to the tested Therapy? vibe – Cairns wailing away on both vocals and guitar, utilizing effects both distant and immediate for both, while Bassist McKeegan churns away on top of Cooper behind the drums. The album passes briskly, just under forty minutes. The title wraps the album in a bitter duality, as the verb “cleave” can be used to describe something being divided, or two pieces being brought (back) together.  

We’re living in a time riven by conflict,” muses Cairns, and band’s home island of Ireland and country of the United Kingdom have long been at cross purposes with its neighbors and even its own citizens. Though their problems are not unique, the analogy can be broadly applied to the world at large. Perhaps the band hopes that shining light on divisiveness will in turn close those same chasms. All this in mind, CrypticRock awards Cleave 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase Cleave:

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