Album Review: Therapy? – “Cleave”
There’s always been a lot of duality with Therapy?. Darlings of the UK alt-rock scene in the mid-90s following the success of their classic second album Troublegum, the band refused to bow to commercial pressure and promptly followed it with the mind-bending, sinister and drug-addled Infernal Love before the more catchy Semi Detached then the darker Suicide Pact – You First. Not only has this kind of unpredictability always made it hard to pin Therapy? down, it also makes anticipation greater with each new record, and none more so than with their 15th album Cleave.
Meaning “to split apart” as much as it does “to bring together” Cleave makes a great deal of sense both thematically and musically. This is the culmination of nearly 30 years of the band’s career and as a result, it features snatches of all that’s come before but with a keen eye on modern culture and 21st century society’s failings. Frontman Andy Cairns has delved into mental health issues with his lyrics before, but things seem more stark this time; the swaggering Kakistocracy (“It’s okay not to be okay”) exposes the blind eye that’s being turned to those struggling with everyday life as well as exploring the divisions between rich and poor in quite a frank manner. These themes are reflected on the pounding Expelled which lurches in, Nausea-style, before Cairns’ familiar sneer delivers a tongue-rolling diatribe about isolation. Forthright in its views, Cleave sets out its stall from the off backed by a rumbling bass assault from Michael McKeegan and another precise and intense workout from Neil Cooper on the drums.
In fact, the heaviness of some of the tracks on Cleave really surprises. Whereas on 2015’s Disquiet the brontosaurus-sized riffing was confined to the sprawling Deathstimate, here the drive and power hits from the off with opener Wreck It Like Beckett‘s chaotic groove, and it’s joined capably by I Stand Alone‘s crunchy intro and Save Me From The Ordinary‘s massive post-chorus buzzsaw, making this one of the band’s fiercest outings to date.
It’s an ear worm friendly set of songs too though. Recently finding itself in the band’s live set, lead single Callow, is an absolute corker, full of chart-bothering bluster alongside emotive lyrics that paraphrase Stephen Fry with its “If you take my demons, you’ll take my angels too” chorus. It’s an urgent, up-tempo beast that successfully combines the three minute pop-rock of the Troublegum era (perhaps no surprise with producer Chris Sheldon returning to the fold) with the seriousness in message of anything you’d find on A Brief Crack Of Light all wrapped up by a riff to absolutely die for.
The euphoric melody that introduces Crutch is reminiscent of Good News Is No News from Disquiet and the song once again plays out in dichotomous fashion; on the one hand an uplifting tune stacked with optimism but one that’s forced to battle against a lyrical tale of regret and love lost. It’s a ballad of sorts, full of misty-eyed storytelling topped off by a typically Therapy? instrumental breakdown that quickens the pace before seguing into a big finish. The rumbling Success? Success Is Survival meanwhile stresses the importance of identifying vulnerability in others to help them through what life throws their way whilst Dumbdown introduces a bit of I Am The Money-style sleaze but with no less of an important tale to tell, this time exposing stereotypes and suggesting we should all pay attention to the needs of the individual rather than the opinion of the consensus.
As with much of Therapy?’s recent output, Cleave is an emotional and sometimes uncomfortable listen, but for all the right reasons, which makes it nigh on essential. These are important stories, told with passion and focus, and they’re personal, relatable and vibrant, all enshrined within the band’s timeless take on rock and roll. Once again, Therapy? have proven they’re as relevant as anyone else out there right now with a vital clutch of songs.
Thought-provoking, catchy, and one-of-a-kind, this is Therapy? through and through. From the in-your-head-for-days singalong of Callow to the down and dirty Wreck It Like Beckett, Cleave is equal parts experimental and focused, driven and meandering, angry and yet calmly factual. Another focused attack from the trio, Cleave is the sound of a band with plenty still to offer for years to come.