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Therapy? - Greatest HitsJesus Christ on a pogo stick, has it been thirty years already? I guess as Therapy? have released this to commemorate that landmark it must be. What a ride it's been too with many great albums and gigs along the way. This double cd collates twelve of the bands 'hit singles' stretching from Nurse to Semi Detached, with the added bonus that Andy, Neil and Michael checked into the world famous Abbey Road studios to re-record them. The second disk is dubbed Official Bootleg 1990-2020 and contains a live track from each of the band's fifteen releases.

Bursting on to an unsuspecting music scene in at the turn of the 90's with two mini albums, Baby Teeth and Pleasure Death, the Northern Ireland trio's acerbic brand of alt, punk and metal made for a heady cocktail of sound. They used these two early independent releases to hone their noise in preparation for their first full length album, Nurse, released in 1992 on A&M. And that is where things kick off here with their first single, Teethgrinder. Nurse always suffered from a muted, muddy production and this new version gives the original a right kick up the arse… it's immense. That insistent, dischordant guitar riff, Neil's clattering, stuttering drums, Michael's thundering bass, that "In my sleep I grind my teeth" sample and Andy's distorted vocals are all present and correct but this is so much clearer and heavier than the original. At this point we already know we are onto a winner!

What follows is a frantic trip down memory lane as eleven more absolute classics speed by in under 38 minutes, trying their best to drag you down a dark alleyway and mug you. Of course the track listing is dominated by songs from Troublegum, the band's commercial peak. There's the teenage disaffection of Screamager and Trigger Inside, there's the pop-punk whizz of Nowhere, the gorgeous slow grind of Turn and the descent into madness that is Die Laughing on which they are helped out by their mate James Dean Bradfield on guitar and vocals. His instantly recognisable guitar tone gives a different aspect to the track.

All together now… "I've got nothing to do but hang around and get screwed up on you…"! None of these versions compete with the originals, how could they? But each song is given a fresh coat of paint and are slightly looser than the Troublegum versions. These are not carbon copies - what would be the point? No doubt a familiarity brought about by playing these songs live for twenty six years has helped hone these versions to a razor sharp point. Also included from the same period is the short, sharp, shock of Opal Mantra, from the ep of the same name. All distorted, fuzzy guitars playing that spikey riff underpinned by a funky bass line and the thud, thud, thud of Neil's drums. Again clearer and heavier than the original but that wouldn't be difficult as the 1993 version sounds like it was recorded in a small toilet cubicle!

The three tracks from Infernal Love are freed from the claustrophobic sound of the original release and, a punked up Loose especially, sounds quite ragged by comparison, no doubt deliberately so. Stories is even more dense and powerful, with it's multi-tracked chorus, driving rhythms and fucked up solo. The version of Hüsker Dü cover Diane included here is substantially different. Shorn of it's haunting cello and liberated from its funerial pace, it's played harder and faster, more akin to the original but it still has Therapy?'s unique stamp to it.

There are two tracks from the very underrated Semi Detatched. The joyous Church Of Noise is like rockabilly-punk-metal-celebration and a fantastic song however it's played... can I get an Amen? Lonely, Cryin' Only is beefier than the original, this overdriven version having real punch without losing those off-kilter sugary vocal harmonies in the chorus. Catchier than syphilis, the original deserved to be a huge hit.

Despite the heaviness and rampant noise of many of the songs here they sound incredible. Elephantine drums, rumbling bass and angular guitars are all perfectly balanced and Andy's vocals never have to fight to be heard. The Abbey Road magic was at work along with producer Chris Sheldon, who has always managed to make Therapy sound excellent. Despite disk one's brevity it's a reminder of what a superb band Therapy? have always been. Andy Cairns lyrics are bleak urban poetry, often with a twist of dark humour. They speak of disaffection with life, battles with depression, bad drugs, good drugs and never fitting in. In many ways that has always been part of Therapy?'s problem - they have never fitted in. They are not a band easily pigeonholed, with so many different influences on and facets to their sound. But for those in the know, it's that very awkwardness that we love.

The second disk is an interesting collection of live tracks curated from Michael McKeegans own collection. He hasn't always gone for the obvious either and it benefits greatly for that. The first two tracks, Loser Cop from Babyteeth and Pleasure Death's Skinning Pit are really rough but you have to bear in mind these are thirty odd years old now. Despite the fuzziness of the former, recorded in Belfast in June 1990, you can hear the power of the three piece even that early in their career and Skinning Pit shows the band always had an ear for something odd. With these tracks you can hear both Joy Division and Fugazi's influence on a fledgling Therapy?

Slightly clearer is a great run through Nurses's Perversionality and by the time we reach a frantic Buzzsaw the quality is good enough that it sounds like a proper live recording. As the band barrel through Troublegum's closing track you can feel the sweat on the walls and the crowd bouncing like maniacs as Andy screams out his impassioned paean to a love betrayed.

A dark, impenetrable Jude The Obscene represents Infernal Love and The Boys Asleep, from Semi Detatched, comes from a gig at the late, lamented Astoria (my absolute favourite venue ever) in December 1998, which I was actually at. This rather ragged version of a slow burning farewell closed the evening in fine style, like a long kiss goodnight. That was a fantastic gig but then again, Therapy? gigs always are!

Suicide Pact's Big Cave In is the set opener from a gig recorded in Switzerland and is a massive wall of metallic noise. This is evidence of what a powerful creature Therapy? is live as they tear through this heavy instrumental, which twists and turns like a twisty turny thing and if Body Bag Girl from Shameless doesn't get your foot tapping you're probably dead. Hilariously prefaced by a snippet from Gary Glitter's Rock and Roll it's a fantastically sparse, swinging, bass-heavy chunk of rock and roll.

Nobody Here But Us is probably my least favourite track from High Anxiety and the same goes for Never Apologise Never Explain's Long Distance. However, the performance of Nobody Here But Us sounds great with the audience being urged to make some noise. Although it's relatively straightforward, this version gives me a new appreciation of the song. Unfortunately the Long Distance performance sounds a bit lifeless and it feels a bit perfunctory. Maybe the recording suffers from being an outdoor gig (Belgium's Rock Werchter in 2005), the atmosphere sounds as flat as Andy's vocals although Nobody Here But Us was recorded at the Swiss Open Air Festival in 2003 and the incendiary version of Dopamine, Seratonin, Adrenaline is also from a 2006 open-air festival in Belgium but both have much more heft.

Not that the previous few albums were bad, far from it, but since Crooked Timber the band have hit a rich vein of form. Bad Excuse For Daylight and Before You, With You, After You demonstrate this admirably, buzzing with twisted energy and heavier than the band have been for years. Bad Excuse… especially is a stop-start, menacing piece that harks back to the band's early years with squalls of spikey guitar and low end rumble chugging towards a sudden stop with Andy's laugh as a coda.

The happy ditty Torment Sorrow Misery Strife from Disquiet flashes past like Usain Bolt on speed, part Motorhead, part Ramones, the band are absolutely on fire on this one, still screaming all away to the dying of the light indeed. Michael could have picked any of the ten songs from the excellent 2018 album Cleave as every one's a winner but he plumped for the mid-paced Crutch with its crashing chords and muted vocals. The track gradually gathers pace as it heads toward its climax and these two final recordings demonstrate that Therapy? have lost none of their passion and fire as a live act. None of the trio are prepared to just go through the motions and thirty years in the industry have not dulled them.

I'm sure if you had asked Andy Cairns and Michael McKeegan back in 1990 if they thought they would be writing and recording music three decades later they probably would have laughed in your face but here they are. Still angry, still sad, still disenchanted, still mad, still making wonderful music. There was a moment in the 90's when Therapy? could have been huge but unfortunate circumstances and a desire to make the music they wanted to saw the band turn their back on the big time and plow their own furrow. I'm sure it's not been easy for them without major label backing but their music has been all the better for not having any record label big-wig telling them how they should sound or look.

The truth is Therapy? have never made a bad album. They have worked their particular brand of disaffection to perfection down the years, creating many high points. They have always pushed the envelope of their sound and always been ingenious with their compositions. This celebration offers a tantalising glimpse of the wonders held within their catalogue. The re-recorded songs are uniformly excellent and it's an interesting twist on the usual greatest hits compilation album. It would have been easy to churn out a standard package but time and effort have been put into this and that includes a signed version available directly via the band's website. The often obscure choice of songs on the bootleg are a Brucie Bonus and makes this 2CD set well worth adding to your collection. A worthy celebration of thirty years well spent.

Released: 13.03.20 / Background photo Credit: Tom Hoad

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