Of all the bands that came to prominence in the 1990s, not many were as cantankerous or wilfully stubborn as Northern Ireland three-piece Therapy? Their extant determination and refusal to bend to the various vagaries and winds of fashion was part of the reason why fans took them to their hearts so passionately and may also explain why, nearly three decades later, they have endured.
Cleave (Marshall) marks a return to the sound that was perhaps best exemplified by their 1994 classic album Troublegum (A&M). Songs as infectious as a cold on the first day of school and an attitude that remains as gnarly and as uncompromising as ever, Cleave sees the band in incredibly rude health, with their penchant for melody and songcraft resolutely in place.
There is something to be said for reliability and endurance and Cleave has both in abundance. Vocalist Andy Cairns has declared that Cleave is Therapy’s aural answer to all the conflict and division that surrounds us. A collective call to arms has been a familiar trademark of Therapy’s across the decades and this set of songs is again something that one can easily coalesce around.
Opening with the feisty ‘Wreck it Like Beckett’, Cleave’s intent is immediate from the get go. The inspiration gleaned from Samuel Beckett has echoes of the cultural referencing of James Joyce on 1992’s ‘Potato Junkie’. Beckett, known for his bleak and tragicomic view of the world is an entirely apposite reference point for this album’s themes and imagery.
On ‘Kakistocracy’, you get a sense of the band’s bewilderment of the world that surrounds them – “Do you feel let down?/Do You feel betrayed?” – the sense of exasperation of governments being run by either the most incompetent or unscrupulous will doubtless be seen as a criticism of the current US administration (which it undoubtedly is) but this is also a broader critique and examination of how democracies have appeared to fail the very people they are supposed to support and help thrive.
Lead single ‘Callow’ is a case where familiarity breeds content: the effortless riffing, pile driving drums and easy melody are tropes so familiar you feel you’ve been here before, and often. However, it’s tattooed through with an energy and chutzpah that you forgive any occasional nods to earlier trodden ground.
Frankly, it’s like this all the way through. No song outstays its welcome and the band have enough collective intelligence to recognise that you get one chance to make a good impression so you might just as well get on and make it as quickly as you possibly can. Cleave is a fresh and punchy album with songs as immediate and visceral as a metaphoric bank heist; a solid, unpretentious but infectious and downright belligerent album.
I shouldn’t have expected anything else really and, frankly, neither should you.