Monday, October 04, 2010
Underrated Rock Albums #1. Therapy? - Infernal Love
Therapy?: These men are about to rape you.
Everybody knows that I love Therapy?. I love big-boned Cairnsy and his greasy hair and incessant self-deprecation. I love mad little Michael McKeegan and his happy little smile. I even love, poor, wayward Fyfe Ewing. But even at the height of my Therapy? worship in the mid to late 90s. I had a hard time explaining Infernal Love. "It's not as good as Troublegum" people would tell me "It's only got two or three good songs on it". These are fair observations. But you have to think about the context. Infernal Love was released a year after Troublegum, their first album that hit the big time, and expectations were high. Tensions in the band were growing too, and Fyfe Ewing would soon depart the fold permanently. It was the first album that they really spent money on, and it shows in the production. It is a monster. If ever there was an album that was overproduced, this is it. It's like they went loose in the studio and just mucked about with everything. There are countless samples of helicopter noises, two-minute long keyboard intros, sequencers mucking around with the riffs at the beginning of songs, and at least one song where somebody got up and shouted "Fuck it! Horns." It probably adds about 15 minutes to the run time. It doesn't have the singles that Troublegum had either - there's not a Screamager or a Die Laughing on this album. And I think that is probably what disappointed fans most, the lack of catchier, more poppy tunes that turned on legions of new fans to Therapy? after Troublegum came out.
Despite all this, I could never really reconcile the idea that Infernal Love is a wholly bad album. It contains some of their best songs. The opener, Epilepsy, is a riff-led rocker that wouldn't sound out of place on their earlier offerings like Babyteeth or Pleasure Death. Pure rock. The riff is great and Cairnsy howls his guts out. Immediately following this, Stories provides a brief hope for the Troublegum fan of another catchy hit, but cruelly dashes it half a minute in by going all mental with a brass section that seems utterly out of place. And then there's Moment of Clarity. As a teenager, I thought this was - in its own scarily intense fashion - a brilliant love song, with very deep and expressive lyrics. But as an adult you realise that lyrically speaking, it's one of the most cringeworthy songs ever written. It's full of nonsense like the quite laughable line "lips like bruised vulva / your ass like Jesus' feet / worth kissing". It's the sort of borderline rapey bedroom poetry that has never got anybody laid. The opposite in fact. All Therapy? songs that aren't about rocking are about desire for an unattainable woman. The thing is, in Moment of Clarity, the desire just seeps through the music. The angst-riven riffing, straight and true, and balls to the wall, laying it all on the line. It's like a hopeless love note that will inevitably humiliate the writer utterly, and the they know this, but they write it and post it anyway. The song sounds like it is trying to climb down your earhole and make clumsy love to your brain. For the fourth track the band kick it down a notch for Jude the Obscene, one of the albums better songs. Lyrically, it's a bit duff and doesn't really have any memorable refrains, but the "Now you're here, they can't shut you down" bit is quite good and there's a chilled guitar solo. By this time on the album you can tell that they're phoning it in, and the cello-led Bowels of Love is beautifully arranged and has so much promise, except it's only about a minute long. It's like the band couldn't be bothered finishing it. Oh and the lyrics are also nonsense: "And you took me / naive and ugly / into your festering heart / and you poured Eros maggots down my throat / until I choked" OK, Cairnsy, I get it! A woman has wronged you! Just calm down bro, have a Jager Bomb and kiss my friend Rob on the lips (which he did the one time I met him incidentally). Track 6: Misery. No, that's just the name of the song. Despite the title it's a punchy rocker and probably on of the best songs on the album, and the mid section ("Fuck you waste my time ...") is one of Infernal Love's high points. It's imediately followed up with the lacklustre Bad Mother and the even-more-rapey-than-Moment-of-Clarity Me Vs You with its sinister vocals and eerie strings, backed up by a grief-maddened chorus. What immediately follows is the album's biggest anomaly, Loose, a straightforward punk pop song about good times and hilarity. What the fuck is it doing on an album about soured love, loss and self-loathing? Don't worry, there's a song about rape coming up. Diane is a string led ballad that manages to be affecting despite its schoolyard rhyming couplets. It's actually a cover of a Hüsker Dü song, so we can't blame Cairnsy for the lyrics this time. The final song on the album, 30 Seconds, is another lacklustre effort, and the final refrain "There is a light at the end of the tunnel", looped endlessly by sequencers, is virtually unlistenable.
So apologies if I'm not really selling this. It has some truly high points like Misery and Moment of Clarity, but it also has some truly excrutiating moments. In a way I think it's the most honest album Therapy? have ever produced because it is so utterly uncompromising in its music and the lyrics. Compared to some of their later, more polished efforts, you feel like you are getting into Cairnsy's sick, sick head. It's like you're in his dank little bedroom, watching VHS 90s porn with him, drinking tramp-juice and harbouring simmering resentment for the happy, shiny little bastard people outside. It really does lay them bare as a band, frailties and all, and that's why I always keep coming back to it, at least as often as I do Troublegum or Semi-Detached. And that is why Infernal Love has the dubious honour of being the first opus in my Underrated Rock Albums list.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: It occurs to me that no North American reader will have any idea who Therapy? are, not having been privy to some of the lesser known acts of what is occassionally referred to by NME readers as the "90s Britrock Explosion". Let me break it down for you. Imagine if somebody kidnapped U2 at birth and held them prisoner in a Belfast basement letting them listen to nothing except Joy Division, Motörhead, telling them that all women are teases and whores, and feeding them pies. Then you get Therapy?. More or less.