In 1995 at the rain-sodden mud-soaked festival that was Alternative Nation in Sydney’s western suburbs, one of the bands I had marked down to see that day was Therapy? I had heard none of their music and knew of them only from vague articles and posters in unusual places (such as in Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler's flat in Airheads). Soaked to the skin with six beers in various pockets of my oversized jacket, I witnessed a set that impacted on me like few have, before or since. It was belligerent, raucous and quite awesome given the completely out of the way stage they had been placed on. I loved every song, and the following week I searched out the album that their guitarist and vocalist had said they were touring on. That was my introduction to Therapy? and the album Troublegum. The angst ridden anger-fest that has become one of the most important albums of my life.
When Therapy? came along, I was at probably the lowest point of my life. I only say this here so that you can understand why I have such strong feelings about the album that others may not share. It was a six month period that I muddled my way through not exclusively because of this album, but with the help of this album being a majority shareholder nonetheless. Every emotion I was feeling in my life at that time was mirrored in Andy Cairns music, lyrics and vocals on this album. However, Troublegum doesn’t remind me of that time at all, nor does it make me maudlin or upset because of it. Certainly it is still the best tonic to put on when I get down, or get angry. It does still draw out any anger I have in me when that is needed. What it does do is make me smile, because this is one of my magic talismans; an album I can put on at any time and draw from it the good feelings or power or inspiration or whatever it is I need, just from listening to it.
The opening salvo still never fails to deliver. Part of its charm is that there is no pause between songs. Each keeps coming straight after the previous song has finishing, or segues into it. It’s like one big long live set, with no pause for talking, just get into the next song. From the very beginning you are left in little doubt as to the direction that the album is taking. “Knives” comes at you wielding those glittering blades with anger and those crazy eyes. The vocals scream, the drums hammer and the guitars are guttural. There’s plenty of crazy in this song, and it is all the better for it. The alternative punk version of the angst-ballad comes next with “Screamager”, jauntily bopping away while Andy explains his taunts and echoes throughout. The catchy and simple chorus and fast paced punk guitar adds to the flavour. The segue into the hard core guitar riff of “Hellbelly” is then accompanied by the heavy hitting drums and ripping bass riff that crushes throughout the song. I love this song (but then again I love them all). The slightest of pauses leads into “Stop It You’re Killing Me” which continues in the same vein of what has come before. It’s hard hitting musically and lyrically, another great song to sing along with, especially when you are feeling aggressive. From here the wangling guitar riff opens into “Nowhere”, once again at a great pace that gives you everything whether you are at the gig or at home in the lounge room. This period of five songs to open the album is the equal of any other album I know. It’s non-stop, it gives you no time to rest, and it is adrenaline-inducing fun.
The middle of the album changes things up a little in places. “Die Laughing” has a different groove and different mood, rolling smoothly through the song rather than belting you bluntly over the head. “Unbeliever” is similar in a different way, where there is not so much aggression in the song. This is more the sad reflection on what is happening in life rather than being angry about that same life, almost like the slide on the other side of drunkenness as against the rise of the anger as the drunkenness is taking effect. Do I know this from experience? Perhaps. “Trigger Inside” perhaps has more of that anger involved, but is followed by “Lunacy Booth” that has a similar musical feel to the previous two songs.
There is a great cover version of Joy Division’s “Isolation”, which takes the angst of that song and revs it up a notch, giving the song the power it lacks in the original version. It’s fast paced and driven by the drum beat. Terrific. “Turn” and “Femtex” lead into the frantic and lost screaming of “Unrequited”, an amazing mixture of emotions as explained in the title of the song. The music and vocals mix together brilliantly in this song to accurately portray the subject matter, before exploding into the awesome guitar and drum fuelled riff opening of “Brainsaw”, a song that I have always loved… but have also always thought should have been better and heavier and louder given the opening thirty seconds of the track. That moment when it moves from the end of “Unrequited” into the start of “Brainsaw” for me is still just as brilliant as the first day I heard it. And let’s not forget the closing out of the album, with the quiet fade out of “You Are My Sunshine” that sounds like it is being played at an old fairground. An interesting touch.
Perhaps this album’s biggest problem is that it killed any chance for any other Therapy? release to get a fair hearing. With so much tied up in this album, any subsequent album had to be able to do these same things to me and FOR me to be considered close to its equal, and the band hasn’t been able to reproduce that. There are good albums yes, but nothing that can match what is on Troublegum. For the same reason I can understand (to a certain degree) when people say they don’t think this album is anywhere near as good as I think it is. That’s completely understandable considering what I have tied up in this album emotionally. Each song means something to me, and is tied to emotions I have felt in many different moments in my life. It still speaks to me today in the same way even though I don’t feel those same things anymore, because I remember what I felt at the times these songs remind me of.
Considering the journey music has taken me on in my life, it is fitting that an album that acted like a life preserver for me is the one that clocks up my 1000th album review since I began THIS particular journey some 12 years ago.
Rating: “The world is fucked, and so am I. Maybe it's the other way round, I can't seem to decide”. 5/5