For Therapy?, the band’s biggest hit, 1994’s brilliant Troublegum, was both a blessing and a curse. A mix of uncompromising metal and sugary pop-punk, Troublegum perfectly combined two genres of music that normally don’t mesh well at all and planted Therapy? firmly on the mainstream map and at the top of many critics’ best-of lists.
Unfortunately, Therapy? wasn’t a metal band or a pop-punk band and didn’t want to be one, and anyone who picked up the band’s next two efforts expecting more of Troublegum ended up seriously disappointed. Troublegum‘s follow-ups—1995’s Infernal Love and 1998’s Semi-Detached—were fine releases, but both were excursions into the world of dark rock ‘n’ roll that Therapy? had always considered its home, not the catchy pop that made Troublegum an MTV-endorsed hit. As time rolled by, the fans the band had picked up with Troublegum walked away confused and Therapy?‘s record label, A&M, folded, leaving Therapy? without a home and without its once-large fanbase.
Luckily for the band and anyone who loved it before its most successful record, Therapy?‘s story is finally taking a positive turn. Therapy? has found a new home, Ark 21, and no longer has to satisfy pop fans with a style it doesn’t want to play. Suicide Pact - You First is edgy, haunting and often sickeningly funny, and it’s proof that Therapy? hasn’t died just because its Buzz Bin status has.
Things start off somewhat poorly as the opener, “He’s Not That Kind of Girl,” dabbles in Korn-y hardcore noise, but after that opening misfire Suicide Pact is all uphill. “Wall of Mouths,” “Jam Jar Jail” and “Sister” are all stellar blasts of fuzzy rock ‘n’ roll, mixing the smarts of Hüsker Dü with the hooks of Turbonegro. “Ten Year Plan” blows out the speakers with a riff thicker than syrup, while “Other People’s Misery” rewrites the Buzzcocks’ whole songbook in under two minutes. Lines such as “God kicks with both feet and keeps His shoes clean” and “Bring on the Sturm und Drang / I just want to get drunk and headbang” are as wickedly clever as the lyrics that made Troublegum‘s “Knives” and “Die Laughing” great.
Therapy?‘s always been crazy, and Suicide Pact might be the band’s most twisted work yet. While in the past frontman Andy Cairns’ insane posturing could approach self-parody, his leaps off the deep end here are wildly fun. From the album title and lyrics to the instrumental “Big Cave In” and 13-minute(!) bonus track, Therapy? is as fucked up as ever, but this time without making its audience uneasy. It’s hard not to laugh along with glee as Cairns ironically screams “I had a Stable Mind” on “Other People’s Misery,” and his Tom Waits impression on the eerie “God Kicks” is a trip. The production work by Head (PJ Harvey, Scheer) helps immeasurably, as he gives Suicide Pact a loose, carefree feel that takes the weight off of Cairns’ darkest moments.
This album isn’t a masterpiece and certainly isn’t as good as Troublegum—few records are—but it’s definitely Therapy?, and anyone who’s been worried about the band’s direction of late will find Suicide Pact - You First to be a breath of fresh air, albeit one that blows in a dark, twisted direction. The Screamager bandwagon may have crashed but that’s put Therapy? and not its fans in the driver’s seat, a most welcome change. Suicide Pact is exactly the record Therapy? has been waiting to make, and exactly the album it needed to make to prove that it’s as vibrant as ever.