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This feature was first published on CLUAS in 1999

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life...

Michael McKeegan & Graham Hopkins of Therapy? discuss their new album...

Unfortunately dictaphoneless (hence no quotes!), I frantically made it to the Library Bar of the Central Hotel to meet up with bassist Michael McKeegan and drummer Graham Hopkins (ex-My Little Funhouse) to discuss Therapy?'s welcome renaissance.

Fyfe, Andy, and MichaelHaving shoe-stringed it from their own pockets after A&M Records went under in 1998, the band signed up with independents Ark21, and immediately recorded the brilliantly titled "Suicide Pact - You First", which is out now.

In fact, they were signed by Ark21 on a Friday and were recording by the following Monday and, within a month, they had a fresh, sublime new album ready to be unleashed. It's a record Michael and Graham are most clearly excited about, and they're in sparky, confident form in conversation. They can't wait to play these songs live, and you can expect to see them in Ireland in the new year. For Graham in particular, getting back to work was a relief, having being sidelined with an arm injury for 6 months. The other 3 band members messed around with a drum machine in the meantime, and when I claim that drum machines are cool, Graham threatens to kick me out of the hotel! And on listening to the album, that's what he should've done - his intense drumming is a spectacular feature of the LP. He reveals that the songs were recorded practically live, with everyone bang on form, and this vividness certainly shines through on record.

The title was taken from a t-shirt in Rupert Thomson's book "The Five Gates of Hell". Michael states that not only does the phrase sum up human nature, but also having such a tongue-in-cheek title reflects the liberated climate of the recording sessions, in comparison to the deliberately expansive and more meticulously achieved "Semi-Detached" LP. Graham illustrates by relaying that the cello-driven "God Kicks" was taped at 2 a.m. in a wood in the Milton Keynes countryside (you can hear the traffic if you listen closely), and that the scrambling noise of the local shopping centre provides the backdrop to the album's bizarre hidden track.

"Suicide Pact - You First" is certainly ambitious in its own way. It's wonderfully diverse, and while Therapy? fans will love it instantly, it should also garner new listeners. At the forefront it's Therapy?'s vibrant heavy metal, as vehement as on "Nurse", but there's also shades of Sex Pistols, The Fall and Neil Young, as well as Slint-style meanderings on that aforementioned hidden track (well maybe not so hidden anymore) which Michael warns should never be listened to when on acid. Graham acknowledges Mogwai, plus American bands Billy Mahonie and Today's the Day, as recent influences, in addition to their continued respect for the likes of Husker Du, Big Black and Captain Beefheart.

Complementing the inventiveness of the music are the extraordinary vocals and a multi-faceted lyrical edge from Andy Cairns. He sounds like Tom Waits in an underwater cement mixer on "God Kicks", and it's great. The song deals with sectarianism in a unique way, and he puts it perfectly in the line "God kicks with both feet/And keeps his shoes clean". I'm not sure if it's Cairns or Satan at the mike on "Hate Kill Destroy", which rather disturbingly concerns the singer's thoughts on becoming a father for the first time. Michael is rightly reluctant to divulge much on the lyrics, in Andy's absence, but does reveal that the frontman has been thinking a lot about the capacity of modern day children to kill. In fact, the song opens with a Nietzsche reading in German, which translates as "What will become of our children, good or evil?". It seems like understandable paranoia.

Cairns is equally vicious at the climax of the terrific "Jam Jar Jail", which is introduced with the desperate flapping of a temporarily snared butterfly, perfectly reflecting the small town entrapment evident in the lyrics.

The opening track, "He's Not That Kind of Girl", was inspired by "Disco Blood Bath", a book by James St. James, and Michael elaborates that the lyrics capture how the drug-clubbin' scene attacks reality at all levels. Graham recalls that the studio floor was often covered with volumes of paperwork, as Andy compulsively pieced together his extensive collection of keen observations and feelings.

The lads are keen to assure us that the album, contrary to what you may be thinking having read the above, contains much humour and teasing, along with the anger and sombre contemplation. It's an aspect that they won't want fans to ignore on this album, the title of which really says it all anyway. Graham tells the story of how an obsessive German fan once gave them abuse after a gig, 'cause she was upset that the boys had the gall to wreck her image of the band, and all she thought they represented, by not being miserable and even smiling on stage. As Michael says, music is a celebration of life, and humour is a healthy way of dealing with its darker aspects. And besides, as I put it to Graham as he described his own mellow songwriting style, even music which is overtly melancholy can make you feel great.

"Suicide Pact - You First" is definitely an LP that will brighten your winter months rather than darken them further.

Ollie O'Leary

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