Foreword: Therapy? are a Northern Irish rock group which was formed in 1989. Its current members are Andy J. Cairns (guitar and vocals), Michael McKeegan (bass) and Neil Cooper (drums). They’ve recorded 15 albums in studio so far, plus a few ‘best ofs’ live recordings.
I just read So Much for the 30 Year Plan, Therapy?’s authorised biography published in 2020 (a Christmas gift from my friend bad karma). The author of the book is Simon Young, a Kerrang! music journalist and also a fan of the band from the very beginning.
I read the book in a few days and loved it! That was to be expected, Therapy? have always been one of my favorite bands, and I’ve seen them live several times. It was exciting to read their story, given everything they did to influence mine! Moreover, the book is very well written and it’s an eye opener on the music world spanning three decades (as the title itself suggests), which makes it interesting even for those who may not be diehard fans of the Northern Irish band.
The title of the book comes from a song contained in Suicide Pact: You First (2000), and it led Simon Young to divide the book’s chapters by years, some more eventful, some less. The first years were marked by unpaid concerts and two self-produced albums (Babyteeth and Pleasure Death came out in 1991 and 1992, respectively). Then the band signed a contract with the major A&M with which, after the great Nurse (1992), they recorded Troublegum in 1994, which sold millions of copies. Within a few months, Therapy? moved from small clubs’ gigs to playing in front of tens of thousands of people at festivals across Europe.
The inevitable subsequent decline, marked by drug and alcohol abuse, caused the band to hit rock bottom around 2003, 2004. Not artistically, though, as Never Apologize, Never Explain (2004) is one of their best albums, but around that time Andy and Michael (the two founding members who never left the project) were uncertain about continuing or not. Luckily they decided to go on and, together with drummer Neil Cooper, they continued to record albums and offer some of the most powerful live experiences you can get (Covid-19 permitting) .
The book is not only honest about the personal vicissitudes of the members of the band (for instance, it doesn’t hide anything about Fyfe Ewing leaving the band after Infernal Love, 1995), but it also offers extremely interesting insights on the recordings of their 15 albums through which I finally understood the importance of the producer. It’s fascinating to discover the reasons behind the differences in style from one album to another, and there are a lot of differences since Therapy? have always changed and innovated album after album. What I didn’t know is how much the producer had a role in this process: in general, the album producer decides how to record the songs, discusses the arrangements, and creates the sound of the recordings by mixing them. Therapy? basically worked with a different producer on every album, and that is why, for example, the songs contained in Shameless (produced by Jack Endino in 2001) have nothing in common with those of the immediately preceding or following albums.
The book also full of funny anecdotes about all the musicians who met Therapy? during the last 30 years: Ozzy, Metallica, the Manic Street Preachers, Jeff Buckley, and even Kurt Cobain and Sting! I also appreciated a lot reading about the genesis of every single song, with cultural influences coming from the literature (above all: Beckett) and from music which demonstrate how much depth there’s behind every single piece written by Andy and company. I’ve made a list of bands that I want to check out just because they’re mentioned in the pages of the book, a book which is the result of hours and hours of interviews by Simon Young with the three members of the band!
The only thing I feel like complaining about is that I would’ve liked to hear the voices of those who’ve been in the band but are not anymore like the two drummers Fyfe Ewing and Graham Hopkins and the multi-instrumentalist Martin McCarrick. But since the circumstances that led to these line-up changes weren’t exactly friendly, I understand the choice of just interviewing the three band members who, anyway, have been playing together for 18 years.
There are no words to describe the emotions I felt while reading So Much for the 30 Year Plan. I recommend it to anyone who appreciates music, even if they don’t know Therapy?. Actually, it could be a good way to get closer to the music of this incredible band that has never compromised and has always respected their audience, which is remarkable given that they’ve been in the business for more than 30 years. Ciao!
PPS: I couldn’t resist, let me show you my tickets and other memories of the Therapy? concerts I’ve attended over the years: Auditorium Flog in Florence (2003), Estragon in Bologna (2004), Koko in London (2012), and Borderline in London (2014 – an acoustic evening with Andy).