I hadn’t intended to start this review like this, but I was at a gig this week where the band played what could justifiably be described as two of my favourite songs. You know, the ones that you really love? The ones you keep going back to?

And the reason for the change? Well “Loose” from the second album of Therapy’s that i bought in the mid 90s, certainly qualifies as one of those songs, but even more, the press release for “Hard Cold Fire” merrily tosses in the fact its the 16th album of Therapy?’s career, and even more matter of factly talks about it being their fourth decade. All of which means two things. 1) I’ve loved Therapy? For almost 30 years and 2) they are still making wonderful, uncompromising, and full on Therapy? Music.

Indeed, “They Shoot The Terrible Master” is almost a perfect window into the world they create. One of those chopping riffs that only they do and have been doing for so long they come as second nature, then along comes Andy Cairns with a verse that sums them up: “Exhaustion/Estrangement/Ennui and disengagement” and somehow it all comes together in perfect synergy.

“Woe” is the band with one of their more expansive moments. Somehow they always manage to engage, and “Joy”, a homage, a hymn, to bleakness, if you will, is a genuine highlight. “Nothing seems to make you happy, nothing seems to bring you joy” shouldn’t be a chorus. It is here.

It helps that they are working again with Chris Sheldon. He’s been with them so long he’s almost a fourth member, and theres an ease about “The Bewildered Herd” to go with the bleak poetry. There’s something special here. Yet as ever with the band, something impenetrable. Something you’ll never quite understand, as on “Two Wounded Animals”, or the way they make the most barren of landscapes hospitable. “To Disappear” is the almost quintessential song in that respect.

The fact that they’ve got the “signature sound” means they are impossible to categorise almost. “I’m a mongrel, no flag to hide behind” sings Cairns on “Mongrel”. You don’t have to look too hard for the symbolism.

“Poundland Of Hope And Glory” was initially supposed to start this review. It speaks about their sloganeering ability, their stunning energy, and their ability to make anything a hook. That it’s casually tossed in to the deep cuts here suggests they are still rocks great contrarians. And likewise “Ugly”, first verse: “I punch myself in the face, cos I’m unworthy of your love, my body is a cage, I hate myself so much” could have only come from the minds of these men.

And the last one, “Days Kollaps” simply asks “why can’t I control myself?” Over a Radiohead type swirl, but better, naturally.

30 years is a long time. Along the way there’ll be ups and downs, but Andy Cairns and Michael McKeegan have been together through it all (and drummer Neil Cooper has given 20 plus years of service) and there was a time, 20 years ago or so when they almost seemed a little bored of the brilliance they’d got and experimented.

They’ve been back for ages, though, and “Hard Cold Fire” is exactly what Therapy? should sound like in 2023. They’ve never made a bad album. This one, however, is one of their best.

Rating 9/10

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