With keen pop sensibilities, a skewed sense of humour and a willingness to draw inspiration from diverse sources (notably punk rock), Therapy? came to attention in the early 1990s rise of alternative rock, but have endured for more than a decade since; Critic Johnny Loftus writes, "[a]fter a ten-plus year career that has seen them outlast competitors and outwit industry attempts at categorization ... Therapy? are still headbangers with their thinking caps screwed on tight.
The band, highly influenced by artists of the indie rock movement, released its first single, called Meat Abstract, in 1990, on its own independent label, Multifuckingnational Records. Only 1000 copies have been pressed. At the summer of that year, the band made its first tour through the United Kingdom, catching the attention of influential DJ John Peel along the way.
The band's early years followed the familiar pattern of hard graft on the local alternative music scene, with Cairns often putting in a full day at the Michelin tyre factory (where he worked as a quality controller), then speeding across Northern Ireland in order to make it to gigs. Therapy? quickly came to the attention of local music fans with their distinctively uncompromising style. Their use of guitar feedback as a "fourth instrument" and unconventional song structures, combined with a darkly original approach to lyrics led them to being spotted in 1991 by the hip London-based independent label Wiiija a move helped by Leslie Rankine of Silverfish, who passed the band's first single on to Wiiija Records. The band returned the favour on their fourth album Troublegum by giving Rankine a guest appearance as a backing vocalist.
The band's first album, 1991's Babyteeth, and its 1992 follow up, Pleasure Death, were successful enough to earn the band a major label deal with A&M Records. The two albums, although poorly engineered in places, brimmed with originality and potential, exciting the music press and winning the band a formidable "underground" fanbase. Babyteeth and Pleasure Death both went to number 1 in the UK Indie Charts. A compilation of the two albums entitled Caucasian Psychosis was prepared for the American market.
Their debut A&M record, Nurse, confirmed the band as one of the most exciting finds in British music for several years, making its way in to UK's Top 40 Album Chart. The grunge revolution was in full swing, with US outfit Nirvana leading the way. Predictably, the media began to draw comparisons with the two bands. Fans of both groups have dismissed such comparisons out of hand, citing various differences in style and background. Nevertheless, the heavy guitars and inventive drumming that was swiftly becoming Therapy?'s trademark led them more towards the grunge camp than away from it.
1994 saw the release of the commercially successful Troublegum album, which earned the band appearances at a string of rock and indie festivals over the next couple of years, as well as a clutch of Top 40 singles. It remains for many people, the band's high point, achieving a string of nominations in end-of-year polls and success at the Kerrang! Awards.
With impatience mounting for a new album, Infernal Love was released in early 1995. This time, the press reaction was lukewarm. As ambitious as ever, the band had attempted to create a "cinematic" record with Belfast DJ David Holmes employed to link each tracks with "insanity", but in the eyes of many, had produced a disjointed piece over-subscribed with ballads. It was clear that Therapy? had changed direction, and despite the singles Stories and Loose charting, much of the early momentum had gone.
While the Church Of Noise single failed to succeed commercially, it clawed back some of the kudos that had been lost with Infernal Love. The Semi-Detached album transcended the trajectory of Troublegum and Infernal Love with their dark, broody atmosphere. However, promotion for the album was scant at best, due to problems at the A&M label, which culminated in the loss of their record deal with the company.
Never Apologise Never Explain was released in late 2004 to an audience who had just become re-acquainted with the three-piece Therapy? who had unleashed an album which is reminiscent of the sound of their earlier material.
Their newest album One Cure Fits All was released in early 2006. The album has received a mixed reaction from the bands fans with many people claiming to not like the production style.
Although now vanished from the charts and wide media attention, Therapy? continue releasing material, gaining enough attention to enable them to tour. The band continues to entertain a small loyal following. Even though he has reached the age of 40, Cairns has been quoted as having no plans to quit.
In an interview in 2006 the band announced plans for a compilation album of radio sessions. It was revealed on the band's official website that on February 26 2007, Music Through A Cheap Transistor would be released as a digital download. It would later be released in 2CD format.
2007 was a quiet year for the band, they didn't play any gigs in the United Kingdom instead focusing on markets they don't usually play, involving a slot at the NxNE festival in Canada, festival dates in Greece, Slovakia, Switzerland and Austria and a tour through countries such as Croatia and Serbia. The band ended the year by supporting New Model Army at their Christmas gig in Paris.
On January 24, 2008, the band announced through their website that they have signed a worldwide contract with Demolition Records.
On April 1st 2008, the band announced they would self-produce their next album and had basic tracks recorded in anticipation of a late 2008 release. This was later revealed to be an April Fools' hoax.
The band has stated that they plan to release a new album in early 2009 and will be produced by Andy Gill. Video of rehearsals have surfaced on Therapy?'s website offering previews of the new work, showcasing a more jazz-influenced direction ("Rehearsal"), alongside a rough track typical of newer Therapy? output (working-titled "Clowns Galore").
Much has been made over the years of the unusual question mark suffix to the band's name. Various theories have been ventured by fans, many of them bizarre. The truth is somewhat mundane; when designing the band's first home produced single, Andy Cairns misaligned the Letraset adhesive label on the sleeve, and used the "?" icon to fill the space.
Therapy?'s song "Auto Surgery" is featured on Electronic Arts' video game Road Rash for the 3DO, Saturn, and Playstation consoles; it also appears in Dominic Sena's 1993 movie Kalifornia, starring Brad Pitt.
"Screamager" and "Nowhere" are heard on the first series of the BBC sitcom Game On.
Therapy? covered the Misfits song, "Where Eagles Dare," for the 1997 Misfits tribute album, "Violent World."
Therapy? covered the Smiths song, "Vicar in a Tutu," for the 1997 Smiths tribute album, "The Smiths Is Dead."
Therapy? covered the Turbonegro song, "Denim Demon," for the 2001 Turbonegro tribute album, "Alpha Motherfuckers."
Andy Cairns has contributed vocals to various recordings with different bands throughout the years - "Jonestown Mind" by The Almighty, "Get Your Groove On" by The Wildhearts, "Gleason" by Throat, "Radio" by Dog Toffee, "Rehab" by Manchild, "F8" by This Is Menace