Oh doctor: my destiny is rubble

When you've got that Jeffrey Dahmer feeling you need Therapy? Charlotte O'Sullivan lends a kindly ear
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Therapy?'s music is hard to label. Imagine the T-shirt of perfect pop thrown into the tumble-dryer of heavy metal and you're halfway there. Add lyrics that set new standards in risibility and subtlety, and you find yourself back where you started. It's platinum-selling head-down music that does your head in.

To tie in with the release of their album, Infernal Love, Northern Ireland's Therapy? have hit the road. First stop, Leeds.

Wound up like alarm clocks, Therapy? arrive at the Town and Country just in time for tea. First in is the band's lead singer and songwriter Andy Cairns, a debauched teddy bear of a man, then Michael McKeegan, as bouncy as a new ball. Last but not least is Fyfe, a dead ringer for U2's drummer Larry Mullen. Fyfe nods in my direction and then disappears; we don't see him for the rest of the day. He doesn't like journalists (he did Media Studies at university).

While the roadies trudge into action, Michael entertains us with Alan Partridge jokes. "It's OK," he apologises, "we came to it unfashionably late."

Andy enthuses about the promotional party he and Michael attended the night before. (Fyfe didn't go. He had to get his beauty sleep.) At this point Rosie, the band's recently acquired cellist, appears. She's only known them two days, but already she's wearing Fyfe's jacket. She says she's looking forward to tonight, but confides that the high point of her year was playing on Take That's "Don't Look Back".

Once the soundcheck's over, we find ourselves in the dressing room. It's just me, Andy and Michael now. We're drinking Lucozade - Andy is convinced it will "push us over the edge".

Now we're sitting comfortably, we can get down to the music. Therapy? have never tried to deny their debt to Eighties American bands like Husker Du and Big Black, both masters of sweeping, anguished guitar rock. On the latest album, as well as a cover of Husker Du's "Diane" there's "Loose", which sounds uncannily like the Minneapolis band. "It's meant to," says Andy, all but shaking his finger at me, "that's the point. I was taking ecstacy and the soundtrack coming from the bedroom was Candy Apple Grey (a Husker Du album). It's the standard reply these days - not theft but homage.

I ask if it depresses them that heroes like Husker Du's Bob Mould never really made it big. "Oh yeah," says Andy, earnestly rubbing his hands through his dyed black hair. "They were making beautiful, poignant music miles before Nirvana or Green Day, but they had a guy with a moustache, a fat guy and a really fat drummer with long hair. I showed Fyfe a picture of Husker Du and his face just dropped. I think that's heartbreaking."

How do the ultra-successful Therapy? fit into this, I wonder. By now I'm addressing the questions exclusively to Andy - he's yer fella in charge. He's ready: "I'm not a particularly good example for a front man. If you saw a photograph of us you'd think Fyfe was the singer. But it's never bothered me - it's inspired me."

He continues: "I genuinely have never found people who are meant to be beautiful actually attractive at all - not even genitally stimulating." Perhaps he's forgotten his former obsession with the lovely Anna Friel, Beth from Brookside. On the last tour his dressing room was plastered with pictures of her, and he was utterly mortified when she slagged him off in a piece for Melody Maker.

Andy's mood is becoming increasingly reflective - less King of the Pub than Philosopher Prince. "I feel like I'm part of a whole fraternity of uglifiers, in fact. I'm reading the Marquis de Sade at the moment. He's my hero. He completely believed our entire destiny was rubble. I think that's a really good metaphor for the darkness in people."

So what dark and nasty thoughts does he have? Andy, rocking backwards and forwards in his chair: "I'm not going to openly admit what I feel now so the PC police can come out and fucking get me. I'm not going to do it for some fucking 19-year-old trainee accountant to read, so he can think 'what a disgusting little oik.'" This, from the man who sings "I know how Jeffrey Dahmer feels" (on "Trigger Inside"). Doesn't he realise he's already gone public?

But maybe it's me who's being naive. At one point Andy says of Greg Dulli, the lead singer of cult rockers the Afghan Whigs, "there's something about Dulli's music that's really confessional, which is why I think a lot of women like it. There's something really attractive about being so bare and open." Maybe that's what's going on here: the professional confessional.

Proving the point, Andy confesses: "I think something in me has died. I used to have a couple of really strong relationships, I would have done anything for people."

The silence is deafening. Using the edge of his hands, Andy slices his palms, over and over. "There's this spark inside of you, which at any moment means you can fall in love. I haven't felt that for about seven years." It's hard to know what to say. Michael remains curled up sweetly on the floor, smiling.

I turn the tape off. Andy, mimicking a Standard English accent, says, "Therapy ? - the dullest bastards I've ever met, no IQs whatsoever."

It's time for the show. Andy appears, with shades, ruffle shirt and crimson waistcoat, looking less like a satanic Elvis than a tourist wearing all his new clothes on day one. Fyfe, as ever, is in the shadows - for all we know he could be wearing a double-breasted suit. The trio blast into Troublegum's "Going Nowhere", with Michael throwing his head back and careering round the stage like a madman - who'd have thought it?

Rosie comes on stage for "Bad Mother" in a little black dress. Perhaps members of the crowd are being ironic when they shout "get your tits out". Rosie beams as glasses sail past her and the crowd at the front try to stare up her skirt.

Therapy? take us through their supernaturally catchy hits. The wall of sound can get a bit much - like coming to after a car crash, over and over again. It's a relief when the slow numbers turn up, which Andy delivers like an aspiring James Dean. They finish with the demented "30 Seconds". The crowd are desperate for more, but after one encore the lights come on. You get the feeling that it's the band who are disappointed.

Just before I leave I get a few moments with Andy in the dressing room. He says, "I'm not going to be doing this for ever. I'm going to leave Therapy? in a year and do something different."

And the rest of the band? "Fyfe - he's got a lovely personality and so has Michael. They'll be fine without me."

For the first time Andy Cairns sounds like a grown-up - he doesn't think he's indispensable. Maybe that's why he'll survive. Next question: will the music?

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