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Reviews

The Undertones
Undertones John Robb , March 19th, 2009 14:02

The Undertones arrived in the middle of the punk wars. With their street wear of battered Doc Martens and fish tail parkas, they had a natural ragamuffin street cool that quickly became their hallmark. Those glorious Top Of the Pops appearances - when they looked fantastically out of place surrounded by the fake chancers and the plastic surgery disasters - were as important to their history as their seemingly endless run of brilliant pop songs that they casually tossed out.

The band hailed from Derry in the middle of the Troubles when their city was at the frontline. Although politically aware, they avoided writing about the politics that surrounded them, instead opting to explore teenage life with a wry and witty eye - stuff like girls and petty jealousies and spotty neuroses that everyone could relate to. In this, they’re arguably the one band that truly reflected the punk generation - the Undertones were home-grown, genuinely working class band who were without the clothes designers, big label support palling it with the media London punks of the capital city

Like their mentors the Buzzcocks and The Ramones, the Undertones were pure pop with barnstorming guitars and fantastic vocals from Feargal Sharkey - just how distinctive was that trilling voice! The fact that you could sing along to them whilst mashing up the pit and have your heart strings tugged by the band shows just how perfect they were. The band's most famous song - the eternally youthful ‘Teenage Kicks’- seems to have taken on a life of its own. Not even that big a hit when it was first released in the middle of the 70s, the song is now a student disco staple. Its practically impossible not to go through the weekend without hearing it blasting out over a dancefloor with snogging couples in drunken loon dance abandon. Can there be a greater compliment for song than that reaction? You can theorise about music forever, but if you’ve written the song that guarantees one dirty kiss, you’ve achieved the ultimate critical reaction.

What this reissue with its bonus tracks proves, more than anything, though is that they were far more than one classic song. While ‘Teenage Kicks’ is the perfect calling card for the group it’s the depth of song writing that really thrills, the exuberant excitement of witty lyrics of ‘Male Model’, the street smarts of ‘Jump Boys’ or the pure pop of ‘Here Comes The Summer’ rub shoulders with the anthemic ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ and the stomping ‘True Confessions’. And if there is no ‘My Perfect Cousin’ on here it doesn’t really matter - there’s not a bad song present either.

Even when they wandered off template and into psychedelic, soul-tinged mature pop they were fantastic, and unfortunately we don’t even have time to celebrate That Petrol Emotion. [What about 'Never Never' by The Assembly featuring strong jawed Feargal? Ed] They still occasionally play gigs, as if to prove that the best-known Irish band in the world, U2, were the wrong choice.

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