Always likeable and rarely boring, the Derry pop-punks are neatly summarised on this set.
Sean Egan 2010-10-06
The Undertones were a group of guitar-slinging Catholic boys who caught the punk train out of bomb-pocked late-70s Derry. Politics, though, were almost completely absent from the group’s music, unless you count the politics of punk, which dictated that it was permissible for their songs to address the mundane details of ordinary lives and similarly allowed asthmatic-sounding vocalist Feargal Sharkey to unashamedly sing in his ‘Norn Iron’ accent.
Though they subsequently cut many worthy tracks, The Undertones never really improved on their debut single, 1978’s Teenage Kicks. On one level, it feels like a cop-out in the way it utilises punk’s bulldozing style for nothing more incendiary than a generic teen romance lyric. However, the sheer power of the music – laced with an emotional warmth unusual for the field – renders it immortal.
This collection starts with said entrée, but immediately abandons chronology, thus placing the band’s original thumping anthems cheek by jowl with material that was increasingly poppy as The Undertones, like almost all punk acts of their generation, quickly shed the brutalism while trying to retain some of that authentic and anti-cliché punk spirit. By the time of 1983’s The Love Parade, they were virtually indistinguishable from The Teardrop Explodes.
The results of this journey were mixed. My Perfect Cousin is amongst the successes, not only catchy, but possessed of a complete verisimilitude in its denunciation of the kind of know-it-all contemporary that every young person laments being forced into close proximity to. The exercise in surrealism When Saturday Comes is impressively exotic and atmospheric. Though they tried hard, however, the band was limited in their ability to transcend the punk ghetto. The lyric of It’s Going to Happen is laughable in its attempts at maturation – to this day, many don't realise it’s about the IRA hunger strikes. Meanwhile, their melody-writing skills were too workmanlike (Here Comes the Summer, Wednesday Week) for them to turn themselves into the high-quality pop act they clearly aspired to be.
Yet The Undertones were always likeable and rarely boring. In rounding up most of what you need to hear by them, this 20-song collection (with a bonus pair of promotional films) is both useful and enjoyable.