The Undertones

The Undertones (Rykodisc ‘79, '94) Rating: A-
The Undertones were not a punk band. This isn't a good thing or a bad thing, but is merely an observation meant to refute the label they're generally given. Those of you who care about such things (i.e. those of you who complained that Green Day "weren't punk" because they actually had the audacity to sell some records) should really focus your energies on more important things. The rest of you, that being the majority of you who are reading this page because you're interested in reading about good music, would do well to check out The Undertones, which I imagine would greatly appeal to fans of Green Day or The Buzzcocks. If I had to label The Undertones I'd call them a power pop band, because even though they play plenty fast the true strength of these five Irish lads was in the way they added a bubblegum pop sense along with lyrics about getting “Teenage Kicks” and the romantic encounters of “boys” and “girls.” Such stuff is a far cry from truly threatening punk bands such as the Sex Pistols, and instead The Undertones came on like the Ramones' younger brothers, with a dash of The Beach Boys or maybe The Four Seasons. A typical Undertones tune here featured a fast, propulsive rhythm, chugging riffs alongside a more melodic second guitar, carnival-esque keyboards (occasionally), and the affecting vocal quaver of Feargal Sharkey, maybe my favorite lead singer among all the bands grouped together within the late '70s punk scene (though, truth be told, that's not saying all that much). Boosted by influential British DJ John Peel, who called "Teenage Kicks" the best song ever (it's not, but it is terrific), the band gained quite a following in Europe but never really caught on in the United States. The Undertones features simple songs (simplistic even), but the band's barrage of surefire hooks and catchy choruses is bound to win you over, as the album is practically overflowing with pop smarts and a naive sincerity. Highlights include power pop gems such as “Girls Don’t Like It,” “Male Model,” “Teenage Kicks,” “Jump Boys,” “Here Comes The Summer” - the list goes on, for there's not a bad song among the original 16 here. My only problem with the album is that these songs, most of which race by in 2 minutes or less, sound kinda slight and samey sounding after awhile, but over thirty years later these songs are still guaranteed pick me ups. Note: Rykodisc added seven b-sides and singles to the CD reissue, but given the album's limited variety by the time I get to them I've usually had enough already.

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