The Undertones Reissues

RIYL: The Jam, The Clash, The Stranglers

For most Americans, there are two main points of entry for the oft-overlooked Irish punk pop band the Undertones. The true punkers found the band through “Teenage Kicks,” the band’s debut single and one of the most heralded punk songs of all time. Those who were weaned on early MTV, however, know a competely different version of the Undertones, which played the bouncy, horn-drenched “It’s Going to Happen!” When we caught word that the band’s first four albums would be digitally reissued along with a new singles compilation, Bullz-Eye’s music editor (he was one of the early MTV watchers, for those keeping score at home) was eager to find out what he had been missing. Did anyone on the staff want to join him on this mission? Yes, they did.

The Undertones

The Undertones’ debut album is one of the finest collisions of power-pop and new wave that the world has ever seen. It nearly out-Buzzcocks’ the Buzzcocks in terms of intelligent songwriting, infectious riffs and powerful melodies. A must-own for pretty much everyone…but which version is a must-own? This most current re-issue is an exact reproduction of the first edition of the album. And we’re all for historical accuracy, but the last re-issue of the album that came out in the UK had 23 tracks and a music video. This has a paltry 14. And it doesn’t even have “Teenage Kicks,” which was added to the album just months after its original release. This new edition may be the only one in the American iTunes store, but you can pick up the expanded import for less than 15 bucks at some sites. Choose wisely. -James Eldred

Hypnotised

The band reappeared in 1980 with Hypnotised, sounding even sharper as a unit, with lead singer Feargal Sharkey’s warble even more pronounced. It’s an album full of great songs that balances expected edginess with distinctive nods toward classic pop. The title track is a cracking example of the former, with its knifing guitars and breathless pace. In the same fashion, “Boys Will Be Boys” blasts through in 90 seconds, and “My Perfect Cousin” (a UK hit) adds some healthy sneer to its story. Conversely, the gorgeous “Wednesday Week,” “See That Girl,” and a cover of “Under the Boardwalk” show off the band’s romantic streak. Really, though, Hypnotised is all about girls, the kind that contribute to sleepless nights and drive boys to rock and roll bands as a means of expression. Gawd blessum. -Rob Smith

Positive Touch

They were only two years removed from their debut, but the shift in the musical climate between 1979 and 1981 is one of the biggest sea changes the music industry has ever seen. Combine that with the band’s desire to expand their sound – plus some dissatisfaction with how their label was promoting them outside of the UK – and it’s no surprise that Positive Touch bears little resemblance to the band’s racous debut or its follow-up. The band still employs a minimalist approach to the songwriting, but the arrangements are much grander, featuring horns (“It’s Going to Happen!”), barroom piano (“Sigh and Explode”), and shimmering jangle-pop guitar (“Julie Ocean,” which would be fleshed out from its 107-second run time here for the single). Sharkey’s vocals are considerably stronger this time around, and the band seems both comfortable and happy with the change in direction. Pity it wouldn’t last. -David Medsker

The Sin of Pride

The Sin of Pride is to the Undertones what Heart is to Heart: it’s the same band, but it’s not the same band. Had it been made by anyone else, perhaps it would have been better received – and to its credit, it beats that whole Blow Monkeys/Simply Red blue-eyed UK soul movement by a good three years – but it’s not someone else’s album; it’s an Undertones album, and as such it stands as the weakest of the band’s efforts by far. The marginalization of guitarist John O’Neill’s songwriting contributions no doubt played a role, but the production, handled by the normally reliable Mike Hedges, is also a touch too slick. “Chain of Love,” for one, is a dead ringer for “Karma Chameleon,” which is the last thing anyone ever wanted or expected from the Undertones. If there is a positive takeaway from The Sin of Pride, it’s that it serves as a rather fitting stepping stone to Sharkey’s eventual solo career. “Got to Have You Back” and “You Little Thief” would make a nifty mash-up in the right hands. -David Medsker

Best of the Undertones

Best of the Undertones is a perfect place to begin if you’re unfamiliar with the original incarnation Irish punk band. The 11 songs on this spirited compilation capture all of the band’s charting singles between 1978 and 1982. The raw energy of “Teenage Kicks” and “Get Over You,” which punch you in the face as the first two songs, quickly give way to the more pop oriented side of the band. Once “Jimmy, Jimmy” begins, you can hear the Undertones’ sound starting to get a little more polished. However, the band’s punk pop sound remains intact throughout out most of these singles. It’s not until the final three tracks, “Julie Ocean,” “Beautiful Friend,” which are moodier, more atmospheric, and the soul-influenced “The Love Parade,” that you hear how the band starting to explore new directions in their songwriting. Unfortunately, they broke up in 1983 and the love parade came to a crashing halt. -Scott Malchus

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