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Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Undertones, "The Undertones"

The Undertones
"The Undertones"
Sire (1979)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

All in all, London wasn't that bad a place to live during the '70s. That didn't stop the Sex Pistols from making it seem like a third-world hellhole, however. One can only imagine that punk groups coming from Northern Ireland, a true war zone thanks to clashes between the Protestant majority and the Catholic terrorists of the IRA, would be spilling over with social commentary. If you take The Undertones' word for it however, punks have other things to worry about when they're young, aside from political upheaval.

The band's 1979 eponymous debut focused on subjects that the other 95% of teenage males were concerned with: picking up chicks. The best example is "Girls Don't Like It," which laments the difficultly in impressing the Irish lasses, stating in the chorus, "what else can you do if the girls don't like it?" The girl problems continue on tracks like "I Gotta Getta," "True Confessions" and "Runaround (She's A)." The immediate argument dividing fans of punk is of course: Is it still punk if you sing about girl problems?

My answer is yes, but I would place The Undertones into the relatively new classification of "pop-punk." The sub-genre consists of bands like Blink-182, which more-or-less follow the musical formula of punk, if not the social formula. The argument of fans of say, Black Flag, is that if you don't buy into the social beliefs, you aren't punk. However, if you look at The Ramones, the first band to be labeled explicitly as punk, you see a pop-punk band. That band popularized the three-chord songwriting structure that would define the genre to many, and yet it didn't write about overthrowing the government; it wrote about whether or not they wanted to go down to the basement.

Granted, The Undertones are poppy even for a pop-punk band. Modern pop-punks like Blink establish the rebellious side of punk via profanity, but The Undertones were looking for mainstream radio play. Vocalist Feargal Sharkey has potential for caustic Johnny-Rotten-style vocals, but he doesn't push it. The music, although still far from polished, also doesn't reach the levels of rawness displayed by the Pistols. The band's popularity was aided by influential London disc jockey John Peel, but he couldn't have done anything for the group if it hadn't settled on such pop-friendly fare to begin with. "Here Comes The Summer" sounds almost as if the Beach Boys had decided to give punk rock a try.

The band has its moments of traditional punk attitude, such as the waggish opener "Family Entertainment" and the faster "Jump Boys," but even those have a pop sensibility about them. This album is not going to impress the hardcore fans of hardcore punk, but it's a great start for someone easing into the genre. On the whole, and this is strictly my opinion (so don't jump down my throat), I would recommend this album over The Ramones' debut any day.

INTERESTING FACT: John Peel, the aforementioned disc jockey who helped The Undertones gain attention, is somewhat the Dick Clark of England. Therefore it is noteworthy to mention that he claimed The Undertones' single "Teenage Kicks" (which was released prior to its debut album) was his favorite song of all time.

True Confessions by The Undertones on Grooveshark

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