The Undertones

Now here’s a blast from the past: the Undertones, “Derry’s finest” etc kicked some major label teenage butt in the late 70s, while Wire did the art rock collapse. 1978 saw the Undertones’ first EP, containing the just-not-so-subtly-alluded-to track, “Teenage Kicks”, a track that would see John Peel become their finest spokesperson. Fronted by the odd-looking Feargal Sharkey (yes, indeed, “a good heart these days *is* hard to find”), the Undertones released about four albums and a string of hits, none of which summed the band up better than “Teenage Kicks”, a cross between the Ramones and the Buzzcocks (the former in the straight ahead rock department, the latter in the lyrics’ endless obsession with “girls”). I have to admit a lot of the Undertones stuff does very little for me except inspire stomach aches. I can’t wear Ray Bans because they remind me of Feargal. When Feargal went Joe Cocker I was about thirteen, too young for punk to have meant anything to me. I’ll also admit that whatever “the critics” say, the Undertones were never punk. Despite the fact that on most of their tracks Feargal sounded like Jello Biafra (or was it the other way round?), there’s no two ways of reading songs like “Let’s Talk About Girls”, “Girls Don’t Like it”, “I Know a Girl” and so on and so on and such. On the liner notes to their best of, a band member claims they were onto something when they released “Smarter Than U” as a b-side – ie that they were somehow cool for using the letter “u”. They obviously weren’t listening to Wire at the time, whose “12XU” had been released the previous year (and which provides the ultimate retort – someone getting you down? 12XU). The Undertones’ saving grace was their break up: this left Feargal to wearing his white soul ray bans, while the O’Neill brothers formed That Petrol Emotion”, a band for whom the tag “incendiary” was obviously invented. Compare The Undertones’ last album with TPE’s debut Manic Pop Thrill and you’ll see what I mean. This stuff is pure mid-eighties punk, spiced up with some fairly serious references to Britain’s anti-terrorist legislation which was used at that time to imprison Irish political activists without trial. Songs like “Lifeblood”, “Lettuce” and the classic “It’s a Good Thing” proved that Feargal Sharkey was a two-bit poser in Ray Bans. Can you see what I’m feeling? He didn’t write any of the songs, I guess, which makes him less culpable. But the freaking sunnies. I ask you!

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