The Undertones - The Undertones - Review
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critics' view

There was only one thing more ridiculous than band’s from Dunfermline and Coventry making it big in ’79 – a band from Derry was doing the same. This was the wonderful new DIY age; a time when even random street urchins sporting welfare parkas could break-on-through. Mind you, they were hardly the overnight sensation that history would have you believe, having been plugging away at it for a good 4 or 5 years, fully focused as The Undertones since ’76. The debut LP arrived in May ’79 although there was no sign of the two cracking singles – “Teenage Kicks” and “Get Over You” – which had recently propelled them to the venue-packing stakes. In fact, one of the amazing things about this LP is that it was still so good despite omitting these and another 4 truly great songs – “Smarter Than You”, “Emergency Cases”, “She Can Only Say No” and “Mars Bars” – all of which had recently been used up as EP tracks or 7” b-sides.

The busy 5-piece were: Feargal Sharkey (20, lead vocals); John O'Neill (21, rhythm guitar); Damian O'Neill (18, lead guitar, keyboard); Michael Bradley (19, bass guitar) and Billy Doherty (20, drums). They may have come from a City which was scarred from violent struggles, but you’d never know it from listening to them. Their way of dealing with that was to use Punk as a means of escape, a way to try and re-normalize teenage life for Derry’s youth, with songs about girls, chocolate bars and people who were strange – anything but bloody guns and bombs. If SLF were the Irish Clash, then The Undertones were the Irish Ramones; there can be little doubt that their pop-punk template was directly imported from New York, with short and snappy 2 minute song blasts and catchy choruses, like “Family Entertainment”, “Male Model” and “Billy’s Third”, at least two of which are in the “taking the piss” category for which Derry folk are, seemingly, renowned.

The real big hitter on side one is the closer, “Here Comes The Summer”, a glorious 45 which was fully embraced by sunshine-basking British pop fans in the months of July and August. Top of the Pops the lot, what a blast for the lads. Preceding that 45 was the excellent springtime single, “Jimmy Jimmy” which opens up side two on the LP. At first-listen, it could be another of the mickey-taking variety, with poor little Jimmy being dissed as a bit of a Mummy’s boy. Smiles disappear as the self-harming issue rears its ugly head: “Now little Jimmy's gone, he disappeared one day, but no one saw the ambulance that took little Jim away”. Following this is a new version of “True Confessions”, a tune which had first aired on the “Teenage Kicks” EP. Here, it’s Michael Bradley who steps up for lead vocal, with Feargal adding his trademark trill as a mere backing singer. As good as it is, it’s not a patch on the single version which was much more dynamic in every way. “Listening In”, a mock-creepy tale of voyeurism, is a late album highlight, just before “Casbah Rock” immortalizes their hometown venue which had been their CBGB. 57 seconds it lasts. Their New York brothers would be proud.

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