gullbuy music review

The Undertones


Listening In


Sanctuary Records


Undertones CD coverThe Undertones are pure punk pop at its root, an Irish band who put out 4 albums between 1978 and 1982, but also recorded a slew of BBC radio sessions in that time period which helpfully augment their album and single output. Undertones radio sessions have surfaced in the past, but with selected recordings - so as is the way nowadays, Listening In: Radio Sessions 1978-1982 collects all 7 of them on an incredible 27 track cd. From their early days of the perfect punk pop - originally heard on albums The Undertones (1978) and Hypnotised (1979), to the early 80s pop of Positive Touch (1981) and The Sin of Pride (1983) (all of which have recently been remastered and reissued as well), every time period is covered - with the added bonus of some extra recordings of tunes which were popular in The Undertones live set.

The early sessions are about as raw as you can get - and will surprise even those who know the first album well. Oddly enough, The Undertones never recorded one of their best tunes Teenage Kicks at the BBC, but it's not a big deal considering the energy and enthusiasm heard in the tunes they did record. There's no doubt that The Undertones albums and singles - and in a more immediate way, their BBC sessions - had a huge influence worldwide on power punk pop. Just check out the early tunes in the first session (material from their eponymous debut) like Get Over You, Top Twenty (heard twice on the disc - in an early punk edged version and in a later session, more melodically), She Can Only Say No (35 seconds!) and Male Model. What this first session lacks in clarity of sound is made for in raw punk energy.

By the time of the second session, The Undertones had perfected the Buzzcock songsmith style - witness Listening In or Family Entertainment for buzzsaw punk melodies. Here Comes the Summer is a good example of the energy The Undertones did so well as you've probably already heard in Teenage Kicks.

Nine Times Out of Ten from the third session is a good example of why The Undertones were considered the Irish Ramones. The Way Girls Talk shows singer Feargal Sharkey's Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry vocal influence (something to keep in mind when listening to later period Undertones).

The fourth session gave us The Undertones rock solid rendition of Gary Glitter's Rock'n'Roll which was a crowd favorite at The Undertones' shows (and its the lesser known vocal version of this sports anthem, which is refreshing). We also get the all out classic Undertones in the bounce of What's With Terry.

I'd always thought that the latter period music of The Undertones was still quite exciting considering what I thought I'd encounter due to the critics. The Undertones branched out their sound on their 3rd and 4th albums Positive Touch and The Sin of Pride, and while there's no longer the buzzsaw approach, there's still a vibrant artistry of song. I've only heard select songs from those lps (so maybe the 80s production brought those albums down a notch), but I must say that the recordings from that time period found on this disc are quite good. Bringing The Undertones into the 80s with a sound which could be equated with The Jam/Style Council or Orange Juice/Fire Engines, songs like The Positive Touch and When Saturday Comes from the 5th session are addictive pop tunes.

With the 6th and 7th sessions more instruments like organ are added to the mix and The Undertones move even closer to the Postcard label sound on tunes like Like That (Song No One) and Bye Bye Baby Blue. We're also given a crowdpleaser in The Undertones (Just Like) Romeo and Juliet which give the guys are nice hint of nostalgia. By the last session, The Undertones have finally enmeshed themselves in the 80s - but still have not really lost their songwriting prowess, even if they've gained more agitated guitar sound on tunes like Untouchable and The Love Parade (one of my favorites in high school). I think its time to throw those old cassettes and re-invest in The Undertones again.

---Patrick, April 13, 2004