The Undertones - True Confessions (Singles = A's + B's)

by Al Brown Rating:4 Release Date:2011-04-04

The Undertones, as you probably know, are a Derry five-piece who wrote alot of songs about girls and adolescent confusion in the late 70s and early 80s. They're still going, although without original frontman Feargal Sharkey, who is now some kind of union hardass; slamming his fist through limousine windows and throttling record label executives. This compilation brings all the original line-up's singles (and their b-sides) together in chronological order, with bassist Michael Bradley sharing a few thoughts on each track in the liner notes.

'Teenage Kicks' sounds as great as ever: age cannot wither it. Did I even need to say that? Okay, let's move on. The songs that formed the rest of the Teenage Kicks EP -'True Confessions', 'Smarter Than You' and 'Emergency Cases' - are fairly unremarkable adolescent punk, also they are kind of spoiled by bad mixing; the guitars are way too quiet on these songs, the drums and vocals too prominent. Perhaps the band wanted it this way but to me it sounds odd. There's something 'off' about the stereo mix too - it sounds like all the instruments are coming from separate rooms. Ruining the illusion that the band is playing together, in a room, is not very punk, I gotta say. But then neither is quibbling about sound quality I suppose.

'Get Over You' an impressive slice of Ramones influenced pop, and its b-side, Merseybeat-inspired 'Really Really' is also a corker. 'Jimmy Jimmy', with its haunting lyrics about the disappearance of a young man still kicks, but whether it's about the troubles or not is no clearer (the liner notes seem to suggest not though). If there's a song that comes anywhere near the majesty of 'Teenage Kicks', it's the effortless organ-enhanced sugar-rush that is 'Here Comes the Summer', a song of unbridled youthful optimism that sounds especially great in April.

Disc two starts with 'Wednesday Week', a surprisingly mellow number, and pleasant enough although, as the liner notes admit, the central lyrical conceit makes no sense. Much of the second disc is more subdued: 'Julie Ocean' is indebted to The Velvets and/or touring mates Orange Juice, its b-side, 'Kiss in the Dark' sounds like the worst Sparks song ever. Compared to the short, snappy early singles, the 80s songs lack conviction or, fatally, any real pop nous. 'The Love Parade' is a particularly misguided organ-led hippy freakout, Isley Brothers cover 'Got to Have You Back' is pretty uninspiring; again the liner notes are right on, questioning the band's deviation into "white soul" territory: "...We really did try to work it along. But sometimes I think 'What's the point?'"

I've been referring to the liner notes constantly in this review, but they critique the band's music better than I could: the chorus of 'It's Going to Happen' is "a bit lumpy", 'Life's Too Easy' is "contrived", 'Like That' is "another awkward song that was always going to be a b-side". The band was disintegrating at this point, mainly due to tension between Sharkey and guitarist John O'Neill, who was the main songwriter, so the lack of cohesion and effort is hardly surprising.

But this is a re-release of a compilation that came out 10 years ago; arguably then it was unnecessary - thanks to the wealth of Undertones retrospectives that don't include a whole disc of crap songs. In this age of picking and choosing your favourite songs on iTunes, it seems laughably redundant.

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