sat 21/09/2019

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Undertones | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Undertones

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Undertones

The early history of the pop-punk wonders gets rewritten

The Undertones stand proud in 1979

Although the reformed Undertones, with Paul McLoone replacing original singer Feargal Sharkey, have been a popular live draw since 1999, John Peel’s anointing of “Teenage Kicks” from their debut EP as his favourite recording suggests this is what they were about: a single, timeless song.

Of course, it was not. The singles or lead EP tracks which followed – “Get Over You”, “Jimmy Jimmy”, “Here Comes Summer” and “You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It)” – were as wonderful. So were their first two albums. The recent publication of the engaging Teenage Kicks: My Life as an Undertone, bassist Michael Bradley’s memoir, is a judicious reminder of the fuller picture. As are new vinyl-only reissues of those first two albums.

the undertones debut album original versionLittle about the songs on each needs saying. The eponymous The Undertones (originally issued in May 1979) is stuffed with bracing pop-punk songs with clever – but not too-clever – lyrics, any of which (the rough-as-nails "Casbah Rock" excepted) could have been a single. Its follow-up, Hypnotised (April 1980), mostly comprised then-recently written songs and confirmed they were in for the long run. Though the writing credits were not exclusively his, in John O'Neill the band had a formidable songwriter.

So far, so straightforward. The Undertones was issued twice. In October 1979, it was reissued with a new sleeve and altered tracklist. The original album version of “Here Comes Summer” was replaced with a re-recording which had been issued on single in July 1979. “Get Over You” and “Teenage Kicks” were added. Effectively, the second-edition The Undertones was a greatest hits to-date package rather than the album the band intended to be heard. Bizarrely, the new reissue repeats the tracklist from the second edition but comes in the sleeve of the first (pictured above). Great music, but this baffling hybrid is not what was issued in 1979. The new Hypnotised is as per what hit the shops in April 1980.

the undertones hypnotisedEach new album is credited as a “2016 remaster from the original master tapes”. There is no information on how this was done, confirming whether these are all-analogue products or pressed from newly digitised masters. After listening to each album, it seems to be the former as the sound is rounded, warm and doesn’t have a brittle digital edge. Though warmer, there is a greater density and less overt punch than first pressings of each album: these are different to what was heard in 1979 and 1980. For what was, look to the internet for originals of each album. Neither are rare. Copies of The Undertones sell for between £10 and £25 depending on condition, Hypnotised for no more than £10. Each of the new reissues is priced at just over £20.

The sense of a history being warped increases with a new seven-inch of “Get Over You”, released concurrently with the albums. Though coming in a repro of the EP’s original sleeve, the top side is a new remix of the song by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields which messes with the final moments, alters the balance between the two guitar parts adding propulsion and body, mixes back the supporting vocals and supplements the original sound with some clarity, making for a more direct recording. Otherwise, little is done to what was heard originally.

The Undertones are always worth revisiting, but this trio of releases – two of which reconfigure history – supplement the original model rather than substituting for it.

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