Fricke's Picks: The Undertones' Pop Kicks

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"Teenage Kicks" — the opening track on the 1978 debut EP, Teenage Kicks, by the Northern Ireland quintet the Undertones — is perfection. There is no other word for its two and a half minutes of balled-fist fuzz chords and raging-hormone emergency, written with telegram concision by guitarist John O'Neill and delivered with bleating-ram vigor by singer Feargal Sharkey. And that was just the beginning. Until the original lineup split in 1983, the Undertones made the best girls-and-fast-noise pop outside of the first four Ramones LPs, over their own four albums and a dozen-plus singles. An Anthology (Salvo) is a dry name for two CDs of such front-to-back joy. The first disc is a great hello to newcomers: 29 U.K. hits and choice album-and-B-side cuts sequenced out of chronological order but in weird, delightful mood swings, like the midpoint segue from the bratty zoom of "There Goes Norman" into the acid-pop flashes of "The Love Parade," the plaintive jangle of "When Saturday Comes" and the supersugar rush "Mars Bars." The second disc is more fun in rougher form: live tracks and demos by a band that was always within arm's reach of punk-pop perfection.

[From Issue 1070 — January 9, 2009]