Review of True Confessions (Singles A's + B's) Album by The Undertones

It's difficult to mention The Undertones without thoughts of the late, great John Peel immediately springing to mind. Having championed the band and cited their debut 45 'Teenage Kicks' as his favourite song of all time, the Derry quintet undoubtedly owe a large debt of gratitude to the Liverpudlian DJ that their name lives on in musical folklore thirty-three years since its release.

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

Although initially formed in 1975, it wasn't until nearly three years later that The Undertones first made their mark, signing to Sire Records in the latter part of 1978. Five years, four albums, and a fistful of chart bothering singles later it was all over, but in their relatively short creative existence they left a defining legacy.

While 1979's self-titled debut owed much to the two-minute speed and lager hyperactivity of punk's unholy doctrine, the follow-up 'Hypnotised' highlighted The Undertones uncanny knack of crafting incendiary, kitchen-sink pop as something akin to second nature, demonstrated by the inclusion of the band's two biggest hits 'My Perfect Cousin' and 'Wednesday Week' among its hefty chest of treasures.

Always somewhat regarded - quite unfairly in some ways - as predominantly a "singles" band, 'True Confessions (Singles A's + B's)' collects a whopping thirty-two songs in total culled from the aforementioned 'Teenage Kicks' up to 1983's 'Chain Of Love', plus their respective flipsides. Split between two CDs, 'True Confessions.' resembles watching your best friend go through adolescence only to turn into their parents before they reach twenty-five.

As compilations go, the first CD is near flawless save for the bizarre instrumental 'Hard Luck (Again)'. Listening back to songs like 'True Confessions', 'Get Over You', 'She Can Only Say No' and 'Mars Bars' for example, there's segments that jump out not only as influences to The Undertones (The Ramones, Buzzcocks and Eddie Cochran being three) but also the way others have used their blueprint to shape the future (Orange Juice, Franz Ferdinand and a million and one C86 bands). John O'Neill's innocent songwriting coupled with Feargal Sharkey's distinctive rasping vocal made for a potent combination, and even when they're singing ironic songs berating the state of the pop charts ("Top twenty? Oh no!") there's an underlying sense of belonging in its sentiment.

The second CD shows a band that's reached maturity almost overnight, and while 'Wednesday Week', 'It's Going To Happen' and 'Julie Ocean' continue the trend for penning sublime seven-inches oozing with pop nuggets, it soon tails off into grey overcoat territory a la 'Beautiful Friend' and 'The Love Parade', both heavily in debt to the (then) newly-crowned kings of the UK underground Echo & The Bunnymen. With the fun element seeping out of the band like blood pouring from an open wound, its little surprise that the fractious relationship between O'Neill and Sharkey eventually culminated in The Undertones grinding to a halt in July 1983.

Having since reformed without Sharkey and subsequently released two albums since, there's seemingly still a place for The Undertones even after all these years. However, if anyone's in any doubt as to why The Undertones have become something of an Anglo-Irish musical institution, 'True Confessions.' should allay those uncertainties once and for all.


Dom Gourlay

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