To mark the 30th anniversary of The Undertones, Irish punk’s finest sons, Union Square Music presents two CDs and 56 tracks, all packaged up with the kind of neat little booklet that makes you realise that MP3s will never completely rule the world.
The band will forever be remembered for giving John Peel his favourite single but that shouldn’t eclipse their other achievements, which included four Top 20 singles and four studio albums between 1978 and 1983.
As seems standard these days, the package is split into two halves: a greatest hits disc of singles and album tracks, while the second is dedicated to unreleased demos, live and session recordings, and rehearsals. This means that some of the songs are repeated, but it’s a small price to pay. In most cases the alternate versions are different enough to warrant inclusion.
Most of what you’d expect is present and correct, though there are some obvious omissions. We get most of their 12 UK singles, with only the low-selling songs from the tail end of their career – Gotta Have You Back and Chain Of Love – 1986’s Save Me (released long after the band had officially split up) and recent comeback single 2003’s Thrill Me, missing. This may annoy completists, but they’re no great loss really.
My Perfect Cousin, Get Over You, Here Comes the Summer, Teenage Kicks and the other hits are all accounted for, while the booklet that comes with the CDs is almost worth the price of admission on its own. Providing a history of the band written by guitarist Damian O’Neill, along with his notes, annotations and explanations of the rarities and demos, it serves as a reminder of why it’s so much better to hold something physical in your hand and read it while you listen to the music, no matter what Jarvis Cocker tells you.
Without it, how would you know that tracks 5-8 were recorded live at the Lyceum, London on 3 December 1978? Or that the tenor sax on the wonderfully bonkers version of It’s Going To Happen, an Undertones-do-Madness-do-Love gem that no-one should miss, was played by Dick Blewitt?
If there’s anything to criticise, it’s that when the band are currently on tour around the UK (minus original vocalist Feargal Sharkey, replaced by Paul McLoone) there’s nothing here to promote their current incarnation or to suggest they’re anything other than a nostalgia act embarking on a glory days tour. Purists will probably cry sacrilege at the suggestion, but at least a taster of their current material would have been interesting, for curiosity value if nothing else. It’s a minor gripe though.
Anthology offers a nostalgia trip for old punks, a great introduction to the band for younger fans and contains enough previously unreleased obscurities in an appealing package to please the diehard fan who has everything they need already but doesn’t mind buying it again in a different format. At the end of the day, you can’t really ask for more than that.