September 17, 2004

Teenage Kicks

It starts off with guitars simultaneously grungy and gorgeous, over a seemingly easy-to-play riff. Then, a voice, shimmering and boyish, begins singing,

"Are teenage dreams so hard to beat?
Every time she walks down the street,
Another girl in the neighborhood,
Wish she was mine - she looks so good"
That's how Teenage Kicks - the song by and the DVD documentary about the Undertones begins.

The Undertones are probably one of the greatest pop-punk bands you never heard of - their first single was released in 1978, followed by three (or four) albums of sheer brilliance: The Undertones, Hypnotized, Positive Touch, and The Sin of Pride. (I own the first three albums, but have never heard # 4). Teenage Kicks, the documentary, follows the band from their modest roots in Ireland to pop stardom to their recent semi-reunion. It seems almost like a bad version of VH-1's Behind the Music.
However, thanks to the band members' down-to-earth attitudes (and slightly tongue-in-cheek humor), it comes across as an excellent good-band-does-great story).

Documentaries should serve several purposes: education, enlightenment, entertainment, or even just showing perspectives in a new light. This documentary does that - admittedly, I came across the Undertones via their Rykodisc reissues (thanks to The Big Takeover fanzine), so I had missed them "the first time around". However, once I purchased the greatest hits (What was the Bruce McCullough line about greatest hits albums - anyone?), I immersed myself into the three albums (I didn't like the Sin of Pride tracks, but, thanks to this DVD, will give it a listen).

The Undertones' albums provide excellent nuggets (or, in their terms, "rocking humdingers") - from the all-out sound of "Teenage Kicks" (the favorite of BBC DJ John Peel to the rockin' romance of "Here Comes the Summer"; from pure pop brilliance ("Here Comes the Summer", "Jimmy Jimmy", "Tearproof", "Wednesday Week", "It's Going to Happen") to aggressive-yet-sweet songs ("Mars Bar", "You've Got My Number", "Family Entertainment", "When Saturday Comes"), the Undertones proved themselves more than just "dumb entertainment".

The biggest compliment I can give this documentary (which contains a half hour of "extended interviews" - mostly stuff they cut out, as well as videos) is that I'm planning on listening to all three albums this weekend, just to revisit and recapture the magic.

Teenage kicks all through the night, indeed.

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