Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 22 Positive Touch

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 22 
Positive Touch - The Undertones

When I think of The Undertones my mind is drawn to the mixtapes I used to make back in the eighties, slowly dubbing vinyl to cassette and cutting and pasting covers from magazines. They were often themed and always seemed to have one Undertones song. If the theme was SEX it had to be Teenage Kicks; if FOOTBALL My Perfect Cousin or When Saturday Comes, FASHION had Male Models FOOD had Mars Bars & on and on. They were on the tapes that didn't have themes as well. They just wrote great songs that made you feel like jumping around and laughing. And if they could make me (Factory setting: "miserable") do that, they must be special.

When I got this album I remember first absolutely loving the cover and inner sleeve with each song having a little graphic logo embossed on the otherwise quite plain white cover and repeated on the inner sleeve along with the invitation to
   (i)  ©

four 'ice pops' which are really an ice pop, a furry ice pop, a soap ice pop, and a vegetable peeler. (see left)

The abstruse humour at play here is evident all through the album with the lyrics less direct than on the first two albums. The music, too, is more sophisticated but the whole package is still playful and full of killer pop melodies.

But it also saw The Undertones make a sideways address to the political situation and make an appearance on Top of The Pops playing the song It's Going to Happen (which was initially written about the Hunger Strikes) on the day that Bobby Sands died. I've always read the song as a response to Thatcher's "the lady's not for turning," with its refrain: "Its going to happen 'til your change your mind." What's going to happen, well -  "Everything goes when you're dead
Everything empties from what was in your head." Why will it happen - "Stupid revenge is what's making you stay."

Personal problems also get an airing with songs like Crisis of Mine and Hannah Doot dealing with emotional distress but the songs never feel dark. They are not just about chocolate and girls, or at least they are about dark chocolate and sad girls.

The instrumentation and use of effects gives the whole album a quirky feeling without diminishing the emotional content and (need it be said) Feargal Sharkey's voice is an instrument of wonder, affecting, soulful, yet with an edge of confidence and toughness.

And the 'old' Undertones were still there, with songs like His Good Looking Girlfriend excavating that mix of humour and pathos they did so well.

And then there is Julie Ocean, (with the even better single version in the bonus tracks), and the joyous noise of When Saturday Comes. In fact every song's a cracker. And the bonus songs also include their brilliant single Beautiful Friend, a part of which The Stranglers 'borrowed' for Skin Deep.

The Undertones would go on to make an even more 'grown up' album, The Sin of Pride, which is also as essential as their first two albums and is even more 'mature', which their audience didn't appreciate, including myself. It seems to get better with time.

Positive Touch though, I loved the first time I listened and I still get some of the same frisson of excitement every time I listen to it.


  1. I must did this out Seamus. It's in my 'punk pile' alongside other uncatagorisable gems.
    Another addition to my Zelig series: Fergal became an A&R man; still is I believe. I met him; he rejected me...

    1. They had kind of left punk behind by this stage, hadn't they? This could be the bridge between punk and Lexicon of Love...

  2. They had, but my punk pile is a festering heap of ignorance and inspiration.
    Sham 69 drinks with The Stranglers; XTC are playing golf with Iggy...
    And a lexicon of love? That's my collection's A to Z...

  3. I always saw them as a bit of an Irish Monkeys but with better lyrics and attitude (Wednesday Week could have been a Monkees single) It is a toss up between this one and Sin of Pride for me I was gutted when the split and it is a shame that Petrol Emotion didn't get more success ( if this was a singles chart Big Decision would be in there as well as)

    1. Yes, The Petrols were also a great band (see earlier post). The strange thing is that the biggest hit out of The Undertones stable was A Good Heart.

    2. yes that is a crying shame although I always liked the one he did with Vince Clark as the Assembly