Neck and neck with the Buzzcocks for the title of the UK’s best first wave pop punk band, The Undertones are back with a new compilation to remind us what they’ve been up to since reforming in 1999.
‘Dig What You Need’ collects the best of their two post-reformation albums, 2003’s ‘Get What You Need’ and 2007’s ‘Dig Yourself Deep’, blending their titles and songs for a tight, concise retelling of their sound.
All of this set’s songs have been remixed by producer Paul Tipler (whose credits include Elastica, Idlewild, Placebo and Stereolab), and there’s a tracklisting that leans towards the shorter, sharper garage rock cuts from ‘Get What You Need’ and ‘Dig Yourself Deep’. Consequently, ‘Dig What You Need’ sounds like an album in its own right, its 13 tracks zipping by in less than 35 minutes.
Inevitably, the shadow of Fergal Sharkey looms over these tunes, their original singer having declined to join them when The Undertones reformed in 1999. But with today’s Undertones having 23 years (and counting) under their collective belts, there’s been plenty of time for Paul McLoone to make his mark at the microphone.
That said, the compilation eases the listener in with two business-as-usual tracks that’ll have you singing along to them halfway through your first listen. The light Feargal-like warbles of ‘Thrill Me’ and the fantastic, classic harmonies on ‘Enough’ remind us that this is, essentially, much the same band as it always was. In fact, barring Paul, it literally is the same band it ever was, with guitarists John and Damian O’Neill, bassist Michael Bradley and drummer Billy Doherty having first played together in 1975.
And they’re not afraid to reference their back catalogue, with ‘Here Comes The Rain’ offering a flipside to ‘Here Comes The Summer’, substituting the 1979 single’s joy with a tale of depression and isolation.
‘She’s So Sweet’ has a Beatles-y title but the heart of the Ramones, circa End of the Century, with ‘I’m Recommending Me’ continuing to mine their early Ramones influences.
Elsewhere the band’s ’60s R&D and pop influences make themselves heard. ‘You Can’t Say That’ provides a swampy take on Them’s garage rock, and ‘Dig Yourself Deep’ adds a dose of Beach Boys harmonies to its garage rock.
Things take a turn for the unexpected with ‘Fight My Corner’. All restrained threat and brushed drums, it’s no wonder it was initially earmarked for John O’Neill’s ’90s trip-hop project Rare. Another left-field song is the Beach Boys’ indebted ‘Winter Sun’, with its harmonies and light touch samples – proof that expanding a sound defined by the Ramones needn’t call for all the strings and horns deployed on ‘The Sin of Pride’
Slightly more up to date is the ’90s pop-punk of the surprisingly catty ‘Oh Please’, with its swipes that include “Dublin bands” and Welsh groups who cosy up to Cuban leaders (whoever could they mean?). The more indie ‘Joyland’ is a, well, joyful, throw-back to That Petrol Emotion, guitarists John and Damian O’Neill’s post-Undertones project, though it’s a little throwaway for the album’s parting shot.
Nevertheless, ‘Dig What You Need’ succeeds in distilling the post-reformation sound of The Undertones and doesn’t begin to outstay its welcome. Whether it’ll be followed by new music from the band remains to be seen, but with 14 or more compilations of the ‘Teenage Kicks’-era Undertones, this is a welcome reminder of, or introduction to, their latter-day work.
Not slowing down, not giving up, ‘Dig What You Mean’ is proof The Undertones haven’t lost their way around a pop-punk tune as they meld their Ramones influences with garage rock and push at the genre’s boundaries.
‘Dig What You Need’ is released on 11 March on Dimple Discs, and The Undertones are on tour in the UK and Europe from 10 March.