The Michigan Daily
Wednesday, August 12, 1981
The Undertones-'Positive Touch' (Harvest)-The Undertones have grown
up, and you know what that means. No more teenage sexual agony, no more
psychotically willful immersions in the perpetual frustration of love, no more
obsessive rampages against chasity or jubilant celebrations of summer.
The boys are men now and have come to the sudden realization that getting
the girl doesn't stop the horror show. That generally spells the end of such erec-
tion rockers, and there has never been any prior indication that The Underton-
es were capable of escaping the genre.
POSITIVE TOUCH therefore comes as the year's most unexpected success.
There is an abrupt sophistication to the band's sound, a musical abandonment
of the things of childhood. Songs are arranged in omnibus fashion with sudden
melodic shifts, further emphasized by the spare, pseudo-60s production of
And while songwriting brothers John and Damian O'Neill are still writing
about love, their illusions about it are history. So now they are singing about the
illusions, often with a wizened sense of foreboding.
Thus, while the shimmering susurration of "Julie Ocean" and Feargal
Sharkey's mesmerized tenor establishes a dreamy intimacy, it is edged with
skepticism: "Nothing good lasts forever /And sometimes nothing starts."
"HIS GOODLOOKING Girlfriend" details the self-delusion of a social misfit
whose newfound popularity is actually attributable to the attractiveness of his
girlfriend. A year ago this song would have eulogized the lust of the pursuer;
now it sadly considers the doomed nirvana of the victim.
Indeed, the intimate sadness of the album is pervasive, despite plucky
melodies and room-shaking lead riffs in "His Goodlooking Girlfriend" and
"Hannah Doot." The latter is convulsively catchy, yet tenderly laments, "She's
crying/ I'm trying/ Not to feel so sad/ It's time to say goodbye."
These are strange, mysterious love songs, sometimes almost mystical
("Forever Paradise"). They are vigorously beyond the youthful wanderlust of
previous efforts, and are hypnotic because this troubled maturation is universal
to the human condition.
THEY MAY EVEN be a deliberate self-repudiation. Many of the songs cer-
tainly write off forever what The Undertones themselves once were. This is
most obvious in "Boy Wonder," the saga of a permanent adolescent that con-
cludes, "When it comes to real life/ He'll be too late."
The neurotic flavor of that song saturates much of the album, which is why it
maintains its liveliness and appeal in the face of such disillusionment. There is
a psychotic furor loose in the structure of these songs, sometimes lending a
trance-like feel to them.
More often, though, the charismatic little melodies are perversely played off
against enigmatic personas. "You're Welcome" features a strongly melodic
guitar against Sharkey's quirky phrasing of lines like "Sad girl/ Such an
unusual attraction/ Sad girl/ How come you look so hurt?" That same idiosyn-
cratic structure is at work in "Life's Too Easy" and "Crisis of Mine," echoing a
startled self-disgust for obliquely "dreaming in our own stupid world."
THE UNDERTONES have authored their own comeuppance. They've done
it remarkably well, even including a riveting song about that very process.
"Sigh and Explode" states the central dilemma that brought all of this on:
"How can I know when a woman's not a stranger?/ How can I know when a
stranger's getting stranger?/ I tend to ignore it for my own satisfaction/ But
sooner or later I'll just sigh and explode."
It is the LP's finest song because rock and roll is most effectively music of the
moment. Even producer Bechirian's Beatle-esque touch fits, because there is a
similar feel to The Undertones' sudden maturation and that of the Fab Four
Well, The Undertones are no Beatles-and thank heaven they don't try to be.
They are a vastly improved band, and have unexpectedly managed to save
themselves from a dead-end genre. This album is hardly perfection-ofttimes
the terms are too simply stated-but it's pointless to quibble with unexpected
blessings. Fred Schill
'Icehouse' (Chrysalis) -Well,
Icehouse is almost there, but I'm not
sure almost where. They seem to be in-
fluenced by a lot of genres, but no one in
particular enough to say "Oh, they're a
such-and-such band with occasional
tinges of this-and-that." - 1
Since they seem a little uncertain
about what direction they want to go,
it's equally difficult to know which
standards to use in evaluating how far
they've gone toward arriving there.
IN GENERAL, their songs have a
firm basis in standard rock and roll
formulas with a lot of progressive rock
keyboards and the occasional pop hook. dangerously on being uninventive and
Remove the classical keyboards and pretentious, but manage to pull it out
they could sound something like The almost every time with a clever pop
Cars. Remove the hooks and they could hook. The only thing that Icehouse
sound something like The Alan Parsons lacks is the kind of insistent,
Project. Remove the rock and roll propulsive production that makes Duran
foundation and they could almost be Duran's beat commanding even when
New Musik. their vocals and instrumentation prove
Altogether, they're hard to peg. The uneventful.
closest comparison would be to Duran So, all Icehouse need do is surrender
Duran, which is somewhat of a com- some of their progressive pretenses and
plement. (After all, I could compare give themselves over to that tren-
them to Classix Nouveaux or Spandau dy new wave dance sound and they'll
Ballet or U-2). probably be okay ... but don't ask for
Like Duran Duran, they border much beyond that. -Mark Dighton
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