Teenage Kicks, Uptight
In a way, I should’ve seen it coming. I mean, looking backwards now, with the dubious benefit of hindsight, it’s like the Teenage Kicks guys wrote it all out in the songs, telegraphing their own demise. And with Uptight, they’ve assembled it all together in one place, effectively writing their own elegy with what fans like me had hoped would be only one full-length of many.
I’d heard about half of these songs before now, both on the band’s unreleased(?) Aesthetic vs Substance EP and (in the case of “I <3 Lora Logic,” which shows up here as a front-end for new track “Everything You Said”) the band’s excellent self-titled debut EP, but ’til now I hadn’t really grasped the bitter, resigned, fuck-the-world nature of a lot of the tracks. The warm, ragged-edged sound and smart melodies mask a hell of a lot of bleak, misanthropic venom, and it’s kind of surprising to make that discovery at this point, with the band already imploded and buried.
I mean, what am I supposed to think about a track like “I <3 Lora Logic/Everything You Said,” which grafts about half of one of the band’s earliest songs to what’s probably one of the best, most polished, best-executed songs Teenage Kicks ever pulled off…but which is all about the death of a deep, forged-in-youth friendship, once hopeful and solid but now meaningless? Or followup track “I Wanna Be Your Enemy,” which flat-out declares, “I know I’m not bound for glory / Ten years in this dead-end story,” putting the lie to the forward-facing roar of another of the band’s oldest songs? Or new-ish track “All the Kids,” where singer Kirke Campbell shakes his head and sneers, “I don’t know you any more”?
Even the less personal, more political stuff feels raw and unfocused, like “No More Good Intentions,” which seems to be a prod at folks who continually mean to work at making things better but never seem to get around to it, or “I’m Not Surprised,” a snarling, bitter rant that’s excellent but vague, with a bloody finger pointing straight back at the listener for…what, exactly? Not only is the band resigned about the friendships and scenes that surround ‘em, but they’re disillusioned with the state of the world in general.
Sadly, some of the best things on here are the newest, like the aptly-named closer “Our Last Song,” a fist-pumping, clear-voiced track that owes as much to Cock Sparrer as The Clash and seems to point away from the band’s earlier, more punk influences and towards a sleeker, more balanced brand of straight-ahead, punk-inflected rock. Same goes for “I <3 Lora Logic/Everything You Said,” which finishes things with a solid, head-snapping Northern Soul backbeat (and does it beautifully, I have to say). Listen to the stuttering “Genocide” and either of the two later songs side by side, and you could be forgiven for thinking this was a totally different band.
Not that things totally changed near the end of the band’s life, mind you. The Teenage Kicks boys still hold tight to their late-’70s Brit-punk sound, sucking in The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers to The Boys and The Jam and making something wholly their own out of it. Best of all, they play it like they just stepped out on the London streets, side by side with Joe Strummer, ready to fight the cops and bleed vinyl.
Even in the midst of “Our Last Song,” though, it’s clear the writing’s on the wall. When singer Kirke Campbell declares, “Stomp and shout, hoping for a reaction / Look out to the crowd, but I feel no connection,” the band doesn’t seem long for the world. It’s a bit ironic, of course, to hear Campbell warn in the same song that “I don’t wanna be / another Houston story / No, I / No, I don’t,” when that ship’s definitely already sailed (sorry, guys…).
Uptight is the sound of a band crashing to pieces, burned out and possibly even hating one another (although the guys in the band have been close-lipped about how things ended), and for that, it’s utterly compelling. Now that the smoke’s cleared, what we’re left with is some truly great songs and a brief glimpse of what might’ve been. Damn.