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To most Americans, punk rock died as a musical form after the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious died in 1978 and the Clash disbanded in 1983.

However, underground hardcore punk rock bands have survived since that time, infusing new blood and new musical stylings (such as heavy metal) into the musical form.Three new releases feature British bands that are propagating the style, melding it with funk, pop and folk into a more commercially acceptable, if not more musically exciting, sound.

THAT PETROL EMOTION; "Chemicrazy" (Virgin Records); produced by Scott Litt. *** 1/2

Ireland's best musical import may be this ever-changing quintet, not Sinead O'Connor or U2. (I said it, you didn't.)

From the ashes of the lamented quartet the Undertones came three of this band's original members (of which bassist Damian O'Neill and drummer Reamann O'Gormain remain), and the experience from that band obviously shows.

O'Neill and O'Gormain have matured as songwriters, utilizing their obvious influences (which include '60s surf-pop bands and late '70s punk-pop quartet the Buzzcocks) into a richly textured brand of abrasively catchy funky punk-pop sound, especially on this, the band's fourth studio LP.

Typical of the band's sound is the single "Hey Venus," a deceptively simple anti-Margaret Thatcher number (being Irish, the band oftens mixes pop and politics) featuring new guitarist John Marchini's staccato instrumental bursts.

A bit unexpectedly, producer Scott Litt (who has managed to turn Georgia's R.E.M. into a commercially viable outfit) has left the band's sound intact, including crisp metallic guitar edges and a solid backbeat.

Litt also has the group a little more musically consistent, at least stylistically (their last LP, 1988's "End of the Millenium Psychosis Blues" shot all over the musical spectrum), and they've never sounded better.


THE MEKONS; "The Mekons Rock 'n' Roll" (Twin Tone/A&M Records); produced by the Mekons and Ian Caple. ***1/2

Veteran English unit the Mekons (which takes its name from the villains in the British science-fiction comic strip Dan Dare) has changed its musical style as often as its lineup in its 11-year career.

However, during its last three LPs and tours, the band has more or less settled on a minimalistic punk sound that embraces reggae, calypso and traditional folk trademarks, and remarkably has made that sound successful.

Band leader Jon Langford (who also records as part of the Three Jonhs), in particular, has stepped his songwriting to dizzying heights, covering territory from anti-drug odes to baleful asides at the rock mainstream (the album's title jokingly refers to the album's content).

When the band gets off its philosophical high horse it's at its best, though, especially on the folky "Club Mekon," featuring surprisingly sweet lead vocals from Sally Timms and a somber fiddle instrumental from Susie Honeyman.

The deceptively titled "Only Darkness Has the Power" reveals Langford himself espousing that one must purge oneself of grief and sorrow to find happiness.

Similar standouts on this rousing LP are "Empire of the Senseless" and "I Am Crazy." Patient listeners who can get beyond the self-righteous liner notes will be richly rewarded.

THE WONDER STUFF; "Hup!" (Polydor Records); produced by Pat Collier. (SS)(SS)(SS)

Those who saw this young British quartet perform last month with the Mission U.K. may not have appreciated the Wonder Stuff's sense of humor (including vocalist Miles Hunt's snide asides to males wearing make-up), but the wonderfully bad puns on the band's second LP are anything but sophomoric.

Hunt's 12 songs range from psychedelia ("Piece of Sky") to Beatlesque pop (the single "Don't Let MeDown, Gently" and "Unfaithful") to country-flavored numbers ("Golden Green"), the common ground being grinding guitars, a bass-heavy rhythm section and his wicked sense of humor.

"Cartoon Boyfriend," for instance, features the tag line "Cartoon boyfriend, when you gonna rub yourself out?" and Hunt proclaims in "30 Years in the Bathroom" that at the least "when they take me away, I will be clean."

Hunt is not afraid to have a more emotional side, either, as witnessed by the dirge "Let's Be Other People." The song is a spooky remembrance for its character, who loses his wife to an automobile accident (from which the accident's instigator survives: "You left a mess and took my wife/Will you return to twist the knife?")

Producer Pat Collier has the band covering too much musical ground though, and some of the songs overshoot the mark by miles (especially "Them, Big Oak Trees" and "Room 410").

Fortunately, the band does have a rough-hewn charm, and the album is a considerable improvement on their debut, "The Eight-Legged Groove Machine."