Recently, a few blogs debated Pitchfork's reference to U2 as a post-punk band in its review of the recent reissue of the first three U2 albums. I understand anyone who wants to thinks of Boy, October and War as something more conventional because U2 doesn't sound like such Rough Trade bands as Gang of Four, Essential Logic, Pop Group or the Raincoats. In its moment, though, the Edge's guitar, Adam Clayton's pounding bass and the space in the arrangements made U2 sound awfully new and inventive.
The thing U2 shared with the bands on Rough Trade was the desire to make a more personal, individualized pop music, one that was inspired by punk's "fuck you" to the tyranny of technique and received wisdom. For me, the news is the love of Boy, which periodically grinds to a halt with strummy songs that are hard to imagine today. October may be lyrically slack, but the sleek, spacious, wiry groove that became the band's trademark is in place.
The U2 reissues arrived the same week as the reissue of the Individuals' Fields/Aquamarine and Tom Verlaine's Dreamtime and Words from the Front, and the albums were more or less contemporary, all cut between 1980 and 1983, and though the Individuals and Verlaine albums were NYC acts, they too were trying to imagine a new pop. On Fields/Aquamarine, you can hear the Gang of Four's abrasive, gangly funk adapted to pop purposes - something Lawrence, Kansas' The Embarrassment was perfecting at the same time - and Verlaine's Dreamtime envisioned a pop music that was dense and accepted a host of notions of melody and hooks. Though he certainly gets his space as a guitar player, there are none of the elongated explorations that defined Television. Instead, he wedges all those thoughts into small spaces to make dense pop songs that throw off melodic and lyrical sparks.
Of the lot, only Words from the Front is a bit of a drag, as if Verlaine was spent. The songs are tense, but they don't release or pay off; they just go on. "Postcard from Waterloo" is pretty conventional, but it's also attractive and the one song you can get a grip on.