Thankfully, the Individuals never figured out downtown cool. In fact, the two still-admired releases from these indie trailblazers who embraced a cerebral English-major chic—1981’s Aquamarine EP and the 1982 full-length Fields—didn’t even make it onto CD until this new one-disc reissue, which tacks on a few bonus tracks. Why do this now? No reason, really: Frontman and Hoboken urban pioneer Glenn Morrow (whose earlier band, “a,” was the first to play Maxwell’s) went on to run Bar/None Records, but he only recently acquired the group’s masters.
Though only a year apart, the two works are quite different. Despite an appealing urgency and some admirable song-structure experimentation, Aquamarine tries too hard to channel the then-in-vogue arty, reckless New York City vibe. This is particularly apparent on “Piledrive,” a too-intense rock boogie that seems directly birthed from Patti Smith’s version of “Gloria.” But with Fields, the Individuals actually become individuals, embracing the “Hoboken sound” that combined Talking Heads intellectualism, new wave, and early indie jangle. Producer Gene Holder (of another Maxwell’s regular, the dBs) favors subtler guitar and keyboard riffs, while Morrow’s voice settles into a reverie of flirty nostalgia, well complemented by Janet Wygal’s yips and harmonies. It’s as if they suddenly realized a Jersey band could never beat the cool cats across the river at their own game, and instead focused on a more populist subject: the sweat and surprise of awkward teenage lust. Lyrical highlights abound on “Leap of Faith” (“I saw your eyes/I saw your face/I told you about the leap of faith/Take the leap now!”), “Our World” (“It may not be love/But it might be magic/So girl, don’t you act so tragic”), and “Walk by Your House” (“Back by the barn door/The party is rising”).Still, the more “serious” tracks here are just as fun, particularly “Dancing With My Eighty Wives,” which features schizophrenic guitars, David Lynch–ian hellfire imagery, and a suddenly licorice-sweet chorus. It’s disappointing that the group disbanded so soon thereafter—they’d just begun to realize how liberating uncool can be.
The Individuals play a one-night-only reunion show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken on July 22