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Albums Revisited: Radiohead ‘Pablo Honey’

Albums Revisited: Radiohead ‘Pablo Honey’. The band disowned it, and their fans ignore it. It’s their loss, because ‘Pablo Honey’ in an underrated gem.

I recently saw Thom York and Flea perform on The Daily Show with their new band Atoms For Peace. After watching a few minutes of it, it brought back home the sobering reality that Thom Yorke has run as far away from rock as he possibly could. There were no hooks, no uplift. It was quite honestly, dull as dirt.


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This has been an issue I, and a small minority of Radiohead fans have had for a while now. Every new album has just a smidgen of guitar, but it’s buried under sonic experimentation and an avoidance to rock out.

Which is too bad, because for their first three albums, Radiohead made some of the best guitar racket on the planet.

But while The Bends and Ok Computer are revered as classic alternative gems, début album Pablo Honey is treated like a red-headed stepchild. The band largely avoids playing their hit single Creep, or any other songs from it live. Reviews upon its release were mixed.

Back in February, Pablo Honey turned 20, but without much fanfare. Stereogum did a piece on it, saying; Every once in a while, you’ll still meet people who claim that Pablo Honey is Radiohead’s best album…but these people are obviously attention-hungry psychopaths looking for ways to dominate conversations and shit on everything you hold dear.

Well this attention-hungry psychopath takes umbrage with that comment, because Pablo Honey is one of Radiohead’s most accessible and enjoyable albums, and a criminally underrated one at that.

Like Creep,  the rest of the album shares the same fidgety energy, with sloppy sandpaper guitars competing for attention with Yorke’s emotive bleating and the often delicate underpinnings their song’s possess.

It kicks off with You, which is as fine an opening salvo to be found in alt-rock. Anyone Can Play Guitar is a true rock anthem, where Yorke simultaneously embraces and denounces rock star aspiration with:

And if the world does turn
And if London burns I’ll be standing on the beach with my guitar
I wanna be in a band when I get to heaven
Anyone can play guitar
And they won’t be a nothing anymore

Those lyrics form the chorus of the song, which is a miasma of grunge (they were often referred to as the British Nirvana) , brit-pop, garage rock and  pure bliss.

Johnny Greenwood played his guitar with paintbrushes on Guitar, and while it isn’t readily apparent on the recording, it showed a young, hungry band who weren’t above a little scrappy experimentation without being consumed by it.

So much of what makes Pablo Honey so appealing is the soft-to-loud dynamic that defined rock music of the 90’s. But Radiohead had a more stately racket. Their use of three guitarists with intertwining guitar lines strongly referenced 60’s band’s like The Byrd’s. Stop Whispering is the culmination of this approach, and it’s just as stirring and effective as U2’s most transcendent songs.

Thinking About You appears like a plaintive love song, but Yorke can’t resist adding some wicked barbs, with lyrics of a  fan unhealthily obsessed with their favorite rock star:

Been thinking about you, your record’s a hit
Your eyes are on my wall, your teeth are over there
But I’m still no-one, and you’re not a star
What do you care?

Pablo Honey finishes up strongly, with Lurgee (british slang for illness). Is Yorke singing about how being lovelorn makes you ill, or an STD? Regardless it’s emotive guitar arpeggio’s intertwine perfectly with his histrionics.

The last track is Blow Out, which has a 60’s cocktail-jazz intro. But the song truly feels like a road trip gone wrong as it constantly twists and consorts until a bombardment of white noise that ranks with the best of dream pop.

So is Pablo Honey Radiohead’s best album? Their most ambitious? Probably not. The Bends and Ok Computer showed leaps forward in their arrangements and stylings. But it sure as hell is their most enjoyable. They actually sound like they’re having a good time making such sweet noise.

Click here for Albums Revisited: The Bends Turns 20

I have no idea why Radiohead don’t find solace and escape in electric guitar jams anymore. But ever since Kid A, they seem afraid of their alt-rock shadow, and bored with the format. Which is ironic, because I became bored with them the minute they abandoned it.

Click here to see where Pablo Honey ranks in my list of most Underrated Alternative Rock Albums

It’s time for the band and fans alike to re-embrace the underrated Pablo Honey. And for Radiohead to just try cranking up an amp without thinking too hard. Please.

Want to own Pablo Honey on Amazon or iTunes? Click on the links below. And chime in where you think Pablo Honey ranks in their discography (again, I know I’m in the minority) in the comments section.

[amazon_image id=”B000TRSA60″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Pablo Honey [Explicit][/amazon_image]

And check out the other albums covered in our revisited series below:

Depeche Mode: Ultra

Ministry: The Land Of Rape And Honey

The Cult Electric

Smashing Pumpkin’s Siamese Dream

The Sisters Of Mercy: Floodland

Jane’s Addiction Nothing’s Shocking

Alice In Chains: Jar of Flies

Prong: Cleansing

Public Image Limited: Album

Gene Loves Jezebel: The House of Dolls

 

About SLIS

Middle Aged Gen-Exer obsessed with Alternative rock, metal, cult movies, comic books and cable TV.

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6 Responses to Albums Revisited: Radiohead ‘Pablo Honey’

  1. scott October 11, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Thank you for this! I thought that I was the only closet Pablo fan out there… The shame is that most people now only think of Radiohead as an electronica band, and view the First Three Albums (note the capitalization) as an anachronism. “In Rainbows” was the last album of theirs that I took the time to listen to… but I’m in complete agreement with you…

    • SLIS October 11, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

      Scott, glad to find another Pablo Honey supporter! I need to give In Rainbows another listen, but yeah I just wish they wouldn’t over think it and just get back to making the sublime rock of their early days.

  2. BullHead April 25, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    I bought this back in early ’94, after a friend gave me a cassette (ah, the old-fashioned peer to peer!) with “You” and “Creep” on it. So I’ve been introduced to this band with this album, just months after its release. And I always dug it. Still do. Yeah, Radiohead still had to find their sound, next albums like “The Bends” and “OK Computer” are far superior but this still stands as an underrated noise-pop record. Songs like “You”, “Creep”, “Stop Whispering”, “Ripcord”, “Lurgee” and the amazing closer “Blow Out” were and still are fucking amazing.

    • SLIS April 26, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

      Some of their tightest songwriting. I think there’s an emotional quality to songs like Lurgee and Blowout that I wish they’d return to. A little more primal than their latter day stuff. Curious how their new album will sound!

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