In many ways, “You” is a good opening track. Good, not necessarily great. However, amid the distorted chords, feedback, and driving beat, there is something compelling. Radiohead starts at the same point most bands of the mid 1990s start, but they tweaked late-Grunge with their own perspective. From the early notes played high on the guitar neck (something that will be revisited to great effect on “Paranoid Android” much later), this band signals that they want to be different, even if they haven’t quite figured out how.
Following “You” is the insanely popular “Creep”, the song that nearly killed the band, the song that made Radiohead popular, made them stand out, but nearly relegated them to the status of one-hit wonder. And while it still works as an angst-ridden anthem, it is hard to believe that the same band that recently released the song “Lotus Flower” wrote this song that embodies insecurity. This is what is so intriguing about Pablo Honey now that made it so mundane back then. In the 90s, it was just another throwaway album, sure, there was potential, but there were few indications on the album that this potential would be met. (“How Do You”? “Ripcord”? “Prove Yourself”? Hardly impressive.) Pablo Honey stands out from the Radiohead discography as the lyrics betray a humanity and emotional introspection that is markedly different from later albums. This is a band that hasn’t yet begun crafting songs about losing identity in a dark urban landscape. Thom Yorke hasn’t yet felt the isolation of modern technology or the disillusionment of corporate climates. At this point in his career, he was a young man who wanted to know how to tell a woman he loved her. He was a man who still wore sunglasses in public because he was uncomfortable with his eyes.
But also of note, this isn’t a band that has any sort of creative control over their records. They have yet to prove themselves.
This album reminds me of college. I first discovered Radiohead during my freshman year with Ok Computer and began acquiring their back catalogue. The euphoria of “You” and “Creep” soon turned to apathy as I made my way through one forgettable song after another. “Thinking About You” and “Anyone Can Play Guitar” help keep the tapestry from completely falling to the floor, but it isn’t cohesive and it is almost inevitable that the skip button will be pressed time and again. With a bit of trimming, perhaps Pablo Honey would make a decent EP. Listening to the album reminds me of sitting in the dark and feeling sorry for myself, which is probably how some of the songs were written. The album makes me think of friends and acquaintances, relationships that were once stronger than they are now. It reminds me of a time when the most difficult thing I faced was going to class and getting up the nerve to ask girls out. And looking back on my younger self, I think I project my irritation at youthful folly onto the album. Insecurity and melodramatic angst seemed to be a big part of who I once was, and while I still have much to learn about life, I don’t really like who I was when I overplayed this album. I almost suspect the emotional lyrics exacerbated unwarranted self-pity. Perhaps this isn’t fair to Pablo Honey, but music is tied to emotion, and that connection is hard to break. So while I may smirk from time to time when I hear Thom belt out “if the world does turns/and if London burns/I’ll be standing on the beach with my guitar”, I don’t think I’ll ever miss this album or care to listen to it again.
In the search for a new favorite band, Pablo Honey isn’t doing Radiohead any favors.
Okay, “Blow Out” is still pretty good.