Revisiting Radiohead’s Little-Known First Album, “Pablo Honey”


The Oxford Five-Piece Radiohead is one of the most famous musical outfits of all time. Formed as a teenager in 1985, it was not until the early 90s that the group found its formula and did what we can no longer describe today as its indelible mark in the fields of music and of the culture. Pioneers in the cultivation of cerebral and dense compositions, the band’s style is an audiovisual marvel that many have tried and failed to emulate. It is this artistic spirit that has endeared them to fans for the past three decades; they are always attached to progression, renouncing industry and social norms to achieve the artistic ideal to which they aspire.

In many ways, Radiohead can be seen as the group that brought out alternative music of the last millennium and catapulted it, out of sheer brilliance, into the future. Most of their music after the second album, 1995’s Curvatures, has become an increasingly apparent soundtrack adapted to the fluidity and speed of modern life. It’s a sometimes frightening appropriation of technology, reminding us how far we are from the rudimentary days of society, conveying both the beauty and the danger of technological progress.

However, Radiohead wasn’t always the iconoclastic outfit we see today. Once, in the early 90s, they were considered just another alternative rock band from Nirvana’s groundbreaking 1991 album, no matter. Using the strong, silent dynamics that Kurt Cobain and Co. had harnessed, Radiohead’s groundbreaking 1992 single, “Creep” became a curse on the band, stifling their creativity, and soon after the single was re-released in 1993 and Hit status allowed, Radiohead came to hate the song with a passion, perceiving it as blocking their other material.

A brilliant track in its own right, it’s understandable that Radiohead quickly came to hate the song, as they played it every night for two gigantic years of touring with Belly and PJ Harvey. Ironically, due to the economic benefits of having a hit single, EMI’s handcuffs were thrown away, and the band felt that for their second album, Curvatures, they had almost complete creative control, as they literally owed their label nothing.

This brings us to our story today, Radiohead’s bizarre first studio release – 1993 Pablo Honey. Much like its successor, it is often overlooked by fans and critics alike, as there is almost no trace of the sonic majesty the group will cultivate throughout their career. However, that is exactly our point. Every artist has to start somewhere. The Beatles didn’t start their careers with Sgt. Pepper‘s or Pink Floyd with The dark side of the moon, instead, it was a constant build-up towards a period of brilliance (regardless of what Beatles fans may tell you).

While Pablo Honey is certainly dated in retrospect, and it features Radiohead’s most controversial song for fans and the band as the lead single, it also has moments of sheer brilliance and is a reflection of Radiohead in the rough, like an ore to be refined. For the Hegelian guys out there in the timeline of Radiohead’s existence, that’s also important.

Although few in number, there are audible cues within it of the direction in which the group was traveling and the audio sensitivities they heard following. As if through a smokescreen provided by ‘Creep’, and although he didn’t know it at the time, the band were able to brilliantly carve out their next massive step to greatness, Curvatures.

Pablo Honey opener ‘You’ is an atmospheric guitar piece that was the first example of guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s virtuosity and penchant for a meaty riff. The song is a meandering piece of music that is greatly underrated in the band’s vast catalog. Also, about halfway through, when frontman Thom Yorke moans “My”, drenched in melisma, we have the first indication of his incredible vocal range.

‘How do you?’ is two minutes of 90s guitar music, there isn’t much else to say about it other than the fact that it also contains some of the earworm guitar work from Greenwood. The next track, ‘Stop Whispering’ can be taken as a rudimentary indicator of the ’90s rock ballad the band would perfect on. Curvatures with the tastes of ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and ‘High and Dry’. A melodic piece, it could have easily fit on the soundtrack of any coming-of-age movie of the time. ‘Thinking About You’ is more of the same, an interpretation of REM’s style that is perhaps one of the album’s most forgettable moments.

Then halfway through the album, track six, we get the second single and one of his most notable, “Anyone Can Play Guitar”. While incredibly dated, this is an alternative rock classic from the 90s, with one of the catchiest choruses Radiohead has ever written. The line from the chorus: “I want to be in a band when I go to Heaven” couldn’t be more ’90s if it tried. Plus, Greenwood and Ed O’Brien fit together brilliantly on their six strings, offering another taste of what was in store for the not too distant future.

We then get the pretty forgettable ‘Ripcord’ and ‘Vegetable’, two pieces that are revealing of the time. While they weren’t great, they just aren’t anything special, especially since many bands were doing the same thing back then, with the exception of Jonny Greenwood’s strong and unmistakable string curves. . Musically track ten, “Prove Yourself” is one of the highlights, with songwriting characteristics that we would see on Curvatures, the chorus line of “Prove Yourself” where the whole band comes together in vocal unison is scary and excellent. Greenwood’s solo on the track can also be seen as a brief ancestor of “Just”.

‘I Can’t’ is more typical ’90s alternative rock, much like cultivator’ Lurgee ‘, and both contain similar sonic characteristics to its Oxford peers, Ride. These once again left a slight mark on Radiohead on their contemporaries of the time. Particularly on ‘Lurgee’, the band built themselves up to a lo-fi and reverberating crescendo, as we hear at many points on Ride’s debut album, a masterpiece of the 1990s, Nowhere.

Then we come to the last track and the highlight of the album, ‘Blow Out’. A slow-burner, atmospheric and moody, with Greenwood’s jazz-inspired licks intertwined with O’Brien’s hazy arpeggios in the verses, it was the greatest musical indicator of Radiohead’s direction. Close the curtain properly Pablo Honey, over its duration of nearly five minutes, “Blow Out” was a declaration of intent of the group.

The build-up featuring Phil Selway’s battery fillings puts you at the edge of your seat. It then descends into the final part where Greenwood lets the guitar rip, as it slides deeper and deeper up the neck, with the delay and reverb all the way up, it brings the song and album to a visceral climax. , leaving you wanting more. Not only was this the best indicator that the band was about to embark on their first real foray into the more experimental realm, but it was also a clear reflection that Radiohead had a lot more up its sleeve than its alt-contemporaries. rock means.

A mixed bag, Pablo Honey always worth a visit, if only for the highlights. If you want to hear the band in their raw state, this album is for you. Often overlooked, highlights are brilliant when taken against the backdrop of the times. It’s not a revolutionary album by any stretch of the imagination, but in fact when you compare it to the work of many guitar bands today, it contains a lot more cutting edge ideas and songwriting techniques. than the majority of the guitar groups that take to the main stage at Reading and Leeds festivals.

to listen Pablo Honey in full below.

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