February 22, 2018 Radiohead – Pablo Honey 25 Years Later
“What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here….”
Rarely would a mere couple of lines could make a quick and recognizable impression on the ears and recall on the psyche of a music enthusiast about the band behind such a compelling song! For sure, anyone who had heard that bittersweet, self-loathing Rock ballad for the first time, especially in the 1990s, easily fell in love with it and became a convert right there and then.
Most likely, any fan of Alternative Rock music was feeling like an outcast at least for once upon a time in his perceived miserable life. Yes, heaven knows how miserable he once felt. “Weirdos, disaffected youths, and creeps of the scene, unite!” was the rebel yell of the day. United, they raved about and championed behind the little band that was formed in 1985, in Oxfordshire, England; the supersonic architects who gave them such an ear-piercing and mind-blowing, yet heart-melting nobody-loves-me anthem, which became one of the songs that defined ’90s Alternative Rock. That band was none other than Radiohead.
Now one of the most revered survivors of the ’90s Alternative Rock scene, Radiohead were—and, significantly, remain to be—Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards), Ed O’Brien (guitar, backing vocals), Phil Selway (drums, percussion, backing vocals), and the brothers Jonny (lead guitar, keyboards, other instruments) and Colin Greenwood (bass). To this day, the quintet keep on pushing the boundaries of Rock music, continually experimenting with other genres and progressively evolving. The stylistic trajectory of their nine-album studio discography is a testament of this persistence. However, everything started twenty-five years ago…with Pablo Honey, their debut work.
Released on Monday, February 22, 1993, on Parlophone Records in the United Kingdom and on Capitol Records in the United States a couple of months later on April 20th, Pablo Honey gradually but ultimately catapulted the band into the center of the flourishing Alternative Rock scene in the 1990s, on the colossal wings of its carrier single – “Creep.”
Pablo Honey opened with the sweet-sour, semi-acoustic crunch of “You,” with which the band’s trademark whisper-to-a-scream vocal styling and guitar dynamics that were defined by the marked interplay of acoustic plucks and distorted grates became immediately apparent. This was followed by the mighty “Creep,” which Radiohead described as their Scott Walker song (Ultimately became known also as a proponent of 21st-century Avant-Garde music, Walker is a British-American singer-songwriter who was a Pop icon in the 1960s and many of whose classic hit singles were characterized by his baritone voice and their Baroque Pop arrangements).
“How Do You?” then came bursting next like a speeding meteorite with its cacophony of fuzzy guitars and Yorke’s punky vocal swagger, reminiscent of Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols (“Anarchy in the U.K.”) and predating the similar assault orchestrated by the Gallagher brothers and the rest of Oasis (“Rock ’N’ Roll Star”) couple of years later. Then there was the mellifluous, U2-rattling and New Wave–humming “Stop Whispering,” which started calmly only to soar high mid-song with the power of Yorke’s soulful, crackling voice and then fade in and fade out altogether unsuspectingly with a barrage of heavenly distorted guitars. The ensuing “Thinking About You” was a breath of fresh, acoustic breeze – soft and smooth with its subtle but emphatic strums underlined with flowing stream of strings.
Another upbeat, dynamic track that served as an epitome of the classic slow-fast, timid-angry, saccharine-acrid, feedback-laden buzzy sound of ’90s Alternative Rock came next in the form of “Anyone Can Play Guitar,” whose lyrical sentiments of detachment from the chaos around the band at the time was another facet of the song. It certainly joined the league of similarly styled songs from that era, like Sloan’s “Raspberry,” Sugar’s “Helpless,” and Screaming Trees’ “Nearly Lost You.” The samevibes flowed into the guitar-drenched “Ripcord” and “Vegetable.”
Definitely a tad Grunge and a bit Shoegaze, “Prove Yourself” and “I Can’t” further displayed Yorke’s angelic façade that could explode into devilish smithereens of fury anytime he willed it to, accompanied by the same tendencies of his ever-dependable, solid rhythm section of O’Brien, Selway, and the brothers Greenwood. Even Kurt Cobain must have smelled a sense of affinity with the music of Yorke and the rest of Radiohead during those times; or maybe not, considering Nirvana’s head spirit’s volatile temperament, but that is beside the point. Radiohead, and Nirvana for that matter, have nothing to prove anymore to anyone anyway.
Penultimately, Radiohead capped off Pablo Honey with the dusty and sweaty countryside sensibilities of “Lurgee,” and then finally with the jazzy and Bossa Nova feel of “Blow Out.” The teen street spirit flies… then fades out.
Because of the geyser-like shot to stellar heights of “Creep,” even Yorke had developed a love-and-hate relationship with this song of theirs. However, whatever he and the rest of Radiohead and many of their punters and detractors say about it and the album itself, the 25-year-old Pablo Honey will always be one of Alternative Rock’s landmark albums that served as the soundtrack to the younger days of many music enthusiasts who once loathed themselves as among the world’s disaffected youth. If 25 years later they were able to move on, then the more they should revisit the album with nostalgic affection. Good times, great memories.
After all, even Yorke and his comrades have long learned to let go of their ambivalent feelings toward the ballad that immensely helped them to achieve great success and longevity. Creeps, they no longer are. The now certified Rockstars have really come so far.