Britpop and grunge, two loose terms, come to a head on Pablo Honey. Radiohead are not ones to frequently oversee absolute car crash albums yet here they are, pooling their thoughts as they slip out of the wreckage. Debut albums are given leeway for most, but the name slapped onto this one and the hindsight of quality, the benefit of looking back with OK Computer clutched to for dear life, means Pablo Honey is the foul-smelling, awkward little beginnings for a band who moved away. Taking Creep out of here and moving on appears to be the best-case scenario for those who love the band. But it takes away from other little notes of greatness which filter through. This is the welcome beginning of a band that would storm through and take the terminally online crowd by storm.
As such, the respectable charms and the wailing guitar, the heavier touches of the grunge influence on opener You, are imitable and soaked in truth. Thom Yorke spirals through the despondent narration, the world-ending fears and the lack of self-belief which is toyed with nicely through heavier instrumentals. Little more can be said for the defiant Creep, it is the single which makes sense. Defining Radiohead for the misfits out there finding their personality in new and unique artists, Creep settles well but the lukewarm reception to the parts surrounding it is a shock to the system. Consider the rising expectations of the lust and raging guitar on Anyone Can Play Guitar. Pablo Honey may feel a little disconnected from the jagged edges of later, genre-bending works, but every band needs an essential, accessible route. This debut feels like that more with every listen.
Where Pablo Honey becomes a tad stilted is when it finds itself sounding like the other big groups of the time. Moments of independence come through but so too do the R.E.M. and U2 feelings on Stop Whispering, a lengthy bit of work which sees Yorke come to terms with his lyrical capabilities. It may serve as a platform for this, but it also leaves the band in the dust of those who came before them. But through the pursuit of their own image, the heavier clashes come through, particularly from Greenwood. Anyone Can Play Guitar, the fuzzy introduction and the darker tones ahead of its time, show not everyone can in fact pick up an instrument. Godspeed to those who do though, and Greenwood is in fine form for most of Pablo Honey. Seedy little numbers which drift away from Radiohead’s future works.
Pull their ripcord and watch them move away from pure and consistent if somewhat repetitive, rock roots to the ascension of their style. Radiohead had to start somewhere although an album which has tracks which feel quintessential for the soundtrack of early-2000s comedies is not where people will best place the band. Rightly so, although the hard times Pablo Honey now falls on do seem to be a bit of a shame. Even when the band find themselves pushing through a fight which is not theirs, their commitment to Vegetable and the rock roots of what they provide here is admirable and full of soul. Commitment would guide Radiohead far away from these roots, but there is nothing to be ashamed of in Pablo Honey, far from it.