Everything starts somewhere. An obvious statement it may seem, but relevant none-the-less, especially when applied to music. All bands have started somewhere and rarely is it the case that what they started with is anything like what they are in ten years time, something that is definitely true with Radiohead. As a debut album, Pablo Honey wasn't really a success, it fitted under the Brit pop umbrella well but it wasn't special enough for it to be noticed. Its first single, Creep was an unmitigated disaster to start with but upon its re-release it became a worldwide hit, bringing Radiohead into public eye and with it, their debut album, their start, Pablo Honey.
The album kicks of with You, a grungy number about Yorke's obsessive love for someone, a theme that crops up many times through the album. As an opener You works well introducing the band as a whole and showcasing their talents and also one of their trademark odd time signatures, 23/8. A highlight of this song is Thom's great singing, dreamy yet piercing he cut through the mix and takes turns with Jonny Greenwood's fantastic guitar work as a means of carrying the song.
Moving on we find the band's mega hit, Creep. Like You, Creep is a simple love song mixed with self depreciative chorus "I'm a creep I'm a wierdo what the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here." These two themes were on par with the current grunge and Brit pop scene at the time although it failed on it's first release, it's re-release a year launched Radiohead onto national air waves. The song its self isn't ground breaking but it works a treat, no fancy instrumental work here, just a simple melody and Yorke's beautiful singing, his falsetto providing the most heart wrenching moment on the album along with the piano laden outro.
Next up is the simple rocker, How Do You? It's the fastest rockiest song on the album and although it talks of a power freak who "steals and bullies any way that he can", the song has a fun anthemic chorus that gives an interesting contrast to the lyrics. Credit here should go to the instrumental side of the band; Phil Selway's drumming is energetic and fast-paced and provides a good backing track for the Greenwood brothers and O'Brien to put their riffs to.
Sadly we now come to the albums first low. Stop Whispering is a nice enough track but it sounds to me like a re-hashed lacklustre version of Creep. The instrumental side of it isn’t too bad but it isn’t amazing either. All the band member do their respective jobs well but the track just seems to lack the energy or passion that the first three did, towards the end it livens up and Selway does some nice drumming but the song soon ends and doesn’t really leave much of an impression behind.
Thankfully the album’s second highlight is next; Thinking About You is an acoustic ballad that repeats the obsessive love theme. Unlike the first two tracks, Thinking About You sounds so heartfelt and romantic as though Yorke is singing to his loved one while recording the track. Instrumentally the song is simple and but work perfectly, there’s no drums just acoustic guitar, keyboards, to me, this song is reminds me of “Hey There Delilah” just better.
We now nearly at half way, and the song to end this half is the great, Anyone Can Play Guitar. The verses are minimal and feature some good bass work by Colin, however the main highlight of the song is the chorus, it is quintessentially brit pop and shows Yorke’s love of music rather than a person, simply put, Yorke is saying that if the world were to end he would be playing guitar while it happened and will be playing it while he’s in heaven. Cringe worthy it may seem but it’s still a great track and is quite optimistic which is an added bonus as it’s the last good song until Blow Out, it’s a broad statement I know but I really think it’s true, there’s only so long until the same sound gets boring, and no amount of good singing or guitar work can undo that. So while tracks seven to eleven may have their good moments, but only Prove Yourself is worth listening to all the way through, and even then it doesn’t even come close to being a highlight of the album.
So without dwelling on the matter for much longer let’s skip the said tracks! To end the album there is the chilled out, Blow Out. The first quarter of the track is subdued and focuses on Thom’s flowing vocals about what seems to be crucifixion “In my mind and nailed into my heals” but soon become less understandable. The song still keeps the main bass line but becomes heavier and has a fantastic guitar solo that isn’t really a guitar solo, more a screaming mess of feedback and reverb, finally the track ends, and with it, the album.
So what can be said of Pablo Honey? It starts of good, great in fact, but by half way it’s boring, there’s only so far that one sound can take an album and Pablo Honey far surpasses this limit. Not even the climactic Blow Out is enough to redeem the second half. Lyrically, Yorke isn’t at his prime yet but he’s on his way there and it shows, his best moments include Thinking About You and Creep where he reveals his innermost feelings and sings them in a unique style that is soft and romantic but is also haunting and piercing. Back to my beginning statement, everything starts somewhere, and you may hate what they started with, but without Pablo Honey, Radiohead would never have been.