Review Summary: An strong collection of music from Radiohead's Pablo Honey era
When “Itch” was released in 1993, Radiohead
was still just another Brit rock band, having met only limited success with their first album “Pablo Honey”, released a year earlier. “Creep” was already a hit, but otherwise the group received little widespread recognition. “Itch” serves as a companion piece to “Pablo Honey”, containing alternative versions of many of the songs from that album and a couple unique songs that are otherwise impossible to find. Surprisingly, it makes for one of the group’s strongest EP’s. It lacks an all-out classic like “Creep” or, I would say, “Blow Out”, but plenty of the songs are extremely fun and memorable. One of the strongest aspects of “Pablo Honey” was the strength of the punk-rock, Greenwood-driven guitar textures, and “Itch” contains plenty of that. Here Radiohead
is sassy, young, loud, and rebellious.
The first track, the US version of “Stop Whispering”, stands up solidly to the much longer original version. Radiohead
has never sounded more like R.E.M, and it’s a great, unusually pleasant track. Thom is as beautiful as ever as he wails “Stop whispering/Start shouting”, and the altered instrumentation makes for a laid-back, bubbly effect that matches with cover art. Next is another alternate song, this time the Drill EP version of “Thinking About You”. The electric guitars boom in full force, overwhelming an aggressive vocal part. It’s a downbeat tune that very much represents the group’s second-tier status at the time. “Been thinking about you/Your record's a hit” carries into “Who bribed the company to come and see you honey?”, an outcry, I would guess, against the many who bought “Pablo Honey” just to hear “Creep”, a song that the band was probably already beginning to loathe. As a song it’s a slight step down from the acoustic version on “Pablo Honey”, although it’s still plenty interesting to hear.
“Faithless, the Wonder Boy” is a hilarious romp. Thom cries out “I want the toys of other boys/I want a knife and a gun and things/But mom and dad will not give in”, signaling a loud instrumental entrance. It’s an elaborate, fully-formed song that’s better than plenty of “Pablo Honey”. “Banana Co.”, the first acoustic piece, uses an unusual blues style unremarkably. It’s an odd song that’s worth listening to but a bit unremarkable.
“Killer Cars”, available elsewhere in rock form, is here as a live acoustic piece, and it’s another highlight. It’s energetic, fun, and quite funny, and also perhaps the first instance (I’m not sure if “Stupid Cars” came before this or not) of Thom’s car-phobia. “Too hard at the brakes again/What if these brakes just give in?/ What if they don't get out of the way?/What if there's someone overtaking? I'm going out for a little drive, and it could be the last time you see me alive” is hilarious, and the deadpan seriousness with which Thom performs sings the piece makes the whole thing even more comical.
Live versions of “Vegetable” and “You” follow. They’re both very loud and grungy. The group’s talent, even at this early of a stage, shines through the live performances, and there’s a great moment in “Vegetable” when Thom demands “More screaming” from the audience.
The final track, and acoustic version of “Creep”, is a real dud. It’s also available on the “My Iron Lung” EP, and what sounds like an interesting idea works out quite poorly. The acoustic part itself is alright, but the lack of Jonny’s guitar blasts takes away a lot of the song’s power. It’s basically the same song but with the best parts removed, including the embarrassing and repeated replacement of one notably effective word with “very”.
Overall “Itch” is a very strong EP that’s well-worth your money, and it gives a good picture of the Radiohead
’s state of mind during their early “Pablo Honey” phase.