‘Pablo Honey’: The Beginnings of Radiohead’s Metamorphosis by Jake Robinson

Posted on March 13, 2013

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The 22nd of February marked the 20th anniversary of Radiohead’s debut album, Pablo Honey. Released on the coattails of the breakout angst-ridden hit ‘Creep’, Pablo Honey was initially well received, further singles ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ and ‘Stop Whispering’ put the album on the path to platinum status. The album fleshed out with tracks such as ‘You’, ‘Lurgee’ and ‘Blowout’ appeared to begin to justify the music press’ claims of the band as the “British Nirvana”, holding the mantle for the disaffected self-loathing youths and ended up featuring on many publications’ end of the year lists.

While this may have been enough give the album a place in the annals of early 90’s alternative rock history, what makes Pablo Honey of specific note is its role as the precursor to one of the most spectacular metamorphoses in popular musical history. Perhaps only The Beatles and David Bowie have made as radically, influential and successful artistic twists. Over the course of the 20 years following Pablo Honey Radiohead transformed into a musical behemoth bestriding the worlds of critical acclaim and popularity like few others.

The album cover for Pablo Honey.

The album cover for Pablo Honey.

Pablo Honey is somewhat the runt of the family in comparison to the train of classic albums that followed in its wake; The Bends (1995), OK Computer (1997) and Kid A (2000) all feature prominently in many ‘best album ever’ lists and conversations. Without the melancholic density of The Bends, the impending sense of dread and urban alienation of OK Computer, or the radical experimentation of the any of the 21st century outputs, it is somewhat understandable that Pablo Honey hasn’t had the same longevity. It’s interesting to note how, with the arrival of this anniversary, and the rise of 90’stalgia, Pablo Honey is going through somewhat of a revival in opinion after years of being overshadowed by its successors.

With this anniversary in mind and the recent release of Thom Yorke’s side project Atoms for Peace’s album, we have perhaps the perfect reason to reflect upon what a sensationally vibrant and eccentric band Radiohead is.

Pablo Honey

Your favorite if: you just really, really love ‘Creep’ and like angst more than melancholy.

Key tracks: ‘Creep’, ‘Thinking About You’, ‘Blowout’

The Bends

Your favorite if: you love your amps set to 11 and your melancholic sing-along level set to perfect. You may also be secretly angry that Radiohead ever discovered computers and evolved.

Key tracks: ‘Fake Plastic Trees’,’ Just’, ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’

OK Computer

Your favorite if: your love of guitar based rock is tempered by an appreciation of world alienation and a possible fear of computers taking over humanity.

Key tracks: ‘Paranoid Android’, ‘Let Down’, ‘Karma Police’

Kid A

Your favorite if: you’re blown away by the combination of musical experimentation, sonic ingenuity and a combination of songs that flow together as well as any ever trapped in vinyl.

Key tracks: ‘Everything in its Right Place’, ‘The National Anthem’, ‘Idioteque’

Amnesiac

Your favorite if: you loved Kid A’s experimentalism, but also songs with chorus and believe that an LP should be eclectic.

Key tracks: ‘Pyramid Song’, ‘You and Whose Army?’, ‘Knives Out’

Hail to the Thief

Your favorite if: a mix of political acknowledgement and Orwellian fear coupled with schizophrenic deployments of guitars and electronic beats is your bag.

Key tracks: ‘2+2=5’, ‘The Gloaming’, ‘There There’

In Rainbows

Your favorite if: you saw past the hullaballoo regarding the release tactics and see a culmination of all that’s gone before in a perfectly arranged combination.

Key tracks:  ‘15 Step’, ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’, ‘Reckoner’

The King of Limbs

Your favorite if: you’ve devoured every prior effort and see the primarily rhythmic based direction as the most exciting development yet.

Key tracks: ‘Bloom’, ‘Lotus Flower’, ‘Codex’

Jake Robinson is You’re Dripping Egg’s music writer. His column, Stereo in a Forest, is released every second Tuesday.

Are you loving the revival of Pablo Honey? Or was it rightly the runt? What is your favourite Radiohead album?  Sing out in the comments!

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