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  • Writer's pictureJulian Guerrero

Pablo Honey: Is It Really THAT Bad?

Pablo Honey, the album that began it all for Radiohead. It is remembered by both the fans and the band for being the album that both made and nearly broke Radiohead’s career. Perhaps even more infamous than the album itself is its lead single “Creep,” which catapulted Radiohead into the limelight. Yet, despite all the success it brought the band, it is seldom regarded favorably. The whole album is seen as something alien to what Radiohead is really all about. For those who aren’t diehard Radiohead fans such as myself, this might be a bit confusing; normally when a band hates their hit song, it’s one that fans of the band love--yet “Creep” is not. What is so bad about Pablo Honey that the fans and the band both hate it?

Well, on the most basic level, fans agree that the album simply doesn’t “sound” like Radiohead. It sounds like some awkward grunge band with a really whiny singer--and not in a good way. In my own unprofessional opinion, it was a product of its time; it took in what was popular and attempted to ride that. Digging a little bit deeper into Radiohead’s history, you can definitely tell this is the case. Radiohead, before they were signed to EMI, went by the name On A Friday, and they recorded a demo which featured a sound quite different from that of Pablo Honey. If you can believe it, Thom Yorke used to pen upbeat lyrics--a far cry from the wailing cry that is “Stop Whispering.”

On a deeper level, the loathing for this album goes beyond the music. This era of the band was plagued with a massive and keystone struggle against being pigeonholed. See, while “Creep” had brought them mainstream success, it had also trapped them. People were, quite literally, going to their concerts and leaving as soon as they finished playing “Creep.” The band grew to hate the song because it was the only thing people ever wanted to hear from them. The most infamous product of this infuriation is possibly their 1993 performance live at the MTV Beach House, where they had been told to do a double-performance of “Creep” back-to-back, and in protest, played the song “Anyone Can Play Guitar” as dramatically as possible. The performance is now an infamous meme amongst Radiohead fans.

On a level deeper-still, the album is loathed by Radiohead fans because it is not an accurate representation of the band’s sound. It is an artifact of Radiohead’s first mainstream incarnation, an image and sound that Radiohead has since massively broken away from. Every album after Pablo Honey has been a departure from the grungy alt-rock stylings of that album, in songwriting, imagery, and lyricism. 1995’s The Bends brought in a new era of Radiohead, one that marked a sound they’d become iconic for. It gave Radiohead an escape, becoming part of the post-Britpop scene. It freed them from the iron lung that was “Creep.” 1997’s OK Computer brought yet another departure, sporting a varied and innovative sound. A mix of art rock, prog rock, space rock, and experimental -- in addition to being Radiohead’s first concept album. It was the culmination of all that Radiohead had been at that point, and a window into what the band would become in the future. OK Computer is widely regarded as Radiohead’s best album, and with good reason. It was also the last album the band would ever make that used a guitar rock-type sound, as its 2000 follow-up Kid A saw the band break itself down and redefine their sound. Naturally, then, fans become jaded when they hear people write Radiohead off as “the Creep band.”

All in all, this album isn’t terrible, but it’s immature compared to the rest of the band’s discography. It’s a bad album in the most objective sense possible, in that it’s more like a collection of songs that may or may not fit together-- like a demo tape --rather than a proper album. Pablo Honey has neither a central theme nor the iconic album composition that Radiohead has become known for.

Cover photo credits to Brett Jordan on Flickr

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