A quick survey of albums released in 1993 (not counting Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers), which we reviewed in February): Nirvana In Utero; Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream; The Flaming Lips Transmissions From the Satellite Heart; A Tribe Called Quest Midnight Marauders; Pearl Jam Vs.; Snoop Dogg Doggystyle; The Afghan Whigs Gentlemen; Liz Phair Exile in Guyville; Frank Black Frank Black; Digable Planets Reachin’...; Polvo Today’s Active Lifestyles; PJ Harvey Rid of Me; Mazzy Star So Tonight That I Might See; The Cranberries Everybody Else is Doing It…; Blur Modern Life is Rubbish; Suede Suede; The Breeders Last Splash; Stereolab Transient Random Noise-Bursts With Announcements; and U2 Zooropa.
Whew! Now be honest. How many of you really thought back then in the middle of that onslaught of awesome music that five unknown dudes from Oxford, England, would grow up to rule the world? How many picked Pablo Honey from 1993's maelstrom of unrepentant aural disorder and pinned it to the wall as a landmark? How many donned their visionary spectacles and peered deep into the future, to a time when hipsters, lawyers and boozehounds alike would croon a single called “Creep” at every karaoke bar from L.A. to Helsinki to Seoul?
Not I, I must admit. In addition to being immersed in my own various musical caprices with many of the bands mentioned above, and including Blind Melon, Live, Ween, and the last of the grunge and alt rock bands of my youth, I was also just distracted. 1993 was the year I graduated high school and began my college career, the recipient of a four-year scholarship. I was independent, making great new friends and finally getting my mack on with a ferocity that made up for awkward lost time. Things were looking rosy indeed, and Radiohead escaped my notice. Well that’s not true. I remember a bar table conversation with friends in those heady, haughty days about the songs “Creep” and Beck's “Loser” coming out so close together. We laughed at how sad people must’ve been to sing along to those songs. We certainly didn’t feel that way. We were so fucking special…
Inevitably, as John Lennon said, I found out. But by that time, I wasn’t listening to Pablo Honey; I was driving around the nighttime streets of Los Angeles with my buddy, Mike Johnson, blasting OK Computer at top volume. No longer in the comforting nursery-like confines of Chapel Hill, having traveleled the world a bit and had a look around, and finally confirmed as a tiny anonymous guppy in an ocean full of strange and beautiful sea creatures, I began to get my “Creep” on well and proper.
All of the overarching themes of Radiohead—isolation, indecision, self-doubt, being on the wrong end of a painfully funny cosmic joke, shady, wilting love—all are there in a nascent stage on Pablo Honey. It is fascinating to listen to the album over again now at what is perhaps the end of the band’s run, at least after the generous, mindblowing world tour last year and the supreme summary statement of swagger and grace that was In Rainbows. Pablo Honey is an album apart, unlike even The Bends, which, though only one album later, sounds more like the rest of the discography that would follow, only in a folkier, “unplugged” kind of way.
Pablo Honey is a young man’s record. A juvenile statement my master artists and technicians finding and developing their talents. Of course, “Creep” is a masterwork, but many of the other tracks, though wonderful songs full of uncompromising, intricate guitar fusillades, are not quite “there.” “Thinking About You” is beautiful and sad in its simplicity, but lacks the biting, heartbreaking double-entendre and turns of phrase that would devastate on OK Computer. “Anyone Can Play Guitar” flashes that sardonic wit, beginning with an ode to Jim Morrison as rock god/anti-hero/buffoon, but doesn’t lacerate the way later songs would, settling for the Greenwoods’ premium example of the title.
But none of this gets to the point of the record. The mood of Pablo Honey is, perhaps fittingly, the mood the band employed in their live shows this past summer (of which Sara and I were lucky enough to see two). Particularly Thom Yorke, who sings about morose or angry subjects with a dissembling, mischievous glee. A pissed off, confused kid whose gonna tear down the house of cards with gusto and smile afterwards.
Pablo Honey is a perfect album for hot days coming up. Stop whispering. Start shouting. Roll down the windows and crank this record at full volume. Because by now, after all the bullshit and the hard lessons, you are so fucking special. And, hopefully, still a creep.
RADIOHEAD PABLO HONEY, 1993, Capitol Records (2008 Limited Edition LP re-issue)