Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Primer Part 1: Radiohead- Pablo Honey

Much like the early albums of the Beatles, Pablo Honey lacks a sophistication, timelessness, and artsy polish that later Radiohead albums would have in spades. Going through their discography either backwards or forwards, it always sticks out like a sore thumb. Pablo Honey is very much of its time and hasn't aged very well, its early 90s alt. rock sound interesting mainly for the fact that here was an English band who aped American indie rock of the mid-to-late 80s instead of the on-going British trends of shoegazer and electronica, as well as the nascent 'britpop' scene.

Were I a truly dedicatde fan and Radiohead-ologist, I would dig even further back to the Drill EP or their Manic Hedgehog demo tape. But in the process of re-reviewing all of Radiohead's main works, I've come to realize that sometimes the 'undiscovered' eras of a band are undiscovered for a reason. By which I mean, there's nothing worth discovering here. There are only a handful of songs on Pablo Honey that still hold up, now, in 2009, but even those are more like hints of the brilliance to come than something great in their own right. Radiohead's main impetus in shedding the alt rock sound of Pablo Honey and getting more weird, artsy, and experimental was to distance themselves from the hit song 'Creep', but I've always nursed the notiong that they swore to themselves they would never release another album that was so mediocre and amateurish.

If you wonder what I'm talking about, remember that this is the only Radiohead album with swear words (at least, I think it is), the only Radiohead album with a throwaway like 'Anyone Can Play Guitar', and the only Radiohead album where the bonus hidden track is an edited version of the main single. True, all of this makes the album a little charming for its youth and devil-may-care attitude, but it also makes it a little undercooked and, again, not very sophisticated. A good deal of the lyrics likely embarass Thom Yorke today, just as the things I wrote in junior high and high school do to me. And the music is frequently pedestrian, with little of the imagination and sense of adventure that Radiohead would soon be known for. Only 'You', 'Lurgee', and especially 'Blowout' make this album more than a historical curio.

Yet even as a historical curio, I can't think of any reason why anyone needs this album or needs to hear it. Their next major release, the My Iron Lung EP, is half as long and much more rewarding. You may think I'm being really tough on this album for reasons other than what it is, but even on a good day when I'm feeling joyful and am forgiving of a lot of things, Pablo Honey only rates as a two star experience. No, the fact that I consider the rest of Radiohead's studio albums five star experiences doesn't enter the equation. Pablo Honey is just not very good. Only completionists need apply.

No comments: