With their 1993 debut album, Pablo Honey, British band Radiohead was just starting to forge their interesting sound which brought them much fame later on in the decade. However, in the heavily saturated alternative climate of the early nineties, the album was not given much initial attention until the lead single “Creep” began to gain popularity. That song was written by vocalist and guitarist Thom Yorke in the late 1980s and best symbolized the internalized and tortured themes of angst and alienation in the band’s lyrics. These were brought to life by the dynamically layered strumming fury of a three guitar crunch, strumming fury of their guitar work and the dynamism of their whisper-to-a-scream song structures was the Radiohead sound musically.
The band evolved from a group called On a Friday in Oxford, England in the early 1990s, which included Yorke and brothers Jonny Greenwood on guitar and keyboards and Colin Greenwood on bass. After signing with EMI/Parlophone, the group changed their name to Radiohead and released an EP named Drill in mid 1992. Some critics dubbed the band’s early style as “Nirvana-lite”, which the group actively sought to remedy.
The album was produced by the team of Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie in the autumn 1992 and achieves a sound that is both visceral and intelligent. Since the material used was drawn from material the band had been playing for years, the sessions were completed very quickly. Still, Pablo Honey represents only a small subset of their early material and was described by a band member as their ‘greatest hits as an unsigned band’.
Pablo Honey by Radiohead
|Released: February 22, 1993 (Parlophone)
Produced by: Sean Slade & Paul Q. Kolderie
Recorded: Chipping Norton and Courtyard Studios, Oxfordshire, England, Sep-Nov 1992
How Do You?
Thinking About You
Anyone Can Play Guitar
|Thom Yorke – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jonny Greenwood – Guitars, Piano, Organ
Ed O’Brien – Guitars, Vocals
Colin Greenwood – Bass
Phil Selway – Drums
After the picked and pretty notes of the opener “You”, the radio and video hit “Creep” brings the album to life. Led by the upbeat, almost jazzy bass of Colin Greenwood and drums of Phil Selway during the verse, the heavy noise over chorus is previewed a bit early by a great effect by Jonny Greenwood. Rumour has it, this was initially an attempt to “ruin” this song which he he did not like, but became a great happy accident.
“How Do You?” is like punk with excess twangy guitars and contains a snippet of the Jerky Boys skit which gave the album its title. “Stop Whispering” never really leaves the main riff and only the drum shuffle by Selway rescues the song from being mundane. Still the song, written as a tribute to the group the Pixies, reached the Top 25 of the Mainstream Rock charts. The strummed acoustic of “Thinking About You” gives the album some diversity early on and is Yorke’s best vocal performance, brought out by sparse arrangement.
“Anyone Can Play Guitar” is driven mainly by the bass riff of Colin Greenwood, offbeat drums, and the later triple-layered guitars from Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Ed O’Brien. The song was the second single from the album but made relatively little impression on the charts. On “Ripcord” the chorus descends nicely and melodically while verse alternates between strummed and crunchy riffs.
Through the album’s stretch run it settles into a nice groove with moderately interesting tunes. Some highlights include the almost country/blues electric picking of “Vegetable”, the high register vocals of “Prove Yourself”, and the good, moderate sound of “Lurgee” with dual picked guitars, quality bass and drums, and a some compositional restraint. “Blow Out” makes for an apt and interesting closer, with a jazzy overall vibe, duet vocals, and intense interludes between sections with wild guitar effects by Johnny Greenwood.
Following the release of Pablo Honey, the band would digress from its alternative influences and evolve towards more expansive and experimental works. The album topped off at number 22 on the UK charts and never really made much critical or a commercial waves until the success of future albums.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.