When we think of Pablo Honey, Radiohead’s 1993 debut, two thoughts usually pop into our heads:
- It’s the album with “Creep” on it.
- It’s the album Radiohead made before they were Radiohead.
There are kernels of truth to both of those statements, but neither one paints a complete picture. Pablo Honey is a complicated album, and one certainly worth exploring if you’re a true Radiohead fan, or even if you’re just curious about the band’s development. While it pales in comparison to the band’s later masterpieces, Pablo Honey is still certainly worth your time, and it gives us some strong hints that the band would eventually evolve into something great.
Pablo Honey is something of a disjointed album. At times, we see signs of the great band they would eventually become, while there are also plenty of moments where the band seems totally indistinguishable from any other alternative act at that time. The most logical take away from this is that the band was still figuring out how to write great music. They found success here and there, but couldn’t keep it going through out the length of an LP.
The finest tracks here — as well as the most clear indicators of what Radiohead would evolve into — are the first two, “You” and the aforementioned “Creep.” Since the ladder has been discussed more than enough already, let’s talk about “You.” It starts the album off on a stark note, with dark lyrics and an even darker atmosphere. Four years before OK Computer, this song gave us the indication that Thom Yorke could eventually write something as intriguingly creepy as “Climbing Up The Walls.” From track 1 of album 1, Radiohead’s abilities to explore the dark side of human thought were abundantly clear.
One of the least-discussed tracks from Pablo Honey is the acoustic confession “Thinking About You,” in which Yorke laments in ex-girlfriend who is more successful than he is, but is also surrounded by fake friends (or so he thinks anyway). Even more than “Creep,” this was a brutally honest song, and pointed in the direction of the most devastating tracks from The Bends such as “Fake Plastic Trees,” and “Bulletproof…I Wish I Was.” When Yorke sings about “playing with” himself, it’s a tad cringeworthy, but in a good way. His lyrics would become more sophisticated on later releases, but the raw honesty on display here is something to behold.