Pablo Honey is the debut album from British alternative rock band Radiohead. Though it released to limited commercial success and exposure in 1993, it has since become notable within the genre, mostly due to the success of the album’s hit single, Creep. Despite its limited reach, how does Pablo Honey hold up today in light of Radiohead’s massive successes in the past two decades?
Pablo Honey is the first (and so far, only) Radiohead album that I’ve listened to. That said, having heard about the drastic change in style with their 90s follow-up albums, I don’t have that to go off of and compare against Radiohead's freshman effort.
Pablo Honey trogs along at mellow, if not inconsistent paces. While the opening tracks mix soft-spoken vocals with grungy riffs and instrumentals, it doesn’t take long for later tracks on the album to blend together. And while I’ve found that’s usually expected of unfamiliar albums, in the case of Pablo Honey it’s hard to find variety in the musical style.
Despite the lack of variety in sound, however, there is some quality to be found, particularly within some of the opening tracks. You sets the tone sufficiently enough, laying down the foundations for how the rest of the album will sound. Simple in its design and progression, You stands out as an album highlight simply for being memorable.
As mainstream as it’s become, Creep easily makes the album, it’s slow yet somber riff bursting into a deep, heavy chorus lamenting the narrator’s perceived status as a “creep” and a “weirdo”. For a song that’s one of Radiohead’s greatest hits, Creep settles right in within the album, unlike other successful singles from other bands in what I often call “title-track fatigue.”
While there are some duds to be found within Pablo Honey, the album goes to work in laying down the foundations for Radiohead’s original guitar-driven sound. The album’s gems help to make Pablo Honey a decent listen, as sparse as they may be.
For a debut album, Pablo Honey initially saw little commercial or critical success. The success of its lead single, Creep, would eventually come to mark the album as the foundation from which Radiohead would refine and diversify their sound.
Released a full year before the album in which it’s featured, Creep became a worldwide hit once Pablo Honey released. First becoming a hit in Israel before spreading to the United States, Creep came to overshadow the band as a whole, with many concert goers going to see Radiohead performances simply to hear Creep played live.
Others, however, have cited Pablo Honey as “the album Radiohead made before they were Radiohead”. Citing later works such as their ground-breaking 1997 album OK Computer, many see Pablo Honey as a primitive work before the band really found their creative niche within the alt-rock genre.
Reflecting on the artistic standing of Pablo Honey, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke didn’t have the kindest words shortly after its release. “[Pablo] was quite flawed, and hopefully the [follow-up] will make more sense. I like the first album, but we were very naïve,” said Yorke. “We didn't really know how to use the studio."
Radiohead’s most recent album, A Heart Shaped Pool, released in May of 2016. It features the same main lineup as all previous Radiohead albums have since the band’s inception in 1985 – Thom Yorke on vocals and guitar, Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood on guitar, Colin Greenwood on bass, and Philip Selway on drums.
Next week’s review: Simple Plan’s “No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls”