CD Review of Pablo Honey: 2-CD Collector’s Edition by Radiohead
Radiohead: Pablo Honey: 2-CD Collector’s Edition
Recommended if you like
Recommended if you like: Bjork, Massive Attack, Doves
Label
Capitol
Radiohead:
Pablo Honey
2-CD Collector’s Edition

Reviewed by Will Harris

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A
ny time you get a bunch of music fans together and the topic of Radiohead comes up, in the midst of all the rhapsodic love being offered up for The Bends, OK Computer, and on down the line, there’s always at least one asshole who feels the need to pipe up and say, "Y’know, I gotta tell ya, I haven’t really loved anything they’ve done since Pablo Honey."

Ladies and gentlemen, I am that asshole.

It would be foolhardy to suggest that the Radiohead albums don’t feature the sound of a band that’s found its direction and isn’t afraid to follow it, but to look back at their debut album is to be reminded that they weren’t doing all that bad to begin with.

Certainly, the record is best remembered for its albatross of a single, "Creep," which got so popular that the band came to abhor it for awhile. Not that you can blame them, particularly if you yourself were one of the many drunken collegians who loved to slur the lines, "You’re so fucking special," then hoot at the knowledge that you’d just sung an obscenity. But we’re 15-plus years down the pike, and the song still remains an anthem for the self-loathing.

What’s far more notable, however, is that, on Pablo Honey, Radiohead had yet to begin the process of what less tactful journalists might describe as "disappearing up their own arseholes," which is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that the album is named after a line from the Jerky Boys. The music from this era of the band’s career is less about attempting to create an atmosphere and more about writing proper songs in traditional formats. In this so-called "collector’s edition" of Pablo Honey, which also offers up songs from prior to and immediately after the release, you’re provided with ample evidence that the group would never stand still creatively, but back then, they seemed so much more…fun.

Part of the credit must go to producers Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, who give the band’s material the kind of crunch you just can’t imagine Nigel Godrich ever being able to manage. The punchy growl of songs like "How Do You?" and "Ripcord" would likely astonish those who only know the band from their latest work, while the duo also successfully utilizes their American sensibilities to bring Radiohead’s inner R.E.M. to the forefront on "Vegetable" and "Lurgee."

The big selling point for the diehards is the inclusion of the bonus second disc, but even that will no doubt cause some of the obsessives to twitch. Although the song selection spans the Drill EP and four singles ("Creep," "Anyone Can Play Guitar," "Pop Is Dead," and "Stop Whispering") and provides a mixture of B-sides, demos, live tracks, acoustic performances, alternate versions, and remixes, it’s still not 100% complete. Perhaps it’s because of rights issues (though it could simply be a matter of being embarrassed about the folly of youth), but we’re forced to go without the contents of the band’s Manic Hedgehog demo tape, which means that we don’t get to hear "Phillipa Chicken." Thankfully, however, there’s a version of "Nothing Touches Me" amongst the four tracks included from the band’s BBC Radio Session of 6/22/92.

Pablo Honey emerged at a strange time for music, and Radiohead found themselves in a confusing environment where, by being neither grunge nor Britpop, they needed to stand out from the crowd. There’s no denying that they achieved that goal in spades, but it’s nice to be able to look back at their baby pictures, as it were, and see how young and carefree they used to be. We’ll probably never have that band back, but if you go listen to Rainbows and then follow it up with Pablo Honey, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wishing that Radiohead could take a few steps back and maybe lighten up a bit.

Well, musically speaking, anyway. If this reissue reminds us of nothing else, it reaffirms that, even at their most jocular, Radiohead were never all that upbeat.

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