Wednesday, January 5, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 223: Radiohead

It's 2011 and I can't help think I'm living in the future. Kind of like that last Radiohead album I reviewed with all those futuristic sounds that were a bit offputting.

The future is great, but I was just as happy to go back to the past this time around.

Disc 223 is...Pablo Honey
Artist: Radiohead

Year of Release: 1993

What’s Up With The Cover?: A baby's face in the middle of a flower. This cover does not inspire. Attention rock musicians: please keep babies off your album covers - leave that territory for pop artists, and Biggie Smalls.

How I Came To Know It: Another early nineties disc introduced to me upon its release by my then-roommate and buddy, Greg. Since then Sheila has become a big Radiohead fan, but I've known this album all the way back.

How It Stacks Up: We have seven Radiohead albums. "Pablo Honey" is my favourite, edging out "The Bends".

Rating: 4 stars.

Over the last ten years Radiohead has gotten into a pretty expiremental electronica sound, and truth be told it hasn't always been sweet to my ears. In fact, I'll go with 'seldom'.

That is why it was such a treat to roll "Pablo Honey" on the Odyssey - which is the early Radiohead sound that I've always preferred.

I know that "Pablo Honey" doesn't get the same critical acclaim as later Radiohead albums. In fact, I was once told they did this record just to make some money and allow them to branch out and do all the less commercial stuff later. I have no idea if that is true, but if it is, it is more than a little ironic that "Pablo Honey" charted the worst of all their releases.

Not in my books - this record is solid alternative rock. In places it reminds me strongly of early Smashing Pumpkins, but making any comparison is a little unfair for Radiohead, who have always had their own distinctive sound, even on the relatively straightforward "Pablo Honey".

The first seven songs on the record are exceptional, among them the released single "Creep" which continues to be a favourite through generations of music fans, almost twenty years after it's release. "Creep" is an anthem for anyone who's ever felt inadequate (i.e. - all of us):

"You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You're so fucking special

But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here."

By turning feelings of self-loathing into a rock anthem, Radiohead empowered a generation of presumed outcasts to revel in their own differences, rather than shy away from them. And not in some lame Disney movie kind of way - but in an unflinching way, willing to own our weaker natures warts and all.

My only quibble would be that "Pablo Honey" has a hidden thirteenth track which is the radio-friendly version of "Creep", minus the swear words. This type of self-censorship I can live without. I expect it from idiotic acts like the Black Eyed Peas ("Let's Get It Started"), but I hold Radiohead to a higher standard.

I've heard "Creep" hundreds of times, but on this listen two other songs really grabbed my attention; "Stop Whispering" and "Anyone Can Play Guitar". Both have that same outsider anthem feel to them, but they have a much more positive bent.

While all the songs on "Pablo Honey" are straightforward rock and roll, they are still innovative songs, with a good and even-handed mix of all instruments in production, evocative lyrics and the haunting vocals of Thom Yorke, still possessing an alien quality, but with an inner core that is quintessentially human. It is this latter part that helps me identify with this album, and it is its absence that detaches me from this band's later work.

If this album is pablum to hardcore Radiohead fans, I can only say that for me it is also honey.

Best tracks: Creep, Stop Whispering, Thinking About You, Anyone Can Play Guitar, Ripchord

1 comment:

Sheila said...

I should listen to this album more.