On Second Thought… Pablo Honey by Radiohead

Each week, we take a retrospective look on albums which we think are either criminally underrated or woefully overrated, and why they actually rock/suck.

Most people tend to overlook Pablo Honey, the debut album by Radiohead, because it will always come up short compared to OK Computer or Amnesiac – but most good alternative rock albums would too. Those albums are timeless classics and rightly so. However, if we look at it from a slightly more objective viewpoint we see that it’s actually a much better effort than a lot of people realise.

The opener, ‘You’, starts fairly innocuously with some clean, harmless picking before a wall of squealing guitars and chunky power chords erupts behind. It takes the emotional essence of grunge but speeds it up to make it feel urgent and aggressive rather than mopey and resigned and is definitely one of the stronger cuts on the album. It’s this urgency that sets the album apart from most grunge releases, as well as a heavy shoegaze influence found most clearly at the codas of ‘Stop Whispering’ and ‘Blow Out’ which sound like they could literally blow out at any point, while still managing to maintain some kind of order in the chaos.

When the quintet slow down the pace in ‘Creep’, ‘Thinking About You’ and ‘Lurgee’, the self-loathing autobiographical lyrics of Morrissey are evoked, but by forgetting his self-assured swagger and dark humour they spiral worryingly towards the mopey resignation of their early peers and end up more like The Cure but louder – miserable but stadium ready. Not necessarily a bad thing but undoubtedly down a very well-trodden path. This means that the goofy and slightly whimsical ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ is an excellent addition, if not just to show that Thom Yorke isn’t a doom-and-gloom one trick pony. The punky punch of ‘How Do You’ also works well for similar reason.

No, this album doesn’t contain a ‘Paranoid Android’ or a ‘Pyramid Song’, but what it does very well is lay the foundations for one of the most inventive and daring rock bands ever. And what it does even better is just be itself – a clever and catchy rock debut, something that a lot of bands could have learned from. In fact, maybe we should rate Pablo Honey as highly as the band’s later efforts for that reason alone…

To revisit this underrated debut, click here.