Spoiled by the odd first-strike masterpiece, it’s hard not to expect a debut album by one of our great hopes to be a finely-crafted statement of intent that encapsulates their nascent genius, gets nine out of ten and establishes its makers as stars-in-waiting.
Some manage it. Some fail miserably. And some make flawed but satisfying things suggest their talent will really blossom later on. Such is “Pablo Honey”.
Anyone who bought Radiohead’s three EPs (great lead tracks, lukewarm supporting features) probably suspected that this would be a patchy affair – but, in truth, it’s much less variable than expected. Sure, the likes of “Blow Out” and “I Can’t” sound rather forgettable, but Radiohead are saved by the inclusion of both “Creep” and “Anyone Can Play Guitar”, and the (cynical) recycling of old material that, though superficially lamentable in a we-hate-you-major-label-shitehawkes kinda way, actually provides this record’s best moments.
Fresh versions of “You” and first single “Prove Yourself” manage to sound ten times more confident than the originals, and the re-hash party’s most satisfying guest is “Thinkin’ About You”. Originally a tinny bit of thrash-pop, it’s transformed here into a startling weepie that oozes Thom Yorke’s trademark self-loathing. “Should I still love you/Still see you in bed/But I’m playing with myself, and what do you care/when the other men are far, far better…”
Nestling next to such wonders, however, there’s one song that’s nothing short of utter rubbish: a two-minute bit of fop-punk called “How Do You” that steals the riff from Sham 69’s “If The Kids Are United” (!) and finds Thom doing an awful Johnny Rotten impression. It breaks the momentum of “Pablo Honey” horribly, momentarily throwing all Radiohead’s tortured sensitivity out of the window and making them sound like beer-gutted losers from the class of ´76.
Still, a satisfying portion of this album gives out a very warm glow – and besides, it’s a debut album, remember? It’s far, far better than the Fannies’ “Catholic Education” or Primal Scream’s “Sonic Flower Groove”, and if it’s hard to shake off a feeling of anti-climatic disappointment, that’s probably our fault, not Radiohead’s. They’re getting there. (7)