|St. Louis Post-Dispatch, october 15th 1993|
Not Just Another One-Hit Wonder
by Alan Sculley
WITH Radiohead's upwardly mobile song "Creep" getting heavy-duty attention (Rolling Stone magazine recently proclaimed the tune "single of the moment"), the British band could certainly be flirting with One-Hit Wonder Land.
That prospect is not lost on guitarist Jon Greenwood, who hopes "Creep" will prompt fans to discover there's more to Radiohead than the ear-grabbing, unconventional single.
"I would agree that it's probably the best song on the album. And there's a lot of inverted snobbery that bands get into when they have a successful song. They want to play a song down. But I think we realize we're happy with it, that song.
"But, yeah, there are at least five what I consider to be really good songs on the album," Greenwood said of "Pablo Honey," the group's debut album. "And even the ones that don't work so well still sound very good live, I think. They weren't recorded perfectly, but we're happy with the whole album. We're keen for it to be treated as a whole album, not just something that happens to have 'Creep' on it."
Even a quick listen to "Pablo Honey" supports Greenwood's assertion that Radiohead can play more than the mid-tempo pop of "Creep." "Ripcord" is a stormy tune, spiced by bursts of guitars, a rollicking beat and a hooky chorus. "Thinking About You," is acoustic, with its edgy chords forming a nice complement to the song's lovelorn lyrics. "Anyone Can Play Guitar" is an infinitely catchy poppy rocker. Gently strummed guitar and muted vocals begin the song "Blow Out" on a rather jazzy note before the track erupts with a careening song-ending flourish.
Ironically, the version of "Creep" that appears on "Pablo Honey" was something of a happy accident. It wasn't even supposed to be committed to tape the day it was recorded, Greenwood said.
"It was recorded while we were actually in the studio to record two other songs. We were asked to play some things to check the levels of the tape, and we just did one that we liked best from rehearsing it the day before. We'd only written it the week before and we were just kind of very keen to play it for each other, and they happened to record it," Greenwood said.
Though "Creep" has obvious melodic appeal, it's drawn more attention for its out-of-the-ordinary lyrics. Far from the usual themes of romance and self-confidence, "Creep" is a song for the misfit in anyone (witness such lines as "What the hell am I doing here/I don't belong here" and "You're so very special/But I'm a creep.")
But the members of the band - Greenwood, his brother Colin (bass), Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, lyrics), Ed O'Brien (guitar) and Phil Selway (drums) - have been reluctant to spell out their thinking behind the lyrics.
"It's good that people are talking about it. But I think it's also important not to sort of say what we think about it, how we feel about it," Greenwood said. "We had one guy who came and talked to us about it and said how he thought it was wonderful, and he had taken it in terms of being gay. That was great. So it's whatever anybody makes of the song. And we don't want to sort of make it smaller by describing about how we feel."
Greenwood isn't hesitant to share a theory on the appeal of "Creep," saying he thinks the song has struck such a chord in America because it's about everyday people and everyday feelings and attitudes.
"I put the success of 'Creep' down to the fact that people are getting very bored with bad rock stars or whoever putting themselves over as perfect, and it kind of makes them untouchable. That's just not interesting anymore.
"You know, being a rock star is dead. It doesn't exist anymore, like reading all the gossip columns about which bar they're going to. That just doesn't interest people anymore, luckily. And at the same time, it's not special to be in a band anymore. Anybody can do it."
Radiohead has been doing music as a unit only since 1991, although the band's roots extend further. All five members are from Oxford, England, and had known each other for several years. Music became the bonding element in their friendships, Greenwood said.
"We were always going to do music, but the only vagueness was what shape the band would take and what future we had. There was never any sort of plan for signing or anything, but there was always a plan to write songs together, in one form or another. We just ended up being more and more in one another's company and relying on music and relying on being in the band for, for everything really, and ended up kind of getting obsessed with it," Greenwood said.
On the strength of a demo tape the group had recorded in 1991, the band attracted serious attention from Britain's record industry within a year. The band signed with Parlophone (whose American counterpart is Capitol Records) after a show in Oxford that drew some 30 talent scouts.
Unlike many British bands, Radiohead has enjoyed more attention in the States than back home. The band hasn't been hyped in the British music press, and "Creep," in fact, wasn't even issued as a single in England until early September.
"It's always been kind of muted, the music press to us, until very recently. They're kind of suddenly coming around," Greenwood said. "It's like when we brought 'Creep' out, it received a fairly indifferent review in the NME (New Musical Express). And then four months later, they were describing it as a classic single, as if they'd finally come around to liking it. It's very strange."
But very special, at least where America is concerned.