It’s an on and on song, says Radiohead's vocalist Thom Yorke impatiently. reluctantly describing the band‘s single "Creep." “It’s all about being drunk and following people around. I‘ve become immune to it now, l want to go on to the second album and prove our worth rather than be judged on one song. Bye bye."
Yorke doesn't want to talk about "Creep," and you can't really blame him. The one-take wonder from this English band's debut album Pablo Honey has provoked an exhausting media sensation via America‘s hit-making and hit killing vehicle, MTV, for its surprising and refreshing self-loathing sentiments.
“My basis criticism of MTV would be that it reduces music to the level of home entertainment like a goldfish bowl,” spits Yorke. "It‘s like buying a bottle of milk from the supermarket. You know what you're going to get. But also, more importantly, it reduces the way people see music and makes their attention span so small and fickle. It makes me very angry."
‘Angry’ could be just one adjective to describe the lanky, composed Englishman whose pop philosophy flows eloquently out from under that trademark yellow mop of hair. But when it comes to Pablo Honey, where moody melodies are juxtaposed with searing, distorted guitars, the whole thing dripping with dramatic tension and self-effacing satire, the only useful adjective is ‘brilliant.' Radiohead, comprising guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien, bass player Colin Greenwood and Phil Selway on drums, cite inspirations such as XTC, Sonic Youth and early R.E.M., but have succeeded in conceiving their own style, both musically and lyrically, while simultaneously portraying the "antithesis of the rock & roll lifestyle."
“I'm anti-rock & roll in the sense of long hair and blow jobs. Rock & roll to people back in the '60s was an attitude," says Yorke. "That‘s good, because what was being played represented them. Rock & roll now is just the relics of that and it doesn't actually represent people, it's just something that they turn to as if it’s still there, when it's not. They should be looking elsewhere."
Radiohead are currently touring America with Belly, and admit to being glad to be away from their homeland. “I've got this whole obsession about being an expatriate at the moment,” admits Yorke. “Try to be genuine in the most cynical country in the world [England] - it's quite hard work."
There's a similar thread of displacement, coupled with self-destruction, woven throughout Pablo Honey. “Lyrically, l play with feeling displaced, but not to the point where it belittles the would-be Byrons and Tennysons of this world." Yorke confesses. “Certain people self-destruct. Emotionally, it's a way of absorbing things that really hurt. What happens is that your lifestyle becomes twisted. Self- destruction is something I have to live with within myself. It comes and goes involuntarily, and I'm shocked to say it still does as well."
Radiohead have been deemed “pop's young rebels," a label which Yorke is not altogether happy with. “The definition of pop music, for me, is music that transcends genres, and it’s good because everyone identifies with it.” Yorke explains. “But music is very segmented now which means that you have to be a certain kind of band. Pop is very much like a nostalgia thing. There’s all this talent and beauty around and you just get recycled pap. Pop is dead.
“The only way that people seem to consume these things now is through pure hysteria,” he continues. “It’s either hysteria or total nostalgia. It’s never their own genuine feelings, it’s always something they’re trying to borrow from other people all the time.”
While determined not to flag Radiohead under the pop banner, Yorke is not so quick to dismiss the rebel clause. “In an ideal world I’d love to think that Radiohead, in some degree at least, was shaking people up,” he says.
So Radiohead are not a rock & roll band and Radiohead are not a pop band. All of which poses an interesting challenge in definition: What are Radiohead?
Yorke pauses thoughtfully then smiles. When he does answer, it smacks of Radiohead's cynical self-awareness. “A 90’s Generation band,” he sneers.