After a long dormancy while the members attended university, the band On a Friday reconvened in the early 1990s, becoming fixtures on the local Oxford scene with a series of demo recordings and well attended live gigs, finally signing with EMI/Parlophone and changing their name to Radiohead. The band’s first official release, the Drill EP, was produced by their managers Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge, and sold poorly. For their debut album the band sought the production skills of Massachusetts-based Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade, responsible for Dinosaur Jr. and Buffalo Tom albums of which they were fans.
Several months in advance of the album, the band came out with their debut single “Creep”. According to bassist Colin Greenwood, “Creep” had been written by singer/rhythm guitarist Thom Yorke sometime in the late 1980s, while he was at Exeter University, and was shared with other members of the band, who were mostly very enthusiastic, citing the song as a reason to continue making music together. However, it was not included on any of their early ’90s demo tapes and had not been a part of their live set. At the time, “Inside My Head” (which would later be released as a b-side to “Creep”) was considered a good candidate for the band’s lead single.
Sometime in 1992 the band began an impromptu performance of “Creep” at a recording session, referring to it as their “Scott Walker song” because it reminded them of one of their musical idols. Rumour states that Jonny Greenwood’s famous guitar crunches in the chorus were supposedly an attempt to ruin a song he didn’t like. But “Jonny played the piano at the end of the song and it was gorgeous,” stated producer Paul Kolderie (though the piano was mixed in at the wrong time, the band decided to keep the take complete with mistake, not for the last time). “Everyone who heard ‘Creep’ just started going insane. So that’s what got us the job doing the album.” As soon as their managers and producers realized the song was an original (not a Walker cover), other plans were put on the back burner, to the band’s surprise, and “Creep” was released as a limited single to the public in late 1992. However, the single initially went nowhere. It was even blacklisted from Radio 1 for being too depressing. In the meantime the bulk of the album was recorded, in autumn 1992. Recording sessions were completed very quickly, as the band had been playing many of these songs for years. However, what ended up on Pablo Honey represents only a fraction of their On a Friday-era recorded material, with very little overlap with earlier demos. The album was once described by a Radiohead member as ‘Our greatest hits as an unsigned band’, with smooth sonic textures, anthemic vocals and walls of guitar noise. “Prove Yourself”, which had led off Drill, reappears however in a different recording, as do “You” and “Thinking About You” in reworked versions.
In the heady alternative musical climate of 1993, Pablo Honey did not receive particular attention. Upon release, however, the critical reaction to Pablo Honey tended towards the positive, with Rolling Stone, NME, Allmusic, Q Magazine and Entertainment Weekly giving favourable reviews.
Besides “Creep”, the album also included the melodic, perhaps ironic, and Sonic Youth-influenced single “Anyone Can Play Guitar” and U2-like single “Stop Whispering”. Also on Pablo Honey are ethereal rocker “You”, fan favourite “Thinking About You”, and “Blow Out”, the latter of which is apparently the band’s personal favourite from the album, and points ahead to their future sonic manipulations.
By mid-1993, “Creep” had become a hit in Israel, then the United States, and then a worldwide hit, finally reaching number 7 when it was re-released during the Autumn of 1993 in the band’s native Britain. “Creep” went on to define the band’s early career, at the expense of anything else on Pablo Honey. The song, whose self-loathing lyrics struck a chord with many fans, was released around the same time as other so-called “slacker” anthems such as Beck’s “Loser” and was seen by some as a part of the grunge movement kicked into high gear by Seattle bands Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Radiohead eventually fell into a media-created niche as the “British Nirvana”, due both to “Creep” and to the equally morose (if not equally successful) other songs on the album. In fact, Radiohead did share similar influences as Nirvana, notably the Pixies and R.E.M., although The Smiths were also a large influence on the band at this time. By their next album, The Bends (1995), Radiohead was more often being lumped by the press with the Britpop or “Brit-rock” movement, a reflection of changing trends.
However, the band are not unanimously pleased with “Creep”. Although at first ecstatic at their success, they soon came to resent being unable to escape its shadow, inspiring the bitter song “My Iron Lung”. When performing live in 1993 and 1994, much of the audience would often leave after “Creep” had been performed, ignoring all the other material from Pablo Honey. One exception was “Prove Yourself”, a song Yorke removed from setlists after he realised the crowd would always chant along with its disturbing refrain, “I’m better off dead.”
By the mid-’90s as the band’s style evolved and they became more confident about their newer material, the band and Yorke in particular came to believe “Creep” had been given too much weight, and by the late ’90s, Yorke apparently no longer identified at all with their biggest hit. The clip for “Creep” was conspicuously absent from their official 1997 video compilation release 7 Television Commercials (none of the other videos from Pablo Honey were included, either). For a time, the band refused to play it live, but beginning in 2001 it has been aired several times as an encore. The videos from Pablo Honey have since been released by EMI on the 2008 DVD Radiohead: The Best Of.
Other songs from Pablo Honey have received even less recent attention from the band. Besides “You” (which was performed live by special request once in 2002), very occasional performances of “Creep”, and the surprising performances of “Blow Out” in Tokyo during their 2008 tour, the dreamy “Lurgee” is the only other song from Pablo Honey that has been played live by the band since the OK Computer era. The band, however, have said in recent years that they are not unhappy with the album or its production, given their lack of experience at the time. Radiohead members have mentioned “Blow Out” as the Pablo Honey track of which they are most proud. Apart from “Creep”, the album itself is rarely mentioned by the band today, and The Bends is usually considered a more notable album by those who prefer Radiohead’s early rock sound. However, Pablo Honey continues to sell steadily, and has attained platinum status.
Edited by TylerSymes on 17 Mar 2013, 14:03
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