Pablo Honey, released in 1993, is the debut studio album by English Alternative Rock group Radiohead. Coming out nearly a decade after the band's initial formation as On a Friday in 1985 (owing to the fact that it took 6 years for the band to snag a record deal), it stands as perhaps one of the most conspicuous cases of Early Installment Weirdness by a British alternative band since Depeche Mode put out Speak & Spell. Rather than being a melancholic, experimental effort commenting on sociopersonal decay, economic malaise, and/or political corruption, Pablo Honey is an introspective affair that wears its grunge influences on its sleeve— and across the whole damn shirt for that matter.
The end result was an album that was met with decently positive reception from critics, but an apathetic reception from listeners, who considered it nothing more than a Nirvana imitation that did nothing to set itself apart from the ongoing grunge boom of the early 90's (didn't stop it from going platinum in the US and double-platinum in the UK & Canada, though). This certainly wasn't helped by a conscious attempt on Radiohead's part to actively become a Transatlantic Equivalent of Nirvana, aping not just their musical style, but also their looks and manner of music video, reaching something of a breaking point with the non-album single "Pop is Dead", released while Pablo Honey was still being promoted; tellingly, Radiohead would drop the "British Nirvana" act entirely during the recording of and promotion for their next album, 1995's The Bends. Its reception certainly hasn't gotten much better in the years since, with most agreeing that while it was a decent debut album, it's heavily surpassed by the more original and experimental mannerisms of Radiohead's later albums.
Pablo Honey was supported by three singles: "Creep", "Anyone Can Play Guitar", and "Stop Whispering". Of these three, "Creep" acted as a brief Breakthrough Hit for Radiohead, catapulting them into the mainstream and by Thom's admission fueling the sheer egotism the band suffered from while promoting the album. However, the song would quickly become an albatross around Radiohead's necks, as it became apparent that it was the only song people really seemed to care for, to the point where they'd attend concerts just to hear it, demand for it to be played incessantly, and then leave once it was sung. For years the band failed to match the success of "Creep" again, and even after the second wave of popularity OK Computer garnered in 1997, they were known primarily as "the guys who did 'Creep'" among laypeople, leading to a longstanding bout of Creator Backlash that took until 2016 for them to recover from.
At the end of the day, Pablo Honey stands as an odd dichotomy in the band's history. It was too derivative to hold up against their later work, but too important (if only via "Creep") to outright ignore. It was too egotistical to feel like the Radiohead music listeners now know and love, but still contained conspicuous hints as to what the band would later become. Whatever one's opinion on Pablo Honey, it's hard to ignore its presence in the band's history.
- "You" (3:29)
- "Creep" (3:56)
- "How Do You?" (2:12)
- "Stop Whispering" (5:26)
- "Thinking About You" (2:41)
- "Anyone Can Play Guitar" (3:38)
- "Ripcord" (3:10)
- "Vegetable" (3:13)
- "Prove Yourself" (2:25)
- "I Can't" (4:13)
- "Lurgee" (3:08)
- "Blow Out" (4:40)
Here we are, with our troping and confusion:
- Album Title Drop: A barely audible one appears in the song "How Do You?"— the album was named after part of a Prank Call by the comedy group The Jerky Boys, and the relevant quote ("Pablo, honey? Please come to Florida!") appears as Spoken Word in Music near the end of the song.
- Audience Participation Song: "Creep" has been a rather big one on the occasions Radiohead have performed it, largely owing to its popularity.
- Captain Ersatz: Thom Yorke was a dead-ringer◊ for Kurt Cobain during the era surrounding this album, with bleached-blonde mop-top hair and an "acidic rebel" image consciously lifted from the reluctant Seattle zeitgeist-leader.
- Careful with That Axe: In this memorable live performance of "Anyone Can Play Guitar," at the second verse Thom takes the "anywhere" in the "and I don't see no confusion anywhere" line and screams it, before just violently screaming at the camera. The zooms on his face don't help.
- Early Installment Weirdness: This is probably the weirdest album Radiohead ever put out in that it's not weird at all; likewise for Drill, the 1992 EP before it. The only song on Pablo Honey that bears a resemblance to what Radiohead would become better known for is the closing track, "Blow Out".
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The album to this day has no Parental Advisory sticker on it, despite being widely distributed AND bearing an incredibly famous and explicit lead single.
- Grunge: Compared to the prog-lite alternative rock of Radiohead's later output, Pablo Honey is a straight dive into the sound of Seattle.
- Incredibly Long Note: The bridge of "Creep" ends with several ("She runs, run, run, RUUUUUUUUUUN!"), but it gets even more impressive with one very memorable live performance.
- Large Ham: Performances during this era tended to be rather... over the top. Special notice goes to the infamous MTV Beach House 1993 performance, where Thom repeatedly belted his lungs out and threw himself into a swimming pool, almost drowning because of his heavy Doc Martens. While attempting to drag himself out of the water, he also came close to grabbing a live wire.
- My Greatest Failure: If not Hail to the Thief, this album tends to get this reputation among the band (save for Jonny Greenwood, who considers it underrated).
- Precision F-Strike: The famous, strategically-placed "you're so fucking special" in "Creep."
- Rearrange the Song: "You", "Thinking About You", and "Prove Yourself" are all re-recordings of songs from the 1992 EP Drill; the one other song on it, "Stupid Car", was not re-recorded for this album for reasons unknown. While the EP was presented as a proper studio effort back in the day, the 2009 collector's edition re-release of Pablo Honey relabels the 1992 versions of "You", "Thinking About You", and "Prove Yourself" as demos. Of note is that while "You" is relatively unchanged between the 1992 and 1993 versions, the re-recordings of "Thinking About You" and "Prove Yourself" are noticeably different, the former changing from an Elvis Costello-inspired New Wave Music song into an acoustic ballad and the latter featuring multi-tracked vocals instead of processed ones during the chorus.
- Rock Star Song: Satirized on "Anyone Can Play Guitar", which mocks the "rock star" image and mythos; particular ire is given towards the lingering influence of The Doors and the constant pressure for rock musicians to draw from frontman Jim Morrison. Unlike most of Pablo Honey's stylistic trademarks, the distaste towards rock idolization would stick throughout Radiohead's lifetime, and it would serve as an influence on the electronic direction of Kid A in 2000.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Thom has come to view the band's behavior during this album's era as this, being at a time when the success of "Creep" made them feel like they were on top of the world despite the fact that A: they had only one hit single by that point, and B: it was their debut single, with plenty of room to trip up immediately after. Particular mention goes to Thom's attempts to play himself up as a British Kurt Cobain and the infamous MTV Beach House 1993 performance, both of which factor into the Pablo Honey era's in-universe Old Shame status for the band and for Thom especially. Thom went on to describe himself during that point as "unbearable," stating that "as soon as you get any success you disappear up your own arse."
- Springtime for Hitler: Supposedly, the guitar "crunches" just before the chorus of "Creep" were an attempt by a very disgruntled Jonny Greenwood to ruin the song. It wound up being one of the most distinctive parts... and then people (and the band) started disliking it after it got waaay too much exposure compared to the rest of their material.
- Take That!: "Anyone Can Play Guitar" is a big one towards rock idolization, particularly in regards to the constant pressure to live up to the legacy of The Doors. Thom had previously stated in interviews that he had a "pathological disrespect" for frontman Jim Morrison and his posthumous deification, dismissing him as "a fat, talentless bastard [who's] dead" (note that this specific interview was just one year after Oliver Stone's eponymous biopic on the Doors and Morrison in particular, which was credited for a large-scale revival of public interest in them). Thom would double down on this further in the band's infamous MTV Beach House 1993 performance of "Anyone Can Play Guitar", during which he ad-libbed the line "FAT. UGLY. DEAD." shortly after the namedrop of Morrison.
- Uncommon Time: "You" has three measures of 6/8 followed by one measure of 5/4.