About 9 years ago In Rainbows dropped. The local Vegas Weekly magazine published a short blurb about the album. For obvious reasons, the blurb focused entirely on the “unusual” release method of In Rainbows. The infamous “Pay what you want” distribution Radiohead pursued for the album dominated the conversation around the album. I read about In Rainbows in around October in the Vegas Weekly and forgot about the album for three months.
Come January, I was at the dilapidated and rot-smelling Boulevard Mall. My mom doesn’t really go out, but one of her favorite hobbies is gathering with her sister and brother here in town and scouring the mall’s nooks and corners for bargains. That day I had decided to separate for a bit and went into a tiny music store. For those of you who remember the old Boulevard Mall there was some music shop right before the Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. I had not shopped for albums in about 3 or 4 years and I had just worked the previous summer at one of those green-screen tourism traps that sell tourists pictures of themselves running scared from some superimposed shark in the top corner of their pic. After a bit of perusing, I walked out with two albums that day: Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool.
It was that year of 2008 that my love affair with Radiohead would begin. My obsession with the band lasted about 2 years. During this time I listened to nothing but Radiohead, and I swear this is true. I do not think I took a break from Radiohead until right around the time when The King of Limbs dropped. In this time I had completed a CD collection full of the entire albums, EPs and singles. I bought a record player because I had just doled out on the The King of Limbs “Newspaper Edition.” I joined a music forum that has become critical in developing my music taste and introducing me to new music. I was not fucking around when I said that Radiohead absolutely dominated my life from about 2008-2010.
It was during this dominance that the next two albums that I bought after In Rainbows were OK Computer and Pablo Honey. Radiohead fanboyism is divided in two camps: those who think OK Computer is the best Radiohead album and those who think Kid A is the best album. Pablo Honey is the Boulevard Mall. It is forgotten, smells like moist, damp rot and everyone completely disregards it for the brighter and “better” Radiohead albums. Pablo Honey is so much more than almost every Radiohead fan would have you believe. It is actually the best Radiohead album.
Part of the charm of Pablo Honey is the state of the band in 1993. Those last two links in particular highlight the ridiculous amounts of cringe the band were in its early days. That’s the best thing about Pablo Honey, however. Partly because it highlights the embarrassing start of what has become one of the most prolific bands of all time, but what makes it even greater is how self-serious almost the entire fanbase is. This is a fanbase that went to ridiculous and painstakingly embarrassing lengths to find a The King of Limbs Pt. 2. It is refreshing to know that at one point Radiohead was a band that had a screaming frontman with long bleached blonde hair, and that that bleach-blonde haired man would go on to form what has become one of the world’s largest cults.
Pablo Honey is much more than ridiculous blonde hair and screaming matches on MTV. It has a few interesting b-sides. Some are dreamy shoegaze and some are just fun hateful music video watches. The album itself is an album of early 90’s alternative rock. You get a lot of the tropes. Grunge songs filled with an angsty Thom Yorke yelling out his verses. It’s forward thinking in its own, unintentional sort of way, a forefather to the angsty, emo pop that dominated the early to mid 00’s. Thom Yorke was the archetype frontman to your Panic! At the Disco, My Chemical Romance frontmen. It’s your sad high school classmate who was shunned from the prom. They are beautiful, tender creatures, creatures who lift up their suffering on an unreachable pedestal, the creatures who you mock because for their naiveté. It’s the creature the world needs.
Pablo Honey is a unique moment in the trajectory of the band. It’s a simple album about a man’s emotions and feelings. One about a man who struggles with how he views himself and how the world views him (“Creep”). It expresses raw emotions the only way a young white male from England. It predates a lot of the intellectual highbrow that would follow Radiohead with OK Computer and Kid A, albums who’s themes are so heavy-handed they’re only matched by the dreariness of its music. If the band perfected this expression of emotion with The Bends, then it follows that they would not have done it without Pablo Honey. Pablo Honey was crucial in the development of a band that peaked with The Bends, therefore making it the most important album in the history of Radiohead. You can hear the musical exploration Radiohead would pursue in songs like “Lurgee” and “Blow Out.” On what other album can you listen to a Thom Yorke sing about masturbation?
As the band is getting ready to release their 9th album, they announced a new, short world tour. I rushed to get tickets for the LA shows and was one of the few, lucky fans to score a ticket. The band is getting old now and they’ve been together for over 20 years. I know they like to announce that there are no plans to split up any time soon, but all the signs point otherwise. Three of the members have solo careers or score films in Hollywood. Thom enjoys DJing in LA and hanging out with Flying Lotus. It has been 5 years since the release of The King of Limbs with the slowest release process and just a general lack of enthusiasm to release anything. With no singles or release date in sight for the ninth album, I wouldn’t be surprised if the band called it quits after this one. And soon after they play their final show or if they announce a final hiatus we are going to get all the think pieces and hot takes about that time someone somewhere put on Kid A for the first time or how they walked down the streets of New York on some hot summer day the day after they paid $9.99 for In Rainbows. And Pablo Honey will remain receiving its unfair bit of shade thrown its way, but in my opinion it will always remain the most important album in the long history of Radiohead.