It's next to impossible to choose a favorite album among those in Radiohead's catalog. After all, the UK quintet has a release to fit almost every mood: alienated (1997's OK Computer), melancholy (1995's The Bends) and experimental (the double-shot of Kid A/Amnesiac). But the one album that's never received the proper kudos in the U.S. is Pablo Honey, the band's debut album.
Turning fifteen years old earlier this year, Honey is Radiohead's most American-sounding disc. Its loud-soft-loud crunching dynamics conjure Smashing Pumpkins and the Pixies — not surprising, since Honey co-producers Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade also worked with the latter. Thom Yorke's vocals are firmly embedded in the mix, while the chiming/roaring guitars and frenetic drums are simplistic and at times straightforward.
Honey, of course, spawned the hit "Creep," a song covered by everyone from Prince to Damien Rice. A perfect fit for the rust-colored grunge angst that saturated U.S. music in 1993, its cement-mixer riffs and scathing self-loathing ("I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo/What the hell am I doing here?/I don't belong here") remain acerbic and cutting today.
In fact, Honey's pop has aged quite well. Majestic melodies and Yorke's urgent pleas drive the slow-churning psychedelia of "Stop Whispering," while the quasi-shoegaze "Ripcord" explodes in a fuzzbomb of sludgy distortion. "I Can't" and "Lurgee" echo the early '90s dream-pop of folks such as the Charlatans or James (and hint at the fever-dream Britpop of The Bends), while the white-noise roar "Blow Out" is even better: Yorke's concerned croon, jazz-reminiscent rhythms and riffs presage Radiohead's countless B-sides and later complex compositions.
"Creep" is also one of the few Honey songs Radiohead continues to play live. (The last time was in 2006; "Lurgee" is the other — although its last appearance came in 2003.) So why has the band all but abandoned its earliest material, something R.E.M., Nine Inch Nails and U2 — all arguably Radiohead's peers — infamously have not?
Understandably, the messages Honey communicates aren't as relevant now — especially since Radiohead has become far more concerned with societal ills such as commercialism, politics and isolation due to technology. While Radiohead's sloganeering is legendary, the quips on Honey — "stop whispering, start shouting!" "Prove yourself/I'm better off dead" — rely on vagueness to convey universal truths. Some proclamations are just plain embarrassing; Yorke howls "I'm not a vegetable/I will not control myself" at one point, and lurch-sings, "I wanna be Jim Morrison!" elsewhere.
In a 1998 Guitar World interview, guitarist Jonny Greenwood said Honey "lacks freedom. On the first record, we were so frightened. It's a lot more regimented, I think, due to our own fear and inexperience." Guitarist Ed O'Brien, quoted in the same interview, said: "We'd never been in a studio before, we were not very cohesive as a band and we were totally insecure."
This might seem strange, especially since Radiohead's material thrives on insecurity — and more specifically, a penchant for never settling or accepting things at face value. But the band members now approach insecurity from the perspective of a confident studio outfit; they're outside observers looking in, rather than as a group in the throes of instability.
The confusion and angst found within Honey's songs are simple — like a newborn baby, the music is frustrated by its place in the world but unable to communicate with precision what it needs or wants. And while that discontent fuels Radiohead to this day (albeit in a much more sophisticated, precise way), Honey's embryonic restlessness is still charming — and worth fondly embracing.— Annie Zaleski
7 p.m. Wednesday, May 14. Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 14141 Riverport Drive, Maryland Heights. $36 to $61. 314-298-9944.
The TRADE is a new bar opening on Friday, May 9, in the same building as gay bar the Complex Nightclub (3515 Chouteau; 314-772-2645). Occupying a ground-level space that's been vacant for about a year and a half, the 125-person-capacity bar is described by its proprietors as "tattoos and rock & roll."
Still, the TRADE won't have live bands or shows; instead, it will often feature a variety of familiar DJs from around St. Louis, spinning all permutations of the rock & roll genre. Moreover, perhaps one of the coolest features of the venue will be its jukebox: a vintage model donated by co-owner Joe Hedgpeth's grandmother that contains old-school country & Western 45 RPM records.
"This city needed a place to chill out and listen to rock & roll," says co-owner Wil Pelly. Pelly and the other three co-owners of the TRADE — Hedgpeth, Jason (Homey) Smith and Rachel Smith — are largely seasoned bar veterans who have worked at the Complex, the Hi-Pointe and the Creepy Crawl, so they know quite a bit about music.
But, says Hedgpeth, "it was Wil's brilliant idea to get us all into this." They approached the owner of the Complex, Howard Meyer, who was immediately enthusiastic and supportive. ("This is a really hot space," Meyer says.)
And despite the fact that the TRADE is in the same building as a gay bar, Pelly is quick to say that it's "a completely everything-friendly bar." Adds Hedgpeth: "Leave your ego at the door."
The TRADE is open Tuesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. until 3 a.m. For more information — including a link to the bar's MySpace page — see blogs.riverfronttimes.com/atoz.
— Annie Zaleski