It wasn’t just Thom Yorke’s blond locks that cause quite a few critics to liken Pablo Honey to watered-down Nirvana. Pablo Honey got generally lukewarm-to-good reviews at the time—3 stars out of 5 from Rolling Stone, which is the same rating it currently receives at Allmusic.com (it must be admitted that Stephen Thomas Erlewine’s brief review is far more charitable than that rating suggests). And Radiohead’s later successes haven’t shielded the album from vitriol. At Pitchfork, notoriously one of Radiohead’s most unshakable defenders, Scott Plagenhoef gave it a piddling 5.4 out of 10 as late as 2009.
Even that tepid Rolling Stone review ended with the words “Radiohead warrant watching,” but if you had said in 1993 that in less than a decade, Radiohead would be doing arenas with a highly worshipful following and the most ironclad critical reputation in all of rock music, that possibility would have seemed remote indeed. The Bends and OK Computer in 1997 were the astounding one-two punch that few saw coming and set Radiohead up to be the top rock band of the 2000s.
So when I come across a piece of Radiohead press from 1993, I’m inclined to pay attention. I was at the Library and Archives of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland recently, thumbing through a stack of old copies of Ray Gun magazine from the 1990s, something you can only do at a place like that. One of the 1993 issues had a little piece on Radiohead that was inexplicably formatted in an actually readable typeface (rare for that magazine). Here it is (if you click on it, the image will get quite large):
The last bit of the piece reports Yorke’s feelings on whether Radiohead qualifies as “pop” thus:
“Yesss,” he says slowly. “My definition of pop is tapping into something…. my ideal pop song is one that says something people want to hear lyrically and that grabs them by the neck musically. And one that has some sort of depth that moves it beyond a happy tune that you whistle at work. Songs like ‘Under Pressure,’ something that makes you want to fall down on your knees. That to me is the perfect pop song.”
More after the jump…