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7. Pablo Honey (1993)

Pablo Honey, Radiohead's first album, routinely gets knocked as their worst. Really, though, its middling reputation comes partially due to circumstance. It preceded one of the most fertile creative runs in rock history; few albums wouldn't pale in comparison. Pablo Honey also suffered from poor timing. Grunge was peaking when it came out in '93. Its alterna-rock pose, and especially its ubiquitous single "Creep," drew plenty of unflattering comparisons.  

And Pablo Honey is not without flaws. Radiohead's identity was still malleable at the time. Their influences -- U2, Scott Walker, the Smiths, -- push through into pastiche territory at times. The self-pitying lyrics sound weirdly naïve next to the cynicism of their later material. Pablo Honey also suffers from inconsistent songwriting. Its second half is noticeably less well-developed than its first -- the same problem The King Of Limbs would suffer from 18 years later.  

But despite its adolescent character, Pablo Honey remains a charming and occasionally brilliant rock album. Their youth brought vigor as well as naïveté; Thom Yorke belts out his lines with such force that his more recent recordings sound thin by comparison. Overplayed though it is, "Creep" remains one of Radiohead's finest hours -- Yorke's vocal crescendo in the bridge still raises goosebumps. "Anyone Can Play Guitar," meanwhile, foreshadows the apocalyptic themes that would color the band's coming creative storm: "And if the world does turn / and if London burns / I'll be standing on the beach with my guitar."

“Big things have small beginnings.” So says Michael Fassbender’s character in Prometheus. He was referring to a blob of alien goo that would go on to spawn the monster that drives the Alien series, but he just as easily could’ve been talking about Radiohead.
 
Like that daub of black goo, Radiohead’s origins were inauspicious. The band — consisting throughout its existence of Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano, electronics), Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, various other instruments), Colin Greenwood (bass, synths), Ed O’Brien (guitar, backing vocals), and Phil Selway (drums) — formed in 1985 in the music rehearsal room of their Oxfordshire boys’ school. The band’s awkward original moniker was On A Friday — their usual practice time.
 
Unlike so many of their contemporaries, On A Friday did not spend years slugging it out in the indie tour circuit before achieving broader success — their path to glory was more in the classic-rock mold. After a university-born hiatus through the late ’80s, On A Friday signed a six-album deal with EMI without ever touring. Pressured by their label, the band changed their name to Radiohead, after a Talking Heads song. A year later, the band recorded a song called “Creep,” and the rest is history.
 
When most people think of Radiohead now, they think of Radiohead the iconoclasts: the band that resurrected progressive rock with OK Computer, dove headlong into experimental music with Kid A, and precipitated an entirely new business model with In Rainbows. For a high-profile band with so much to lose, Radiohead has historically been relentlessly ambitious. No two of their albums sound alike. (Not even Kid A and Amnesiac — more on that later.)
 
But Radiohead has achieved their status as one of the last consensus-building rock bands because of their broad populist streak. That populism is musical as well as political. Even at their most challenging and experimental, Radiohead ruthlessly edits their music into catchy, pop-sized chunks. Beneath the swathes of digital gauze and strange sound is a Beatles-style hit machine.
 
After eight albums, Radiohead may be close to the end of their creative arc. The band has expressed growing (and characteristic!) dissatisfaction with the process of writing and recording albums. Said Yorke during the press cycle for The King Of Limbs: “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-hah of a long-play record again … I mean, it’s just become a real drag.” (Then again, The King Of Limbs concludes with Yorke informing the listener that, ”If you think this is over, then you’re wrong.”)
 
So now is as good of a time as any to reflect on Radiohead’s catalog. Here are all eight of their full-length albums, analyzed and examined, and ranked from worst to best. If you disagree — and oh, will some of you ever disagree — then feel free to crush my list like a bug in the ground with your comments.

Comments (288)
  1. i think their “first truly great album,” to use your own words, deserves a much higher spot than #4

  2. I’ve been looking forward to this one. Nothing makes people lose their shit like a Radiohead list!

    • The fact that Pablo Honey was not placed in the top 3 proves that these lists are not designed exclusively as comment-rage bait.

      However, the fact that Pablo Honey was not placed last proves that these lists are designed at least partly as comment-rage bait.

      • Or maybe it adheres to the radical and insane notion that it’s actually based off somebody’s opinion. Honestly I agree with the list’s author: The King of Limbs just wasn’t very good.

  3. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  4. Oh. My. God. This list has been prophesied since the beginning of time.

    • I always knew this day would come. It’s… so… beautiful. *tear

      They got #3 wrong though.

    • And I almost agree with it.
      For me it would be:
      1: Ok Computer
      2: Kid A
      3: The Bends
      4: Four way tie for fourth I think.
      8: Pablo Honey

      • No matter how fast you rip off the bandaid, it still hurts man, it still hurts… hons you’re killin me with this four way tie! i’m thinking:

        1. OK Computer
        2. Kid A
        3. The Bends
        4.Amnesiac
        5. Hail to the Thief
        6. In Rainbows
        7. King of Limbs
        8. Pablo Honey

      • 1. OK Computer
        2. Kid A
        3. The Bends (almost put this at #2 though)
        4. In Rainbows
        5. Amnesiac
        6. King of Limbs
        7. Hail to the Thief
        8. Pablo Honey

        Every single one is still amazing though.

        • For me:
          1. The Bends
          2. OKComputer
          3. Kid A
          4. In Rainbows
          5. Hail To the Thief
          6. Amnesiac
          7. Pablo Honey
          8. King of Limbs

          That’s just purely my opinion, society says I like In rainbows too much and I don’t dislike Pablo Honey enough and I don’y like KOL enough, but to me the list really separates into three main sections:

          1. The Bends
          2. OKComputer
          3. Kid A

          4. In Rainbows
          5. Hail To the Thief

          6. Amnesiac
          7. Pablo Honey
          8. King of Limbs

        • ^everything is in its right place, right there

  5. Pablo Honey should not be ahead of KOL that is some bullshit.

  6. seriously guys, why did you do this?

  7. aside from Pablo honey, RH never made a “bad” album by their standards.

    though i have to say KOL live is a much better beast than KOL the album. Bloom remains one of their best songs ever written post OKC. still , its very much an enjoyable headphone listening experience.

    signed

    fanboy for lyfe :P

    • Yeah. I encourage everyone I know who was disaffected by King of Limbs to watch their Austin City Limits performance. It really makes one understand those songs better.

    • So although they never made a bad album (Pablo Honey is still great, it is just easily their worst), Radiohead was not too happy with Hail To The Thief, feeling that they did not flesh out some of their experiments enough, or appropriately cut some songs. It is not a bad album by any means, but I would have ranked KoL above PH and HTTT

  8. “z0mg hail 2 the theif is #3? u guyz r lyke srsly retarded. n the bens r so low wtf?”

  9. I feel like having KOL last is A+ trolling by Doug here. Folding in some of the additional output in the KOL era (These Are My Twisted Words, the amazing The Daily Mail\Staircase single) fills out the KOL picture a lot more.

    But really, choosing between OK Computer, Kid A, and Hail To The Thief is pretty cruel for a listmaker.

    • Nah, no troll. I really do like Pablo Honey better than TKOL, though it’s close. Not a popular opinion, but I calls’em like I sees’em.

  10. WTF just happened?? KoL and In Rainbows scrubbing the bottom of this list? Are you INSANE?! No really, though, this list should have every album as #1… and Pablo Honey as #8. It’s the only way.

    • I’m likes a HUMUNGUS radiohead fan and i’ve never listened to pablo honey because I DONT LISTEN TO SHIT.

      NOW, BACK TO MY KINGS OF LEON THESE GUYS FUCKING RULE, BROS!!!!!

    • Indeed. I need to run home and console my copy of In Rainbows and talk King of Limbs down off the roof

  11. Oh shit, ‘Gum. We knew this day would come. Prepare for comment apocalypse.

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  13. Ooof. In Rainbows and Amnesiac over HTTT any day. Also, am I the only one who prefers Kid A to OK Computer?

    • I’m with you. Kid A slightly over Ok Computer but it’s oh so slight.

      • Kid A way in the lead for me. But it seems I’m the only one who doesn’t like In Rainbows. Here’s my list:
        1. Kid A
        2. The Bends
        3. TKOL
        4. OK Computer
        5. Amnesiac
        6. Pablo Honey
        7. HTTT
        8. In Rainbows (because after all, it a Radiohead album)

    • crabtron  |   Posted on Oct 26th, 2012 +7

      I’m also with you, and it’s not so slight for me. I’d go with Kid A, then In Rainbows, then OK Computer. I got into Radiohead late (around 2007), and OK Computer was their first album that I listened to. It was great, sure, but I was listening to a lot of 90s trip hop/electronic music at the time–Massive Attack, Bjork, DJ Shadow–and OK Computer just felt a bit sonically thin compared to these artists, and even compared to another 90s “rock” album, Loveless.

      At some point, I found out about The Knife’s Silent Shout, and in the Pitchfork review it was compared to Kid A, an album I hadn’t yet heard, since I had somewhat moved on from Radiohead after assuming that OK Computer was the best they’d done, according to most critical rankings of their albums. Given all this, when I first heard Kid A, it felt like the perfect culmination of that 90s trip hop/IDM type of sound. It didn’t feel like a “gutsy career move” so much as the full realization of their potential, no longer fettered by the rock-centric notion of a “band”, and all the member roles that that notion entails. Kid A wasn’t a move away from a particular sound, so much as a move towards a superior one. It just seemed like the most logical progression to me. If I’d've approached Radiohead as someone who had heard and loved The Bends first, then perhaps I’d have a different opinion, but coming from a more electronic-focused background, Kid A sounded like the album I’d been wanting all along. Not to imply that any fan of OK Computer is purely a rock fan, or that any fan of Kid A is purely an electronic fan–of course there’s going to be plenty of overlap. But this is just how I happened to get into Kid A.

      Sorry for writing so much, but I couldn’t resist on this one. I still love OK Computer, but Kid A just sounds unbelievably right to me, and it was the album that immediately converted me into a Radiohead fan, rather than just an appreciator of their one most critically acclaimed album that I had heard up to that point.

  14. I think this list is unfair to The King Of Limbs and In Rainbows. The perceived drawbacks seem to be drawn from what a “Radiohead”album is expected to sound like.

    It’s also hard to judge them because of their sense of newness. OK Computer, Kid A, and The Bends are absolute classics. It’s near impossible to argue otherwise.

    It’s similar with Hail To The Thief. Had this list came out 5+ years ago, I doubt anyone would be rating it higher than The Bends.

  15. Great list! I really enjoy the explanations. My personal list would be a tad different though:
    1. Kid A
    2. OK Computer
    3. In Rainbows
    4. Amnesiac
    Hail to the Thief
    6. The King of Limbs
    7. The Bends
    8. Pablo Honey
    Never was really able to get in to their 90′s rock sound, with the exception of OKC

    • This looks a lot more like my list. There’s no reason for Pablo Honey to be anything but last.

    • YESSS. Finally some sense in these halls. My list would look EXACTLY like this, with Amnesiac and HTTT switching it out depending on my mood.
      Aside from “Creep” and “You,” Pablo Honey is not a Radiohead record to me. Call it On a Friday or whatever…but that’s not Radiohead.

    • crabtron  |   Posted on Oct 26th, 2012 +1

      Pretty darn close to my list as well. I like how Hail to the Thief defies the list, and refuses to have a number in front of it. It’s too raw, too unrevised to play by such rules.

    • Who makes a list and puts ‘The Bends’ at #7? Who does that?

      • Yes ‘In Rainbows’ is DEFINATELY better than ‘Amnesiac’. Some songs on ‘Amnesiac’ only ever sounded good to me when I heard them on the ‘I Might Be Wrong’ live album. This live album possibly should count on the list in the same way as ‘Nirvana Unplugged’ would count if they had a list. Also it’s ace!

  16. I think the whole Pablo Honey beating KOL was bound to generate some controversy. As dull as I find KOL to be, it is still better than Pablo Honey. PH is good just for listening and thinking “Well, gee, they really didn’t come from an alien planet that communicates strictly with music.” Other than that, it’s a pretty lame album by anyone’s standards.

    I do agree with the Hail to the Thief ranking, though…I feel it is severely underrated.

  17. Yep. KOL and In Rainbows to low. Pablo Honey too high.

  18. 1. Kid A
    2. OK Computer
    3. In Rainbows
    4. The Bends
    5. TKOL
    6. Amnesiac
    7. HTTT

    8001. Pablo Honey

    But seriously, all subjectivity aside, placing In Rainbows so low and Pablo Honey as anything but Radiohead’s worst album is nothing but a transparent attempt at comment-baiting.

    • good stuff, and pretty damn close to mine. for what it’s worth:

      1. kid a
      2. in rainbows
      3. ok computer
      4/5. tie between the bends / hail to the thief
      6. the king of limbs
      7. amnesiac
      8. pablo honey

      this is taking into account only how much i enjoy the songs on each album, and none of the “cultural significance.” and yeah, i don’t know how one can rate in rainbows so low – literally every song is amazing, which is a rarity. ok computer i can’t say the same about (although i almost can). that all said, i’m glad to see hail to the thief get some love for once. there there, where i end and you begin, and go to sleep are top-tier radiohead for me.

  19. 1. Ok Computer / Kid A (Sheer Brilliance)
    2. In Rainbows / The Bends (Fantastic Start to Finish)
    3. Hail to the Thief / King of Limbs / Amnesiac (Amazing albums with experimental deep cuts that some fans aren’t into)
    4. Pablo Honey (Proto-Radiohead)

    • Yeah, this is really the only way to make this list.
      In Rainbows could stand at number #2 with The Bends slightly, slightly lower, in my opinion. But all the rest just as you’ve said.

    • I think you’ve successfully delineated the four major sub-specialties students will be able to choose from when majoring in “Radiohead Studies” in the future. This assumes Radiohead will assume some sort of “Wild Stallions” status in said future (fuck it, why not)

  20. I’m really curious to know what is everybody’s favorite song on KOL. I suspect there will be a lot of variation, but the reason I ask is because “Separator” is just amazing to me and I was shocked it wasn’t more lauded by fans.

    So what’s YOUR favorite KOL song?

  21. Hell yeah! Get them page views!

  22. your post made me think of this british comedy sketch..hilarious.. cheeerioo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHS3ci9H_Uc

  23. did you write this feature just so you could use the word threnody?

  24. Man, what just happened here? This list was advertised as the best + worst lists to end all best + worst lists according to Stereogum lore. The list finally materialized in front of our very eyes, and it landed with a thud. KOL behind Pablo Honey? After how much alcohol? In Rainbows behind Amnesiac and HTTT? After how many straight hours of David Guetta related torture? The Bends behind HTTT? Are you just looking to fight me now?

    In all seriousness though, once you’ve established Pablo Honey is the only blemish (which you didn’t), the order becomes irrelevant due to how amazing this band has been for two decades now.

  25. Kid A for #1

  26. Come on. KOL is better than Pablo Honey, there is no question. And In Rainbows should be #3. I personally prefer Kid A to OKC but I think that’s sort of a coin toss.

  27. Wow, top two picks aside this is a seriously confused list.

  28. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  29. Please please please can we get Radiohead’s 10 Best Songs next? The rage in that comment section is all I want for Christmas

  30. What I think at anytime of the day, any day:

    1) The Bends, Ok Computer, Kid A and In Rainbows are masterpieces;
    2) Amnesiac and KOTL are great great records that i’ve come to love more and more;
    3) Hail To The Thief is a bummer: great tracks with some minor ones.
    4) Pablo Honey is mediocre.

  31. Aaron Cunningham  |   Posted on Oct 25th, 2012 0

    Pablo Honey is underrated, IMO (though definitely their “least best” album). I’ve often said that it’s a problem of sequencing moreso than content. For those who are so inclined, I’d recommend checking it out in this order:

    Ripcord
    How Do You?
    Stop Whispering
    Creep
    Thinking About You
    You
    Anyone Can Play Guitar
    Vegetable
    I Can’t
    Lurgee
    Blow Out
    Prove Yourself

    Again, that’s not gonna move it up to #3 or anything, but it’s a much more interesting album than the sequence they released…

  32. I expected a much stinkier and greenish shit storm than what I’m seeing. I’m proud of you, Stereogum Commentors.

  33. I’m sorry but In Rainbows is far better than Amnesiac & Hail to the Thief

  34. yea so uh pretty good list, here’s mine
    1. Pablo Honey
    2. Pablo Honey
    3. Pablo Honey
    4. Pablo Honey
    5. Pablo Honey
    6. Pablo Honey
    7. Pablo Honey
    8. rainbowz

  35. I know that people may disagree on some choices but I was expecting a Everything In Its Right Place kind comment. (well I made one)

  36. You’re sacrificing integrity for the sake of page views and comments.

      • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  37. This page is officially on an infinite loop. Feeling fitter, more productive, not drinking too much caffeine now…

  38. I’m still waiting for stereogum to do this for Bruce Springsteen. BRUUUUUUUUUUCE!

  39. I could be wrong… but the weak shit storm here seems to only be happening because many of you predicted a shit storm would result from a Radiohead list. Really, there is nothing enraging about this list.

  40. Radiohead doesn’t have a “worst” album, just an EIGHTH BEST. Radiohead rules modern music.

  41. #TEAM IN RAINBOWS.

    after OKC and KA, of course.

  42. I like the second half of KOL better then the first half. Lotus Flower, Codex, Give up the Ghost, and Separator are all amazing songs.

  43. House of Cards was bland?! Come on, that was like my second favorite off of that record, the record itself being my 2nd favorite by them. Oy, it’s all subjective I guess.

  44. woah, not much love for TKOL and Rainbows… too bad, they’re both gems. Pablo would be a great album that most other bands would kill for in their catalog, but it just does not hold up with the rest of these giants.

  45. 1- OK Computer
    2- Kid A
    3- In Rainbows
    4- Amnesiac
    5- Hail to the Thief
    6- The Bends
    7- TKOL
    8- Pablo Honey

    simple.

  46. I’ve spent more time with TKOLRMX than the album itself, and perhaps that is why the low ranking of that record surprises me as it does. Nevertheless, a good and brave effort here.

  47. This fool put Pablo Honey over TKOL…you should be ashamed of yourself sir, ashamed!

  48. Personally:

    1. The Bends
    2. Kid A
    3. OK Computer
    4. In Rainbows
    5. The King of Limbs
    6. Amnesiac
    7. Hail to the Thief
    8. Pablo Honey

    The thing about it though, is spots 1-6 are incredibly close. Hail to the Thief I still enjoy but has a few weak tracks in my opinion. Pablo Honey, just, yeah I don’t really need to say anything.

    Also I strongly disagree Re: TKOL first half > second half. Codex, Give Up the Ghost, and Separator are all better than anything on the first half minus Bloom.

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