MUSIC REVIEWS: Radiohead Reissues of Pablo Honey, The Bends, and OK Computer
Sometimes it pays to take another look at things; pop in a DVD of a movie you haven’t seen in a while, spin an album that has been accumulating dust (spin an album? goes to show you how old I am), maybe give an old flame another try…wait, let’s not get carried away here! Radiohead has re-released their first three albums, Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer in both collectors editions and ‘special’ collector editions and all three are definitely worth another looks-see and listen.
A great debut, featuring the de-facto dork anthem, “Creep,” it’s the various layers Radiohead gives to these songs, even this early on in the band’s life, that makes Pablo Honey work for me. At times, the guys do that soft/loud thing a little too much (it works for “Creep” but its over-done a bit on the opener, “You”). But where Radiohead shows restraint, keeps to the intent of a tune, they are brilliant: the acoustic “Thinking About You,” the triple-hard pop punch of “Ripcord,” “Vegetable,” and “Prove Yourself” and the absolutely swirly and rich “Lurgee” shows what this band will soon become.
The extras on this special edition are great to. Radio’s debut Drill EP is here with demos of “Prove Yourself” and a fantastic “Stupid Car,” a fast, U2 send-up “Inside My head” begins tracks 5-12, labeled here under the title of Creep. I really dig “Yes I Am” with its jangly guitar and smarmy groove (you really see how Johnny Greenwood’s guitar sound-scapes sometimes leads the way) but I’d have to say the acoustic version of “Creep” and live “Vegetable” and “Killer Cars” are the highlights. There’s the great scraping, somewhat too-strange-for-its-own-good “Coke Babies” in the Anyone Can Play Guitar section and the band’s early unsuccessful singles “Pop Is Dead” and “Stop Whispering” are included here as well. A 1992 BBC Radio One Session ends it all, the ‘tight’ confines of live radio recordings adding to the weird paranoia of this band’s already weird and paranoid tunes.
Whatever Radiohead did right on Pablo Honey, in my opinion, they did it even right-er on their second album, The Bends. From that great echo-ey piano intro and Thom Yorke’s plaintive wail on “Planet Telex,” the balls-to-the-wall dance-able title track to the back-to-back punch sadness of two of my all-time favorite Radiohead tunes, “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees” (my favorite Radiohead song presently).
There’s a lot of acoustic guitar here, with “Trees” or just loosely flowing behind the crazy white-funk of “Just,” a definite Beatle nod on “My Iron Lung,” and the swirling strangeness-of-things-to-come of Kid A of “Bullet Proof…I Wish” and second to last tune “Sulk.”
This special edition of course has a whole ‘nother CD of ‘extras’. Of the six songs from their My Iron Lung EP, I really moved to the tightly constructed rock tune “The Trickster” and the haunting “Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong.” There’s an acoustic “Fake Plastic Trees” (which will slice your heart in two if you’re not careful) “BulletProof…I Wish I Was” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out), ”as well as a whole bunch of other tunes that did not make The Bends (though listening to “Bishops Robes,” “Banana Company,” and “Molasses” one might see why…they are the weakest here) and the obligatory four tunes at the end of the band playing another BBC session in 1994.
Only two albums under their belt and the five-piece of Yorke, Johnny and Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Phil Selway was sounding great. It’s no surprise then that Ok Computer has more of the same tightly constructed gems as its predecessors. The strings on the opener “Airbag” are a nice touch (though Johnny Greenwood’s guitar noodling gets in the way a little too much for me); “Paranoid Android” gets kinda fun in a funky weird strong way, the drumming of Selway is as good as ever; it’s cry cry cry with the mellotron-led lament of “Exit Music (For A Film)”…and how can you not love “Karma Police”? There’s also great tunes here built around repeated riffs or motifs, songs like the atmospheric “Let Down” or rockin’ “Electioneering.” Things even get sweet-dare I say that about a Radiohead album!-with the lilting “No Surprises.”
The ‘surprises’ of the collector’s part of Ok Computer, like the previous two albums, are many. Though I’m not so sure “Polyethylene (Parts 1&2)” and “Pearly” do much really, other than showcase the band playing loud (though “Pearly” has a cool beat) “Melatonin” and “Meeting In The Aisle” speak to my older prog sensibilities, the first with its stark vocal/keys/drums arrangement and the latter with its drum-machine sounding snap and keys. There’s plenty of ambient vibe (Again, Kid A is just round the corner here) on both “Climbing Up The Walls” and “Palo Alto,” there’s a nice use of piano on “How I Made My Millions” and live versions of “Airbag” and “Lucky.” Again the CD ends with a BBC Radio One Evening Session, this one from May of 1997.
While the “Collectors Editions” of these CD’s include the original albums plus that second CD of demos, alternate versions, BBC performances and live recordings, the “Special Collector Editions” are in deluxe lift-top box packaging, with the aforementioned 2CDs plus a DVD of promo videos, T.V. performances, concert footage and postcards. Let’s face it, in the current financial crunch we are all under why would you got out and buy a CD you already own unless you were getting a lot for your money? Radiohead definitely put a lot of work into giving their fans something for their money with these new versions of their first three albums.