As someone who loves making playlists; fretting about what song should open, should close, would flow well into the next song etc, I’m often interested in how albums play out as a result of their running order. I vaguely remember reading/hearing an interview with Thom Yorke several years ago where he said that before an album was finalised he would spend large amounts of time going over the new songs on a MiniDisc player, cutting and pasting and shuffling the order until he felt he had the songs playing in a way which best suited a cohesive listen from start to finish. I’ve heard other artists refer to this process as creating something of a “journey” within an album, whereby each song is a stepping stone to a logical final destination. Albums such as Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, which quite intentionally attempts to tell a linear story across two sides of vinyl. Or Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, an album that tries to replicate the feelings of a high and a come down through it’s well thought out running order.
But I’m not just referring to what are often labelled as ‘concept’ albums, as records don’t have to tell a story. I do believe, however, that although it’s out of the ordinary for an album to have a narrative, it is quite common for an album to try and convey something of an emotional journey. Just like the movies, some albums ease you in slowly and let you familiarise yourself with the tone, before scenes of a varying nature lead to a satisfying resolution. Others start with a bold statement or set piece, concluding in a moment of high drama or explosive action. Take The Stone Roses debut for example, which starts and ends so superbly, with such intent and purpose.
At university we were taught the basics of essay writing. You need an arresting opening paragraph, then follow it up with your best argument, have a number of supporting ideas and themes and finally conclude with something as interesting and well thought out as your original opening statement. For me, the first Stone Roses album executes this idea with aplomb. The opening and final songs (I Wanna be Adored and I am the Resurrection, respectively) are the best on the record, and the weakest tracks (Don’t Stop to Song for my Sugar Spun Sister) fall smack bang in the middle. I’m not trying to bash those songs, as individually, I think they’re great. Even in that sequence they make up a better record than most. I’m just arguing that the way that they fit in the album is detrimental to their popularity.They are almost forgotten as they’re just not in the same league as the opening and closing tracks. I believe that the running order of that album is just as important to it’s lasting success as say the production or songwriting was. They just got it right.
Others however don’t always get it right, and Thom Yorke would be the first to admit it.
Pablo Honey is quite obviously one of Radiohead’s poorer records. That isn’t to say that it’s shit, it just doesn’t hold up so well in comparison with the rest of their far, far superior output. But Pablo Honey is also one of those albums that doesn’t flow very well, with the likes of the iconic Creep coming in before the listener is really ready for it, followed by the abomination that is How Do You? – surely a b-side at best, making the Pablo Honey experience virtually over in the first ten minutes. Of course you can always skip tracks but you should never be skipping the third song of a record. What other albums make you do that so early on? The band themselves have said that they didn’t get this aspect of their debut right. So why not change it? Over the last couple of years Morrissey has tried to re-write history by re-issuing most of his solo back catalogue with new artwork and different running orders. In some instances he’s even changed what songs make the cut. So why can’t we, or Radiohead, do the same for Pablo Honey?
I’ve listened to the album again, removed the weak link (How Do You?) and re-ordered the songs in a way in which I feel provides a more satisfying listen from start to finish. I know that this is always subjective to a listener’s personal taste, so there is undoubtedly some favouritism involved, but I’ve tried a number of running orders and have come up with a sequence that I feel improves on the way that these songs were originally collected. I was actually surprised at how much more I enjoyed these songs than I previously remembered too. Despite some shoddy lyrics (“grow my hair, I am Jim Morrison” etc.) Pablo Honey still boasts some great guitar playing and vocals. And with hindsight, it’s also much easier to join the dots between the songs from Pablo Honey to the songs that make up their much loved follow up album The Bends. The progression between those first few short years is much easier to grasp than the change of direction that the band made later from OK Computer to Kid A.
Another thing I’ve noticed going back to this record is how apparent the band’s influences come across. I knew that they were fond of The Smiths through interviews and songs such as Amnesiac’s Knives Out and their cover of The Headmaster Ritual, but listen again to Pablo Honey’s Lurgee with The Smith’s debut album in mind. It’s a blatant imitation and one I quite admire. The Pixies influence is also abound. Stick on I Can’t for example and skip it to 2:52, then start singing Surfer Rosa’s Gigantic over the top of it and get lost amongst the plagiarism. I’m surprised they didn’t have to give a songwriting credit to Kim Deal and Co. for that one.
Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a review of the record, just a suggestion that you tweak the running order and have another listen to Pablo Honey (of sorts) for old time’s sake. Try not to compare it to their later work and hopefully you can enjoy it for what it is. A fairly decent debut album from a band who had yet to move out of the shadow of their influences and find their own identity.
This is Pablo Honey revisited. A little love for an unloved album. Many thanks.
Pablo Honey Revisited
02. Anyone Can Play Guitar
05. Prove Yourself
06. Stop Whispering
09. I Can’t
10. Blow Out
11. Thinking About You