WIRELESS IS MORE
THEY say we're repressed, us Brits, don't they?
So the cliché goes - brilliantly personified by the encounter between Basil and Mme Peignoir in the "Wedding" episode of "Fawlty Towers”. We bottle up all our passions behind a reserved exterior, until one day we et arrested tor marching stark naked down the high street.
You want another cliché? Boys Don't Cry. In this respect, Radiohead's promisingly imperfect "Pablo Honey" is as British and Boyish as they come. Thom Yorke spends most of the time expressing himself in the most hackneyed - and therefore meaningless - language possible, the language of the emotionally mute (" You are the sun and the moon and the stars are you," is the album's first line), and then he'll suddenly crack, take a fall, (as in Albert Camus’ "La Chute”, or Thom's own line " You're free until you drop... without a ripcord’), strip himself stark naked and emote in the most extreme terms: "I wish I was special, you're so f***ing special/But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo/ What the hell am I doing here?", or ”I’m better off dead".
Radiohead aren't the new Suede (despite guitarist Jon's frantic glam poses) but if Suede are the New Smiths, and if we must play these games (this is the music press, so I suppose we must), I'd hesitantly put Radiohead down as the New Jam. Much of "Pablo Honey" is very "Setting Sons". (Historical note: The Jam, a classic Boys’ Band, sang about the UK’s decay and The Unbearable Shiteness Of Being with mixed emotions of fury and fondness. Every kid at school thought they were Gods. The atmosphere when "Going Underground" went straight in at Number One was a million times more intense than anything surrounding "Teen Spirit”. They were f***ing MASSIVE).
Sometimes Radiohead err too tar on the side of Boy-Rock. "Ripcord", with its muscular, slashed chord progression, recalls Steve Jones on the Pistols’ "Stepping Stone”, while "How Do You?" is all "Into The Valley" heroics, Thom's voice occasionally breaking into the strained, declarative holler that Bono left behind when he finally realised the absurdity of it all. And, strangest of all, "Blow Out" starts exactly like Dire Straits’ "Sultans Of Swing”.
"Anyone Can Play Guitar" is either a hilarious parody of Carter USM’s "Do Re Mi So Far So Good", or it’ s a case of on simple melodic plagiarism. A lyric like “And if London burns, I'll be standing on the beach with my guitar/ I wanna be in a band when I get to Heaven/ Wanna grow my hair, wanna be Jim Morrison" suggests the former. So does the song that precedes it, "Thinking About You" ("Your records are here, our eyes are on my wall, your teeth are over there, but I’m still no one, and you're now a star/ I still see you in bed, but I’m playing with myself"). Coupled together, the songs form a believer’s/cynic’s dialogue on Pop Stardom. Then again, what if Radiohead really do just wanna be Mega City Four? It’s a close thing, sometimes.
The thing that tips the balance in their favour is Jon Greenwood's guitar. When he makes that grotesque crunchy noise in "Creep", just after the words "so f***ing special”, it sounds like the prison door being slammed and locked on a man's entire hopes and aspirations. Why do I keep coming back to this song? Not just because it was one of the songs of 1992 (inexplicably absent from our critics’ chart - you had, by law, to be American or Suede) but because it seems to have touched a nerve among you (witness the extraordinary devotion on the faces of the kids who recited every f***ing word of every song when Radiohead played my club at ULU last month). And it let’s face it, be the main reason you'll buy "Pablo Honey".
So f***ing special...