With this month marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Radiohead
's first album Pablo Honey
, it feels like an appropriate time to look back at some of the most underwhelming debuts in music history. These aren't all flat-out bad albums per se, but they're definitely underwhelming precursors to the great careers that followed. It's also nice for us to remember that our own personal Pablo Honeys
are just stepping stones to our OK Computers
1. Radiohead - Pablo Honey
I'll just preface this by saying that I adore Radiohead and even their low points are beyond what most bands could ever hope to achieve. Nonetheless, Pablo Honey
is a weak album when you stand it up beside the rest of their discography. Of course, most albums would look weak in the company of OK Computer
, Kid A
, In Rainbows,
etc. The band themselves seem particularly loathe to acknowledge this album, though they have eased up somewhat on their absolutely-never-playing-Creep policy of late, giving it a few surprise airings on their most recent tour.
2. David Bowie - David Bowie
Before he was a shapeshifting madcap alien sent to earth to save us all, David Bowie
was just a young man named David Bowie playing some slightly offbeat, but basically pretty normal, pop-rock songs. In fact, some of the songs are nearly comedic, bordering on novelty tracks. Released in the UK on the same day as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
- a pretty ballsy move - the album bombed. Listening to the record now, I don't think it was solely the unfortunate release date that ensured commercial failure. No, it was probably something to do with the haphazard, half-baked collection of songs that make up this eponymous debut.
3. Genesis - From Genesis To Revelation
Under the guidance of successful producer/marketing guru Jonathan King, a fresh-faced Genesis were instructed to make a vaguely religious album in a musical style inspired by the Bee Gees. That might sound
like a terrible idea - that's because it was
a terrible idea. It's a testament to the talent of the group's founding members that the album isn't completely unlistenable, despite the ridiculous concept. Upon release, the album only managed to shift 650 copies. This is largely down to King's decision to exclude the band's name from the record sleeve - leaving us with an overtly religious cover that confused buyers and retailers alike.
4. Robyn - Robyn Is Here
's first album, released when she was just sixteen, is an album so chart-friendly that the charts are probably sick of how clingy it is. The Swedish singer is, of course, a pop artist to this day, but her vibrant brand of electro-pop is very far removed from this misguided early effort. Everything about the album, from the "in your face" title to the cover art just screams 90s - and not in the good nostalgic way. The production style hasn't aged well, offering a kind of vague R&B influence without really committing to it. Still, this album was released when Robyn was just sixteen, so I think it's safe to say she wasn't allowed much in the way of artistic control.
5. Pantera - Metal Magic
This had to make the list for the sheer majesty of its artwork alone. Just look at that thing. In a way, the cover gives a very authentic impression of the album - a garish collage of metal's very worst aesthetic sensibilities, desperately deployed with the intention of riding glam-rock's coattails. The Pantera that would go on to earn acclaim for their pioneering brand of groove metal are almost entirely absent from this recording. Instead we're treated to a series of uninspired hard-rock cliches, punctuated by the occasional suggestion of Dimebag Darrell's burgeoning talent. Again, Pantera were only teenagers at the time of recording so we'll cut them some slack.
6. Lou Reed - Lou Reed
embarked on his solo career in 1972, having spent the best part of the past decade crafting some of the most influential songs of all time. Given his cult status, and songwriting ability, expectations for his self-titled debut were very high indeed. Not to worry, good ole Lou wouldn't let us down, would he? Well… Yes, yes he would. The album was a sloppy mish-mash of reworked Velvet Underground songs and a few original tracks that failed to really showcase Reed's ability. All's well that ends well though - the New Yorker released his iconic album Transformer
just seven months later, sealing his legacy forever.
In spite of their flaws, all of these albums are neat little time capsules in their own way. Healthy reminders that mistakes are often the necessary first steps on the road to success. Apart from Metal Magic -
that's just a regular old unnecessary mistake.