”Say goodbye to the latest one-hit wonder,” advised a review of Radiohead’s tour-closing concert in October 1993. Overnight success, however, cut a deeper wound: Minutes before that show, retracted nerves in his back had laid frontman Thom Yorke out flat; only a chiropractor’s last-minute intervention propelled him on stage.
Yorke’s collapse testifies to the damage wrought by Radiohead’s sonic albatross, ”Creep.” Revved by a menacing guitar break and a slacker catchphrase (”You’re so f—ing special, but I’m a creep!”), the 1993 single’s into-the-ground airplay forced the British quintet on one grueling, two-month U.S. tour to support their debut album, Pablo Honey, and then a second, says Yorke, 26, ”to show that we weren’t just that song.” The long march not only leveled Yorke but nearly imploded the band — which includes guitarists Jonny Greenwood, 23, Ed O’Brien, 27, bassist Colin Greenwood, 25, and drummer Phil Selway, 27. ”It was more of a breakdown than a breakup,” recalls the elder Greenwood.
Recording Honey’s sequel further tested the band’s patience; a flood of unoriginal advice flowed in from their managers and label reps. ”’Do an American radio song. Where’s the American radio song?”’ Yorke sighs exasperatedly. ”We’re not the Offspring, you know.” Two months in the studio produced little usable material. Admits Yorke, ”I’m sure the people around us were thinking, ‘F— me! This album’s never going to get made.”’
But it did: The Bends — a moody, artful slice of feedback opera — has already been dubbed ”the Joshua Tree for the ’90s” by the British press. And that’s exactly what Capitol Records — which selected the somnambulent ”Fake Plastic Trees” as the first single — claims Radiohead needs to scrape the novelty off their act. ”We purposely tried to distance ourselves so far from ”Creep” that no one would make the comparison,” says Clark Staub, a Capitol marketing director. MTV has anointed the ”Trees” video as a Buzz Clip. But Staub doesn’t fear a replay of 1993. ””Creep” had a chorus to it that made Radiohead ‘that ”Creep” band,”’ he says. ”Nobody’s going to call them ‘that ”Fake Plastic Trees” band.”’