Fizzy and delicious... but probably not good for you
Doesn’t every high school have a set of O’Malley Brothers? I’m sure we did—and I’m sure they were troublemakers, raffish and charming and always skirting the rules. Well, this set of O’Malley brothers, out of the garage pop stronghold of Chicago, have exactly the sort of dangerous appeal as you’d expect, abrasive rock riffs emerging from sweet power pop harmonies, acerbic lyrics putting a sting in exuberant melodies.
Well, Well, Well is the Safe’s third recording, mostly replicating the band’s rough and rocking live sound, but also adding a layer of sophistication and harmony. Like the Figgs, the Insomniacs and the Anderson Council, they’re somewhere along the sweet side of the garage continuum, borrowing guitar hooks from the Who but tuneful inventiveness from the Kinks and the Beatles. It’s a very retro sound—“Cool Sounds Are Here Again” would work just fine slipped into any Nuggets-era mix—but there’s enough joie de vivre and aggression to make it fresh.
The three musical O’Malley brothers—Frankie, Patrick and Michael—carry most of the weight, but they’ve recruited a niece, a nephew and a cousin to add violins and a harp and their dad to play saxophone. Though the brothers play multiple instruments, Frankie handles mostly drums, Michael bass and Patrick guitar and keyboards. They seem to have a brotherly instinct for what comes next from their siblings. Consider, for instance, “Phone Book Full of Phonies” morphs from freeform, time-signature free intro to driving, bass-thumping 4/4, or the way the guitar riff kicks in clean after the dead stop. And maybe it’s because they’re family that their voices fit together so well, criss-crossing and counterbalancing each other in the sublime “Only In Your Mind,” so that you can’t really tell where one ends and the other begins.
The highlights of this album, songs like “Phonebooks Full of Phonies,” “Fairytale Tomorrow” and “Only in Your Mind”, feel like they’ve always been there, fully-formed and ready to party, until the Safes stumbled upon them. They might remind you, faintly, of the Kinks or the Zombies, the psychedelic Who or Paul Revere & the Raiders, but only because they have the same sort of pop inevitability as these songs. No molds were broken, no genres created, in the making of this record, but what’s here is done well.
In fact, it’s hard to convey exactly what makes a record like this so good. The words available to describe it could be applied to any of a hundred records, some from the 1960s, some from day before yesterday. Good melodies, tautly played and prettily sung, a touch of sarcasm for balance, and occasional brief guitar explosions for necessary chaos… it’s a simple formula, but hard to execute. The Safes Well, Well, Well makes it look easy.