Most new bands build both repertoire and mutual comfort by jamming on songs everybody knows, which could be the reason for opening the album with the pounding rock waltz of “Desperation”, a Steppenwolf cover, of all things. (Those Brits really had a knack for digging out obscurities, didn’t they?) The singers harmonize and swap lines, as they do throughout the album. Frampton dominates “Stick Shift”, a driving tune of a different tempo, and in case you hadn’t had enough Steppenwolf, “Buttermilk Boy” begins just like “Born To Be Wild”, but improves greatly as the guitars pile on and the three guys in front swap lines of the lyrics. On the British LP, a predominantly acoustic tune with prominent flute and bongos called “Growing Closer” (written by Marriott’s old bandmate Ian McLagan) came next, but in America, it was replaced by the generic “Natural Born Woman”, which was already known as a single called “Natural Born Bugie”, and frankly inferior to the rest of the album. Luckily, Frampton’s title track, with its constructed sections and transitions, balances the rock with some of the acoustic touches.
“Bang!” (or “Bang?”, depending on the label or back cover) continues the onslaught, with syncopated riffs and an insistent piano. “Alabama ‘69” provides variety via a jokey acoustic country blues (particularly in the US sequence), with some terrific vocal blends, but even more striking is an unlisted instrumental that combines sitar, tablas, flute and both acoustic and electric guitars. Any other album would use this as a coda, but here it leads into “I’ll Go Alone”, which recycles one of Frampton’s pet chord changes but not until they borrow the riff from “Communication Breakdown”. And yes, that’s a harpsichord buried under there. As with the rest of the album, the vocals and lyrics are particularly buried on “A Nifty Little Number Like You”, but the focus is on the playing, even the drum solo. The slower modulations of “What You Will” make for a smooth conclusion.
As Safe As Yesterday Is has gone in and out of print countless times over the years, mostly because the band’s original label was so badly run, and most CD versions have been pressed with a minimum of budget. However, those that have come out use the British sequence, tacking the “Natural Born Bugie” single and “Wrist Job” B-side onto the end. That provides both a wider picture, and a better balance of music.
Humble Pie As Safe As Yesterday Is (1969)—3½