Smoke Or Fire – [Album]

Friday, 19 November 2010

How does one adequately express when a new album sounds good without actually sounding new? It's not that the songs are re-recordings of old material done to reflect the changes a band has undergone over time, just that the album sounds incredibly derivative of several other sources compiled into one. Listening to Smoke Or Fire's new album is like that; from the opening run of “Integrity,” listeners will be able to pick melodic and instrumental similarities between some of the songs on The Speakeasy and select songs by Against Me!, Offspring, Rise Against and a couple of other similarly bent bands. The similarities are so significant and noticeable, in fact, that I had to double-check the album's liner notes to make sure that The Speakeasy wasn't actually a covers album but, happily, they're just very derivative songs.

“It can't be that bad,” you say. “You're imagining it – or exaggerating the point for effect in print. Smoke Or Fire would never take such a soft option for a release.”


From the opening of “Integrity,” Smoke Or Fire's roots begin to show  as Joe McMahon starts belting a set of standoff-ish lyrics about the egregious voyeurism that the public indulges as they watch horrific scenes on the news, but is not spurred into action by them. Does this sound familiar? That's right – it sounds like a great Against Me! song – right down to the raw, very Tom Gabel-esque sibilance that McMahon adopts for the song. One such designer impostor song track could be seen as a fluke and totally permissible, but when Smoke Or Fire follows-up with “Monsters Like Us,” which seems to lift the overall sound and dynamic shifts of “The Kids Aren't Alright” by the Offspring, it starts to get a little suspicious. Is what Smoke Or Fire is doing here supposed to be some sort of punk rock-driven commentary on punk rock (meta-commentary?), or is it just a reasonably well-written and performed, almost actionably derivative punk rock?

The deeper one gets into The Speakeasy, the easier it gets to side with the latter possibility. “1969” sounds like what one might expect an unlikely union of Rise Against and “We Didn't Start The Fire”-era Billy Joel might sound like, while “Sleepwalking” returns to Against Me country – albeit at a point closer to New Wave than Eternal Cowboy. Conversely, “Honey I Was Right About The War” steers toward a campier permutation of Against Me! Or Rise Against as McMahon steps out solo with an acoustic guitar, and “Porch Wine” pulls into an alt-rock port to indulge in some Smashing Pumpkins-esque plaint rock. All of this would be fine enough for any punk fan, except that so much of the drive here feels like a put-on facade; more often than not, Smoke Or Fire seems to spout some very good lyrics that would be easy for listeners to fall behind were it not that the underlying drive here seems very plastic – like a Broadway enactment of punk. It is worth pointing out that some of these songs are pretty decent if one chooses to side-step the obvious sonic similarities to other bands and the generally weak sense of personality that the band exhibits here. If one does that, listeners will notice that some songs (like “Everything Falls Apart,” the title track and “Hope & Anchor”) are actually pretty great songs – it's just a matter of either suspending disbelief or treating The Speakeasy like the first punk album you've ever heard in the last ten years. If it IS the first punk record you've heard since the turn of the century or, even better, if it's the first punk record you've ever heard, The Speakeasy may indeed ignite some enduring passion in you but, if not, it'll be pretty easy to write the album off.



Smoke Or Fire – “Monsters Among Us” – The Speakeasy

Smoke Or Fire – “Neon Light” – The Speakeasy


The Speakeasy is out now. Buy it here on Amazon ,
or buy it directly from Fat Wreck Chords here .

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