Record Review: Smoke or Fire

Smoke or Fire
The Speakeasy
Richmond, VA

“Poetic, Political, Punk”

When the words “Fat Wreck” and “Speakeasy” are found on an album, sophomoric antics in a backroom bar come to mind. But Fat Wreck Chords’ formula: fast-paced, middle-fingered, West Coast punk is absent from Smoke or Fire’s debut. These East Coasters are straight-faced, mid tempo and blue-collared.

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The Speakeasy is by-the-books pop-punk rock, so if you are into sing-songy jams about the evils of war, politics and the corporate world, it hits home. “Integrity” questions the political legitimacy and agendas of TV news broadcasts. On “Monsters Among Us,” singer Joe McMahon unveils the evil creatures “disguised in their suits, nice shoes and ties.”

Smoke or Fire takes these broken record topics and breathes some new vigor into the played-out themes. “Sleepwalking” has a hook more infectious than Ebola and “1968” spits like a jungle prepped M-16. But the Dylan-esque acoustic number about 9/11 (“Honey, I Was Right About The War”) and a lament on immigration policies (“Expatriate”) are too depressing for the poppy guitars and melodic vocals.

These grizzled Richmond vets are certainly affected by their proximity to the Capital, but no one likes a preachy punk (unless it’s Jello Biafra) and while Fat Wreck’s catalog doesn’t need another band blowing snot rockets, a little levity never hurt either. (Fat Wreck Chords)

Produced and Engineered by Matt Allison at Atlas Studios, Chicago, IL // Assisted by Justin Yates // Mastered by Kim Rosen for Knack Mastering

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