Review Summary: Good Lord this is bland.
Smoke or Fire has never been a flashy group – they have always created simple, straightforward punk. In an era where the true essence of the genre seems to be dissipating (we have punk rock, pop punk, and seemingly hundreds of other derivative styles), Smoke or Fire has stood unwavering in its roots. They pound away frantically at the drums, blast sharp and often uninformed accusations at the government, and do their best to keep the riffs coming. Unfortunately, their loyalty to “good ol’ punk” doesn’t serve the declining genre as much as one might hope on their third studio album, The Speakeasy
The main problem with The Speakeasy
is that it is boring. This may seem like a very general (maybe even unfair) statement, but it is the most accurate way to describe the band’s combination of repetitive chords, unvarying drumming techniques, and monotone vocals. Punk has never been about award-winning vocal range, but McMahon provides us with no variation, no change-up, and absolutely no hint of excitement. The instrumental performances, for the most part, follow suit. The only thing the guitars and drums seem to be doing is establishing a pace…and they don’t often deviate from that goal. In fact, Smoke or Fire seems to keep everything the same from one song to the next – from the pacing to the general song structure. They do manage to slow things down on tracks like “Neon Light” and “Honey I Was Right About the War”, but unfortunately these instances only accentuate the aforementioned weaknesses as McMahon’s wails and the band’s overall lack of ideas have no place to hide.
To give credit where it is due, The Speakeasy
does a couple of things right. Although the guitar riffs are generally lackluster, they do
set up some very nice solos. Specifically, “Neon Light” and “Shotgun” contain some very intriguing ones, even if they are short lived. “Expatriate” opens with fast-paced picking and attention-grabbing drum fills, making it one of the most interesting songs on the album from a technical perspective. The Speakeasy
also gets better as the album progresses, and it shows undeniable improvement in the band’s overall execution of their frantic punk sound. The riffs get chunkier and more lively, and the drumming finally starts to sound purposeful. However, the dry vocals continue to plague the album, even when the instrumental aspects show some promise. In the same vein, a lack of interesting hooks and memorable choruses weigh The Speakeasy
down from start to finish. Despite its momentary flashes of hope, the album is just too strongly anchored down by bland
vocals and bland
In the end, what we have is a punk album that lacks skilled instrumental components and isn’t very catchy. It is certainly lively
, but this arises out of the album’s frantic pace more than it does from fresh ideas. The whole thing is rather unmemorable, aside from the possibility that you might look back in regret on the time you spent listening it. Smoke or Fire deserve props for sticking to their roots, but their overabundant shortcomings on this record make The Speakeasy
a failed effort musically, conceptually, and probably also commercially.