Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Smoke or Fire

The Speakeasy
Fat Wreck-Chords

With his band falling apart around him and life of the road leaving a bad taste in his mouth, Joe
McMahon's had enough. Smoke or Fire's third full-length The Speakeasy's crammed with bitter, cynical observations, washed down with the band's biggest melodies to date. It's a rare combination of hair-raising intensity and smooth pop-punk hooks.

This time, McMahon and guitarist Jeremy Cochran are joined by Darkest Hour drummer Ryan Parrish and Avail bassist Justin "Gwomper" Burdick. It's an unlikely team, but the new blood's injected even more intensity back into the band. Especially Parrish's busy reinterpretations.

Track one, "Integrity," starts with a bang. With super-catchy riffs and McMahon's signature shout-sing-melodies rasping, "When did the news become entertainment? You pick and choose which side you wanna hear to justify your opinion."

"Monsters Among Us" maintains the urgency, launching
a scathing attack on white collar criminals and reaching the depressing realisation that "All of this is fake." McMahon's really matured as a vocalist, frontman and lyricist and "Monsters Among Us" is one for the Greatest Hits a few years down the line. Like a modern update on The Clash's "Koka Kola," saved from the depths of cliché by McMahon's sheer guts and honesty.

"There are monsters among us. There are some you can't see. They're disguised in the suits, nice shoes and ties and they take vengeance on ethics and honesty."

Things start off catchy and straightforward, getting more weighed down and punchy as the album builds. And overall, The Speakeasy's not as instantly accessible and sing-along as its predecessors. But in the long run, it's their most accomplished, complete release so far. The proverbial "grower."

The whole way through, lines like "Only death is certain," "My youth is slipping away," "The chorus is over" and "Everything falls apart, you've got to hold on to the memories" underline McMahon's bubbling intensity. And if you really listen, despite its up-tempo nature, The Speakeasy's a sad trip through the head of a troubled young man keeping things going the only way he knows how.

Order The Speakeasy from Fat Wreck for $10
Smoke or Fire on MySpace

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