Being in a punk rock band in 2010 is a thankless job. It all seems like an endless slog through the commercial pig trough of the transparent. Yet they do it, hundreds of them across the globe forsaking widespread recognition for something with a bit of meaning. Boston-by-way-of-Richmond band Smoke or Fire are one such outfit; wading through the mess of pop punk poster boys, emo heartthrobs and mohawked poseurs to deliver an aptly profound statement of our current time.
The Speakeasy gets it due partly because the label, Fat Wreck, is no stranger to the airing of dissenting views. Fat Mike is like a bullhorn- for his own politics and that of his bands. Who else would release a song about the declining American media (“Integrity”) or a folk-punk ditty about the terrible mistake that is the war (“Honey I Was Right About The War)” without worrying about the consequences?
It isn’t all about the follies of politics, vocalist Joe McMahon spends a lot of time writing introspection; questioning morality (“Monsters Among Us”), suicide (“Shotgun”), the dissolution of the punk rock scene (“Hope And Anchor”) and moving to Mexico (“Expatriate”). And he does so with some wry humour, intellect and the very basis of what punk rock should be about; asking the questions no one else feels compelled to ask. Even when they veer towards more frenetic alternative rock territory (in the very end-of-career Crime in Stereo sounding “Porch Wine”) they do so while maintaining their collective purpose (in this case, facing mortality).
Wrapped in the kind of rock n’ roll buoyancy and melodic aesthetic that made The Lawrence Arms and No Use for a Name recognized figures of the genre, The Speakeasy is both accessible and urgent, music with meaning and an ample conscience. It’s great to know that the bands that still ply their trade in this craft are damn good at what they do. If only we could just get everyone to listen.
(Fat Wreck Chords)