I look at a band like Richmond, Virginia's Smoke or Fire like this: as long as kids can string three chords together there will be bands like this. Seriously, ever since the summer of love ended and the Sex Pistols pissed on everything in their path there has been an overwhelming abundance of these types of bands. By that I mean a style of music with the lyrical ferocity of punk rock but that displays a level of musicianship, and absence of true angst, that leans more towards rock and roll.
Still, bands like this didn’t start multiplying like cockroaches until Mike Ness took Social Distortion to the top of the charts. I’m not necessarily comparing Smoke or Fire to Social Distortion, but the basic musical formula is the same.
Now, just like when the world saw clones of Pearl Jam and Nirvana in every dive bar during the short lived (thankfully) grunge movement, you are now seeing bands trying to capitalize on what is really just basic, good fashioned, if a bit souped-up, rock and roll. For the most part it is a refreshing concept.
Smoke or Fire are a little better than most of the bands taking this approach to their music. Their sophomore CD This Sinking Ship is a great example of good songwriting coupled with restraint. Songs like the album opener “What Separates Us All” and even deeper tracks like “Little Bohemia” shine out because their isn’t an overabundance of effects used, and the band isn’t trying to coax pay dirt out of some gimmicky image.
Instead the band focuses on letting their world view, as limited as it may be, do the talking. This mall inspired world view is particularly evident on songs like “The Patty Hearst Syndrome” and “Life Imitating Art.” It is this simple approach of just trying to write good songs that makes This Sinking Ship worth a spin. It is no surprise that this record is on Fat Wreck Chord records as they seem to have the Midas touch in picking bands.