Sophomore slumps are a bitch. Smoke or Fire's debut full-length, Above the City, was a nice, short, potent shot of melodic punk with introspective lyrics that felt honest and kept it simple, but This Sinking Ship sounds more like the band is trying too hard to prove that they're relevant.
This Sinking Ship is overflowing with political rants, tales of drinking, and what feel like personal journal excerpts bitching about how hard it is being constantly on tour, yet the lyrics still don't feel as sincere as they did on the band's first album. The sudden hard-on for politically fueled songs could have turned out well, but the blue-collar themes they've integrated in the past don't come through as much, making their political perspective fall flat. In the opening track, vocalist Joe McMahon sings "as you walk along on stolen ground / ignoring poverty / remember anyone becomes a criminal / when you leave them starving" and I cringe every time I hear it because it sounds like something you hear on one of those commercials that are supposed to guilt trip you into giving more to the homeless. Basically, if I want to be preached at I'll listen to Anti-Flag. They also have a song about how much television controls our lives. Yawn.
Before you get the idea that I'd rather use this album as a coaster than listen to it, I have admit that despite its lyrical faults, it's not bad at all. I actually appreciate that Smoke or Fire didn't have any intention of writing the same record as last time, and I think the slightly darker sound they've adopted works to great effectÃ¢â¬Â¦most of the time. The songs are longer, and that aspect proves to be a double-edged sword because I was either loving what I was hearing, or I was bored to tears and ready to hit the "skip" button. The guitar harmonics employed in a few of the songs are simply awesome, particularly on "The Patty Hearst Syndrome" and "Melatonin," which I would say are two of the best tracks on the album. "Little Bohemia" goes back to the more introspective side of McMahon's lyrics and is perhaps my favorite track because it incorporates all the best aspects of the new and old material while keeping it short. It's definitely a keeper, and I hope to hear them play it live.
The kicker about the standout tracks on this record is that they're absolutely KILLER songs, but the boring ones sadly sound like filler, even if that's not what the band intended. So in the end, This Sinking Ship descends to the bottom of the ocean due to the heavy cargo of unremarkable songs that weigh down the second half of the album. Track seven, "I'll Be Gone", with its heavy, wannabe-Propagandhi thirty-second intro, signals a change in direction that goes steadily downhill as the second half plays out. By the time I got to the ninth or tenth song, I didn't care anymore.
With This Sinking Ship, Smoke or Fire have taken a dive into familiar and even generic territory, yet undoubtedly remain more than able to write some excellent melodic punk anthems. Cutting the album down to six or seven tracks and releasing it as an EP would have been a better idea, but it still stands as being a decent release.
7.0 / 10
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