If you can get past some political self-congratulation, The Speakeasy is an energetic, often observant record.
Smoke or Fire make a sort of meat-and-potatoes pop-punk. That's not to say they're dull -- in fact, their debut Above This City is one of the great pop-punk albums in recent memory -- but you know what you're going to get. Buzz saw guitar, crashing drums, brash vocals -- it's all there. On The Speakeasy, it's there in pretty solid doses, too. These guys mix it up just enough, from the quiet-to-loud intensity of "Integrity" to the stuttering rhythms of "1968", that things shift on the album exactly when you need them to. Such variation keeps the album from becoming generic pop-punk. Like their punk forefathers, they get topical and political all over the record, addressing biased-media-as-entertainment, illegal immigration and other hot button topics. The songs are often keenly observed, though they can feel self-righteous, particularly the acoustic number "Honey I Was Right About the War". Still, The Speakeasy is a solid record, one that brings the energy and reminds the crowd that W. being gone doesn't mean everything is fixed. Sure, it'd be nice if they didn't place themselves above the fray so often, but it's pretty hard to hear the self-congratulations over all that blasting noise.