In case you aren’t familiar with the story behind Smoke or Fire’s debut LP, When the Battery Dies, let me give you a quick history lesson: when Smoke or Fire formed in 1998, they were originally called Jericho. They released this album in 2000, moved from Boston to Richmond, and released the Workers Union EP before being asked to change their name by a 70’s Christian rock band also called Jericho. They went as Jericho RVA for a moment before becoming Smoke or Fire. During their stint as Jericho RVA they re-released Workers Union, but for whatever reason When the Battery Dies became lost to the masses and only available to those who knew where to seek it out.
Until now, that is. With the help of Say-10 Records, When the Battery Dies has become easily available once again, and fans can get a look into Smoke or Fire’s earliest work. Given that the band have been relatively quiet since 2010’s The Speakeasy, it’s exciting to have something “new” to listen to, although it’s not exactly the same sing-along punk rock that the band is known for these days.
As one might expect, it’s most similar in structure to the band’s work on Above the City: the songs are all short and there’s plenty of gruff shouting, although there’s a rougher quality here, both in terms of production and songwriting, that puts the album’s sound equally in debt to the first Get Up Kids album as much as it does Avail.
Even though it’s it’s interesting to see how much Smoke or Fire have grown as songwriters, when it comes down to it, When the Battery Dies isn’t really that good of an album. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it pales in comparison to what came after and what came after has been more readily available for years already. It’s a fun piece of punk rock history, but it’s really only worth repeated listens if you’ve already exhausted the rest of the band’s discography, or if you were there during the band’s Jericho days.
3 / 5
RIYL: Avail, The Get Up Kids (circa Four Minute Mile), Latterman (circa Turn Up the Punk, We’ll Be Singing)