New arrivals to this compilation might ask, "Will the real Smoke please stand up?" One minute the band exudes classic '60s mod aloofness on its epochal song, "My Friend Jack," in which grating fuzz guitars couldn't conceal knowing references to "taking trips." (A panicked EMI ordered the track recut -- just weeks after yanking the Game's equally notorious "The Addicted Man"). Fast forward to the '70s, and the boys are banging out trashy glam pop odes to homosexual rats ("Sweet Winifred, A Rodent Of Note" on their downtime as studio engineers at Morgan Sound.
Both eras are faithfully represented on this double-disc reissue, which kicks off with a classic blast of '60s mod snarkiness with "Keep A Hold Of What You Got," the only single by the pre-Smoke band the Shots).(Like their peers the Creation, the Smoke achieved their greatest peak in Germany, after weathering crucial setbacks at home.) In some ways, "My Friend Jack" proved a red herring, because their only album It's Smoke Time -- which appears here in its entirety -- leans more toward a psychedelic pop sound that compares favorably to the Kinks or Small Faces.
Disc Two is the flip side of the coin. The '70s-era incarnation exists as a vehicle for soggy ballads ("Time To Go"), knees-up bawdiness ("The Man With One Leg"), shameless recyclings ("Jack is Back"), and a French-only disco(!) mix that leaves the song largely intact. Quality varies greatly from track to track, but knockoffs like "Shagalagalu" wouldn't have given Marc Bolan any sleepless nights.
True believers won't revisit Disc Two more than once, but it makes for fun listening if you don't think too hard. Throw in a classic Phil Smee design, and an extensive foldout recounting the band's ups and downs, and you've got a smart, winning package. Thanks to Jack and his sugar lumps, the Smoke enjoyed a lengthier run than anyone could have imagined; what a difference a decade makes!