Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success is about scratching (the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" type) and two men without morals. One of them is J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster, The Leopard), a powerful newspaper columnist in New York City, who could create stars in a manner of hours, and then just as easily destroy them. His writings are followed by millions of people who are literally addicted to his street smart and confident style. The other man is Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis, The Defiant Ones), a young, handsome, ambitious and manipulative press agent lackey who admires everything J.J. does. He also fears the man, which is why he tries hard to be his friend.
A continuation of the sound established on his Alligator debut, I Smell Smoke is even more impressive than its much-heralded predecessor. While vocally Michael Burks still invites comparison to Albert King, especially on gospel-fried ballads like "Lie to Me" (the Flying V guitar he sports on this album's cover shot further reinforces the similarities between the two artists), his guitar work has become more electrified and confident. With a tone sounding at times like Eric Clapton's psychedelic work in Cream and a rugged four-piece band supporting him, this is a tough, uncompromising contemporary blues/blues-rock/R&B album that doesn't pull punches. Co-produced and mixed by veteran Jim Gaines, the sound is professional but not polished, with Burks' strong persona commanding attention. However, the songs – which are far above average – are as important as the performance. Mostly written by outside sources, Burks avoids the crowd-pleasing covers that populate his live shows, instead digging into obscure tunes such as Latimore's "Let the Doorknob Hit You," delivering them with his gutsy punch.