Review: Biffy Clyro – ‘Opposites’

biffFast approaching their twentieth year since inception way back in 1995 during a Britpop dominated UK music scene, seasoned alt-rockers Biffy Clyro are looking to raise the bar on sixth studio record and double album ‘Opposites‘.

Approaching a double sided record is a tentative beast for bands and fans alike; difficult to get right even for the most varied and ambitious of groups, such is the unusual demand on listeners to sit through potentially over an hour’s worth of material. ‘Opposites’ is unlikely to soundtrack a commute to work, being a record rewarding extensive listening through a volume dialled up speaker system as opposed to headphones – just like the good old days.

After high charting recent records in 2007’s ‘Puzzle‘ and 2009’s ‘Only Revolutions‘, long-term members of the Biffy fanbase may seek refuge here, with several tracks comprising meatier elements reminiscent of the barbed-wire punk rock sound found on earlier records such as ‘Infinity Land‘. The album effectively analyses the good and bad fundamentals of human consciousness, while aiming to appease a growing, diverse demographic gained largely after 2010 X Factor winner Matt Cardle’s cover of ‘Many Of Horror‘ alerted mainstream ears to a band experimenting with a vulnerable, soft-hearted pop sensibility amidst soaring choruses.

Opening track ‘Different People‘ reacquaints listeners with an undoubtedly new-age Biffy sound and song structure, establishing sustained keyboard notes as lead singer Simon Neil achingly depicts the tale of a relationship once strong having now turned sour, before a staple Biffy staccato lead quickens the pace and turns the track on its axis, aptly signalling the split collective intentions of this body of work to come.

Album highlight and recent single ‘Black Chandelier‘ sees the band on supreme form, evoking the finest moments of ‘Puzzle’ for a song which bleeds with dark exclamations of self deprecation. This is particularly evident on emotionally tinged vocal line, “I shouldn’t laugh, but I know I’m a failure in your eyes”, leading into tinnitus inducing guitar bursts in what becomes an epic, Shakespearean style ode to doomed romance.

A hurried swagger and a dance off between guitar riffs and bass make-up ‘Sounds Like Balloons‘, containing examples of familiarly abstract lyrics in directly aligning the biological with the natural world, including quips such as ‘the land at the end of our toes’ and ‘the sand at the core of our bones’. A recurring theme begins to emerge of doom laden intrigue as Neil repeatedly talks of desertion, intimating to a partner they ‘need to be with somebody else’ on the stripped back ‘Opposite‘.

The anthemic ‘Biblical‘ is a movie soundtracking candidate, beginning with palm-muted guitars around Neil’s pessimistic questioning of a bond which has broken down one too many times, before growing in nervous energy and erupting at the chorus into an apocalyptic crescendo of noise amidst the stop-start rhyming couplet laden vocals.

The metaphors outlining dissatisfaction in a relationship become wearisome however, including the statement, “You can build a house but not a home, it will always stand on shaky ground” on ‘A Girl And His Cat‘. ‘Little Hospitals‘ breaks the well worn dynamic though as an immediately up-tempo Nineties grunge era, floating pop-rock chorused affair in the mould of Sonic Youth and Hole, containing further madcap charm in lyrics such as, “I’ll turn your baby into lemonade”.

While the shift in overall sound between discs is not as drastic as perhaps intended, as evidenced from the sporadic additions of more ‘upbeat’ instruments and the continuation of a quiet/loud dynamic, lyrically they are if not opposite, certainly more uplifting in parts, as the despondent subject matter on the first side makes way for renewed hope.

Side two launches into the high-octane ‘Stingin’ Belle‘, with a final act of pent up aggression in bridging the two sides via a pulsating, ferocious guitar intro, making way for impassioned statements of a partner’s controlling methods, while a bagpipe solo harks back to the band’s Scottish origins as a welcome addition to the now familiar guitar sound.

Modern Magic Formula‘ sees a therapeutic lyrical shift towards actively attempting to move life in the right direction, finding ‘a whole new backbone’ and yearning for a ‘magic formula’. Joyful trumpets which greet the listener on ‘Spanish Radio‘ instil a further sense of a change in psyche, with the interjected flamenco rhythms compounding the desire for change seen in chorus lines, “I’ve got a heart, I’ve got a reason, to love you all, every single person”.

Victory Over The Sun‘ is a nostalgic memory trip, harbouring hopes of holding on to rekindle ultimate goals of love and various desires, while ‘Pocket‘ intimates a similar wish for starting afresh, injecting a surprising Americana tinged power pop element to proceedings, featuring a nod to heavier Neil Young in its power chord repetitions.

Piano enters in the ballad ‘Skylight‘, breaking from ferocious guitar as a pared down ode to healing ravaged minds from many mistakes, alongside the realisation of knowing how to repair the damage and that ‘it’s time to sing a happy song’. The band don’t close out the album on a mellow note however, with the fiery ‘Picture A Knife Fight‘ as musically confrontational as the title name would evoke, with Neil leaving an affecting parting notion of, “We’re gonna stay here till we make it alright”.

There are inevitably some filler tracks which may have seen the album benefit from more prudent culling of weaker tracks, but for the most part the mass appealing lyrical tenderness is often matched but not overpowered by the arena filling rasp of the distortion laden guitars throughout.

This record showcases what is now essentially Biffy Clyro’s default motif, appealing to the majority of their fan spectrum. It’s doubtful a true return to their initial harder hitting rock roots will ever materialise, but if the current formula is proving this impressive, we should probably ask ourselves:

Why should they look back?

(Jamie Boyd)

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