Review Summary: Biffy Clyro cement their status as one of the best bands in the world with one of the most difficult ventures in music: the double album.
Biffy Clyro are one of those bands that simply defy definition. They switch effortlessly between head-banging mayhem to radio-rock ballads, straight-forward rock to off-beat times with consummate ease. They have a massive international following and have released several critically acclaimed albums, most notably “Puzzle” and “Only Revolutions”.
“Puzzle” in particular was their “break through” release. It turned them from being a weird little grunge band from Kilmarnock into a massive internationally acclaimed group. With this increased popularity and publicity came a further accessibility in their sound and this was most noticeable in their 2009 smash hit “Only Revolutions”. While many die hard fans bemoaned this “mainstream” direction (because fans are, by definition, whiny dicknuts who are never, ever happy with any band changing their musical direction), it brought the band massive international critical acclaim and headlining tours across the globe (including headlining main stage at Sonisphere 2011) and cemented their place as one of the best alternative/rock/prog/metal/god-only-knows-what bands of all time.
Then January 28, 2013 rolled around and Biffy released their long-awaited and much-hyped double album “Opposites”, and as many bands have demonstrated before them, the double album is a tricky one. Most fall into the trap of stretching out a 12 good songs with a bunch of filler and wind up ruining what would have been a great album had they just stopped wanking off to their egos. It’s a risky game and very uncommon for bands to pull off effectively.
Never fear. From the opening notes of “Different People” to album closer “Picture a Knife Fight”, Biffy Clyro make it abundantly clear that their gamble has paid off in dividends.
There’s a contrasting concept throughout “Opposites” of light and dark. Each CD is given an individual title or subtitle. The first CD, “The Sand at the Core of our Bones”, is the darker of the two. It’s undoubtedly a more negative album in both musicianship and lyrical content, and the pre-released single “Black Chandelier” best demonstrates this. Its lyrics include some absolute pearlers, most notably “You left my heart like an abandoned car, broken, worn out, no use at all. But I used to be free…”. There’s also a simply colossal moment where their metal head fans can rock out and break ***, but the structure of the song is what makes it a winner. It’s a standard rock song with the band singing an offbeat harmony “Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip…” which links in perfectly with the ensuing guitar lines that go through the typical build-up-and-climax of rock and roll.
Simplistic" You bet.
Catchy and enjoyable" Even more so.
This formula continues throughout the rest of TSATCOOB but with more of a classic Biffy Clyro quirkniess while still retaining that melodic hooks that they perfected on “Only Revolutions”. The sing-a-longs on this album are immaculate and certain to illicit huge reactions at live performances and damn right they should! This is quality of the highest order. The title track is “Opposites” response to “Machines” or “Many of Horror”, while the slow atmospheric intro to “Different People” being shattered by a quirky noodling guitar riff is classic Biffy. “Sounds Like Balloons” and “The Joke’s On Us” are destined to be a permanent part of their live set and future singles, while “Biblical” is probably one of the top five tracks they’ve ever released. It’s a magnificent display of straight up rock and roll but the fantastic vocal structures and symphonic overlay make it so much more intriguing and captivating than what it would have been and elevate it to a status far beyond anything else on TSATCOOB.
The second CD is entitled “The Land at the End of our Toes” and is demonstrably the lighter of the two. It begins with the first track that was released in the build-up and from its opening salvo of snare drum and guitars to the wail of the bagpipes in its closing moments, “Stingin’ Belle” signals a far more uplifting vibe in its delivery and intent. Second track “Modern Magic Formula” has a top-notch bridge and chorus that’s fun to belt out and is destined for radio play and from there the record just gets more and more intriguing. “Opposites” is a far more experimental album in terms of its musicianship and its not merely limited to the unusual hi-hat and snare beats in “Victory Over the Sun” reminiscent of the funky “Boy On A Horse” from “Only Revolutions” (which winds up becoming one of the heaviest songs they’ve ever composed). The bagpipes in “Stingin’ Belle” are only the beginning. “Spanish Radio” has a freaking mariachi band running the show and at no stage does it sound out of place or unnecessary. “Trumpet or Tap” opens with a slow jam that sounds like it belongs on a Soundgarden until the trombone kicks in and is quickly followed by a massive chorus line and you just don’t know what to think anymore.
In short, the songs here are top class. Experimentation is everywhere and while it is indeed indulgent at times, at no stage does it detract from the music and that’s the most important thing. These songs are all memorable and engaging in their own right and that’s a massive feat for a double album. Drummer Ben Johnston said before the release that it was “a double album you could listen to all the way through” and there was “absolutely no filler” and most people laughed their asses off but god dammit, they’ve done it.
On the topic of Johnston, the musicanship is incredible as usual and his performance is the backbone that holds it all together. He’s the rare drummer who can play not just either straight up beats or complex polyrhythms but he can actually switch between them in the same song. The man is a freak of nature and the fact that he sings on most tracks as well is simply affirmation of that fact. Bassist James Johnston is also impeccable, his bass work not only being audible but actually serving to drive the melody along in places when Simon Neil is off in in his own little world playing a mental little guitar line. On that note, James Johnston’s and Neil’s work is just as impressive as Ben Johnston’s drumming. Their ability to not only play a variety of styles and tempos throughout the album but switch effortlessly from playing in 7/8 to 4/4 between choruses and verses is mind-blowing. The band as a whole are freaks, but Neil’s vocals and their seamless intertwining with Ben Johnston’s backing vocals are Biffy’s greatest strength. His lyrics are as contrasted as the bands musical style, ranging from dark and introspective, hinting at a deeper torment (particularly in the title track) to complete nonsense that are hint at either a satirist prodigy or a lunatic who’s a danger to himself and others.
There are some downers here, of course. Some tracks do slightly overstay their welcome and the production isn’t the best it could have been. Also, as good as tracks like, “Victory Over The Sun”, “Modern Magic Formula”, “Biblical” and “Opposites” are, there aren’t any here that rival the classics like “Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies”, “Mountains” or the criminally underrated “Know Your Quarry”. The production quality also isn’t as high as previous releases but with the sheer titanic amount of stuff going on here perhaps that is to be expected. It also has a very bloated run time but it’s a double album with a single CD edition with the top 14 tracks on it as selected by the band themselves, so there’s always that option for those who don’t have the strength for 20+ songs in one sitting.
In the end, however, these are just minor complaints built around a very solid core. Double albums often make or break the band attempting them and this is a definite case of a band pulling it off well.
In closing, rest easy Biffy fans because “Opposites” is incredible. There isn’t a single filler track to be found on this double LP and while its extended run time and vast experimentation may seem daunting, break out the Ritalin and chill out for a while. This is a genuine album of the year contender and arguably their best release to date.