Monday, 28 January 2013

#20: Biffy Clyro - Opposites

Bucking the current coincidental trend of second albums released by bands this January are Scotland's Biffy Clyro who today released their sixth studio album entitled Opposites. Hailing from Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire the band really need little introduction after their fifth album, 2009s Only Revolutions spawned the bands first top-ten single in the form of 'Mountains' which d├ębuted at number 5 and served to extend the bands touring schedule as their popularity rose in turn causing the longest length of time in between album releases, a period of three years.

Opposites is a double album, a first for the band, and is best described as kind of dichotomy of sounds. The first half of the album entitled The Sand at the Core of Our Bones is described by singer Simon Neil as being about putting things in the worst possible way and thinking you're getting yourself into a hole.” The music isn't necessarily melancholic or sad but there is an anger behind the music that wasn't present during Only Revolutions. This can be attributed, according to interviews with the band, to the sense of alienation found after prolong periods of touring with Only Revloutions.

The opening track titled 'Different People' builds with an organ followed by the unmistakable sound of Neil's vocals that straight away let's you know you're in familiar territory. The song is melodic, even by the bands more recent standards however it works well for them and you can hear the progression from the last album. The chorus of “I am going home/Forever and ever more/No, I was never born and there's no such thing as home/We used to stand so strong/That's why the others have gone” is classic Biffy Clyro. It's both uplifting in it's sound and delivery whilst the lyrics cover a darker subject matter that is evident throughout the first half of the album.

Track two will be familiar to fans already as the first single off the album: 'Black Chandelier'. The song is a radio-friendly lament that describes feelings no longer reciprocated within a relationship.
This theme is continued in to track four 'Opposites' which is slow and melodic with a subtle string-section carrying the song.

Fans of earlier Biffy Clyro will be pleased to learn that the earlier math-rock sounds of albums such as Vertigo of Bliss are still there and are most prominent on tracks 'Sounds Like Baloons',
'The Jokes On Us' and especially 'Little Hospitals'. While this might be a point of contention between fans; the inclusion of obscure time-signatures is something Biffy aficionados will be pleased to hear, while the focus the radio-friendly sounds exhibited through Only Revolutions will keep even the most fair-weather fan happy and will certainly secure them fans in a generation not yet introduced to the band.

The second half of Opposites is a different story all together; described again by Neil as “looking more positively” when compared to the first half of the albums bleak outlook on life. This is immediately obvious as track 12 (or track one) 'Stingin' Belle' kicks in. Fans will have heard this track before, as it was the first song to receive radio airplay from the album and, although technically not a single, the song was available via download.

Track 14 'Spanish Radio' will surprise fans with the inclusion of a mariachi trumpet, which aids Neil's claims of the second half of the album being more upbeat and optimistic. Spanish brass inclusions aside, this does feel like the stadium-filling Biffy Clyro that you've come to expect and the songs dynamics rise and fall in a dramatic fashion that stems from years of song writing.

'Pocket' is perhaps the most accessible Biffy Clyro song yet. Harbouring pop sensibilities that will be recognisable to those familiar with Neil's sideproject Marmaduke Duke, the track is sweet and punchy with a simple piano melody running throughout. However the sweetness of the track makes the next track 'Trumpet or Tap' seem really quite jarring. The changing time-signatures will once again be a welcome relief to some but when included after 'Pocket' really detract from the overall feel of the song despite it's chorus being one of the more memorable from the over all record.

Perhaps the strongest three songs from the entire album are reserved for the finale. 'Accident Without Emergency' is probably the best of the three. A marching drum beat coupled with fantastically audible bass drives the song forward while an understated math-rock guitar ornaments the verses. 'Woo Woo' is as a aggressive a song as you're likely to find on the album and one which will please old fans as much as intrigue new ones and will sure to be a crowd-pleaser live. 'Picture A Knife Fight' is the penultimate song on the album (the last being an instrumental) and is a contender for best song on the album. As it the song plays out and Neil is singing “We've got to stick together”, you can't help but feel totally uplifted, although why we have to wait until the closing minutes of the album to hear songs as strong as the aforementioned is anyone's guess.

The releasing a double album is usually reserved for bands who are so wrapped up in their own sense of self importance they feel that all the tracks they write between albums are worthy of making the final cut and for bands that feel a 'greatest hits' album with the inclusion of a few B-sides is a worthwhile substitute for new material. However that doesn't feel the case with Opposites. At times the album may be spread fairly thinly, with a couple of tracks feeling like filler. Nevertheless this is a strong album, albeit not career-defining. The idea of a double-album so as to play on the dichotomous nature of the songs featuring on each disk is at once both interesting and bordering on the pretentious.

There is none of the usual concept album pomp here, despite the cover art being designed by Storm Thorgerson of Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd album cover fame, which is a complete relief. What we have instead is a concept album for the post-modern world. The sounds of the songs overall differ dramatically, not only from disk to disk, but from song to song while still managing to sound completely like the Biffy Clyro people have come to adore. While still not being the strongest album they've released, it is by no means a bad album, and one which has included enough pop to appease radio producers and with occasional elements of the angular guitars which have become a staple of their music. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another three years for the next album.