A year ago today, George Neame wrote the first music review (and second article) published on Portsmouth Point blog. Here, he reviews Biffy Clyro's new double album, 'Opposites'.
Overall, Biffy Clyro get 10 out of 10 for originality and ambition, with songs such as The Fog which at times reminded me of a Christmas song and The Thaw, the beginning twenty seconds of which sounds like it should be on an advert for a holiday abroad. The majestic and at times ear-splitting rock songs that have made the band so popular are more majestic and ear-splitting than ever, and even the slower songs have clearly moved on from the acoustic, heartbreaking tunes that swamped Puzzle (the band’s 4th album). Unfortunately, as expected, the standard does deteriorate slightly towards the end of each disc. Woo Woo is shaky and was probably intended to be a b-side but got promoted at the last moment. A Girl and His Cat is much more akin to their older songs, which will please a lot of people, but seems a little out of place on this album. Having said that, however, the number of times I have been annoyed at hearing a band has written and recorded over 40 songs and then had to go through the process of ‘selecting’ the best ones has meant that I am extremely glad Biffy Clyro decided to release the rest of these songs, even though they do bring the average standard of the album down slightly. As a big fan, I would rather they included some not-so-good songs than leave them out altogether. Luckily, for those who are not such big fans, there has been a ‘standard’ version released, with a selection of the best songs condensed onto one disc. Put simply, anyone who is an avid Biffy Clyro follower will love the double album for its sheer scale and grandeur. Anyone who is not will still, I’m sure, love the songs, but it would be better for their time and money to stick to the standard version and just get the ‘very best bits’.
A double album. One of modern music’s greatest risks. Of Course, Biffy Clyro’s 20-song (22 if you play your cards right and download from iTunes), double-disc sixth studio album is not quite so unusual following Green Day’s Uno!Dos!Tres! triple album, but it is still a rarity. There is more often than not only one possible outcome; there are the same number of great standard songs as you would get on a normal album, but they are diluted by weaker tracks that would usually be reserved for B-sides or EPs, giving the album an overall ‘average’ rating.
Biffy Clyro have certainly pulled out all the stops on Opposites, with a wide range of tracks, genres and instruments. They are expanding boldly into new territory as well as safeguarding their old style, perhaps even backtracking at times to the pre-Puzzle era, a promising sign for hardcore ‘old’ fans. Split into two discs entitled The Sand at the Core of Our Bones and The Land at the End of Our Toes, there is a significant change in style between the two, and I was pleased that the song order has clearly been meticulously planned, rather than simply packing the standout tracks into the first quarter of the album. The Sand at the Core of Our Bones is much more sombre and the lyrics are, put plainly, more depressing. It focuses on themes of unrequited love, suffering and broken hearts, some with the expected piano thuds and violins, some disguised underneath echoing guitar riffs and epic sing-along choruses. Title-track Opposite is exactly what you’d anticipate from a melancholy Biffy Clyro song, with a swaying rhythm and minimalist instruments, whilst frontman Simon Neil croons ‘You are the loneliest person that I’ve ever known’. The gloomy side of recent single Black Chandelier, however, is only noticeable when you really take heed of the lyrics, ending with the suicidal ‘When it’s just the two of us and a cute little cup of cyanide’. I cannot claim I was not disappointed that opener Different People did not feature the overly-long stabbing intro that has come to characterise other Biffy Clyro albums, but it is nevertheless a stadium-sized song of epic proportions that begins slowly and transcends into a stomping rock anthem. The Joke’s On Us and Biblical are both potential singles, the former featuring the most energetic guitar-led introduction to a song I have heard in a long time and the latter ending with a swaying vocal chorus bound to have live audiences joining in.
The Land at the End of Our Toes is much more uplifting, beginning with a blast of bagpipes in Stingin’ Belle, a nod to the band’s Scottish roots and a surprisingly appropriate addition to a rock song. Spanish Radio has an original and unique tune, though the lyrics are a little juvenile and unsophisticated (‘I’ve got a heart, I’ve got a reason to love you all, every single person’) and the verses of Trumpet or Tap sounds so dissimilar to anything I have ever heard on a modern rock album I have struggled to put it into words. You’ll just have to listen to it. Although Skylight seems out of place on disc two, starting with a solemn piano plod and heartbeat thud in the background, it is a nice break from the relentless guitars and strained vocals. Undoubtedly the highlight of the second half of the album is Victory Over the Sun, a 4-minute song that, by the time you reach the end, you will feel like you’ve been listening to for the last half an hour. The changes in tempo and style are unremitting and the crashing drums, resonant guitars and imposing violin sections all intertwine to create a grand, elaborate rock chant that should really have been left as the last song on the album.