If one image has defined Biffy Clyro’s career so far, it’s Simon Neil, shirtless and sodden with sweat, head down with hair thrashing, as he bludgeons an angular, off-rhythm crescendo from his Fender Stratocaster. Even as Biffy’s sound evolved from the bruising assault of The Vertigo Of Bliss towards the luscious melodic hooks at the heart of both Puzzle and Only Revolutions, the Scottish trio remained spikey, punishing, and inventive.
“Different People”, the opening gambit from a 78-minute double album Opposites, cements a new image of the band: hand on heart, head tilted skyward. The new Biffy Clyro exist in the grandest arenas and their music soars accordingly; swelling upwards and outwards rather than crashing down in ever tightening spirals. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The band’s ambitions became clear the second they started writing hooks big enough for X-Factor cover versions and Premier League coverage.
It’s a style and approach the band have effortlessly mastered. Biffy’s once unnerving riffs have quickly morphed into uplifting waves that crest ever higher on “Sounds Like Balloons” and “Victory Over The Sun”. At its best Opposites is an enlivening experience. It lifts the listener from the inside out. Even in isolation it recreates the feeling of a crowd in full sway, bouncing in slow motion, existing in unison with a million hands aloft. “Biblical” captures Opposites’ tone perfectly. Starting with a radio friendly slow build intro, the track migrates through quotable throwaway lines (“I Know How It Looks But All That Glitters Ain’t Gold”) and knowing lyrical quirks, to a cataclysmic crescendo worthy of the track’s title. It’s the kind of effort that’s too effective to deny, but will have long-term fans grimacing. It’s shallow, broadest brushstrokes imaginable pop that plays to all the contrived conventions that this band used to sidestep.
Arriving half way through the first of two albums “Biblical” is also the moment when Opposites jumps the shark. The new stadium Biffy is defiantly mid-tempo and mid range. In isolation this approach is admirable, but across 70 minutes it grates as one vital live for the moment chorus follows another. It’s hard to convince the listener that this one quirkily detailed moment between two unconventional lovers, is the most important shared sentiment in the world when it lasts longer than an entire episode of Homeland.
Thankfully, the attritional effect of Simon Neil’s earnest assault is dulled by the band’s commitment to invention. Biffy might not circumvent expectation as freely as they once did, but the grinding flurry that concludes “Black Chandelier”, the unnerving keys and ominous ushering noise of “The Fog”, and delightfully playful horns of “Spanish Radio” defuse the album’s overly heartfelt modus operandi. Equally, while Neil might spend too much time exalting and evoking the heavens, he’s still one of the most fascinating arena-sized lyricists. Not only is he wilfully macabre, but its hard to picture Caleb Followhill or Bono mentioning “cow shit” or opening a slippery electric rocker with a line as barmy as “I’ll Turn Your Baby Into Lemonade, Suckle Lemons and Trade, Trade, Trade!”
For all its inventive detours it would be disingenuous to paint Opposites as a continually surprising double album. This isn’t The White Album. There is no “Rocky Raccoon” or a “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” lurking around the next corner, ready to leap out and blow the listener’s mind. Opposites is a largely conventional and professional effort from a band who know their sound and know their audience. It’s less surprise and more satisfaction. Biffy deliver the goods continuously without threatening to break hearts or subvert expectation.
Make no mistake; the world is a better place for an arena headliner like Biffy Clyro. They are cut from a different cloth. Brought up the hard way, they offer a different strain of mainstream rock, but Opposites isn’t a game changer or a career defining sentiment. It’s a quality double album that feels stately but not singular. Biffy and their handlers clearly realise this, packaging the album in a variety of forms (single, double, special, and Spotify editions) as this record is destined to be re-arranged in each individual listener’s image.
Opposites is a supremely well-crafted LP that lacks the unimaginable heights, madcap virtuosity, or the unshakeable narrative core of the truly great double albums. Still, pulling off a successful if sadly not transcendent double album is nothing to be sniffed at. Others have tried and failed miserably, Biffy can leave with their heads held high.
Buy If:You loved Puzzle and Only Revolutions and want to hear that sound spread across 70+ minutes.
Skip If: You expect double albums to be major career altering statements.
Best Track:Spanish Radio
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