Most bands that manage to stay together for more than a decade are eventually presented with two choices. The easy one is to continue writing, recording, releasing, and touring as you’ve always done: after all, staying true to your style and principles while catering to a modest but dedicated audience counts as a successful career by most measures.
But the second – the interesting, gutsy, and much more admirable one – is the choice of embracing the mainstream, mastering the art of pop, spreading your wings and expanding your appeal. Succeed and you’re hailed as rock statesmen; a long, promising career ahead with sold-out shows and considerable influence. Fail, and you’re accused of selling out, losing both your core fan base and any potential newcomers. It is the seminal moment in a band’s career. And unless you’ve been selling like gangbusters from the start, you cannot escape or delay it, and once you’re past your mid-30s, it’s almost always too late either way.
Ladies and gentlemen, Biffy Clyro have officially taken the plunge with their sixth studio effort, and it has paid off in brilliant fashion. Call it their The Joshua Tree. Call it their Final Straw. Go ahead and call it their Mellon Collie if you’re so inclined. Just be prepared to hear a lot about these guys in the coming months and years, because Opposites is satisfying, exhilarating, and expansive: a superbly done masterpiece.
The Sand at the Core of Our Bones:
#1. Different People 5:10
#2. Black Chandelier 4:06
#3. Sounds Like Balloons 3:46
#4. Opposite 3:55
#5. The Joke’s On Us 3:34
#6. Biblical 3:58
#7. The Girl And His Cat 3:29
#8. The Fog 4:41
#9. Little Hospitals 3:36
#10. The Thaw 3:46
The Land at the End of Our Toes:
#11. Stingin’ Belle 4:26
#12. Modern Magic Formula 3:55
#13. Spanish Radio 3:52
#14. Victory Over The Sun 3:59
#15. Pocket 3:06
#16. Trumpet Or Tap 3:56
#17. Skylight 3:45
#18. Accident Without Emergency 4:52
#19. Woo Woo 2:18
#20. Picture A Knife Fight 3:54
Simon Neil: Lead Vocals, Guitar
James Johnston: Bass, Backing Vocals
Ben Johnston: Drums, Backing Vocals
Garth “GGGarth” Richardson
DATE OF RELEASE:
28th January, 2013
Victory Over The Sun
Different People is the perfect concert opener. Here’s the scene: the boys take the stage on their new tour as the keyboards gradually rev up. Fans cheering, ready to burst with excitement. Everything is dark and moody for now, save for a single spotlight on Simon Neil. Then halfway through, he decides to unleash his inner Slash, the lights come on, the rest of the band join in, and the crowd loses their minds. Not everyone can pull it off, but you’ve just witnessed Biffy Clyro besting 30 Seconds To Mars at their own game.
Lead single Black Chandelier follows in the afterglow, and still ends up being just as memorable. Starting off with a catchy Matchbox Twenty refrain, the verse plods along like a regular modern rock single, and teases us with a dash of The Beatles before finally bursting into the type of chorus Three Days Grace would be proud of. A bridge worthy of Alice In Chains completes this package of ballsy awesomeness.
Highlights like these force you to come back and revisit them so as to stop yourself from playing them in your head repeatedly and getting the details wrong. If that doesn’t make sense to you, it probably will after you give Opposites a spin.
As the name suggests, the two discs neatly split up the thematic content into the sorrowful, depressing and morbid, followed by unabashed joy, optimism and hope. Both are equally as enjoyable, and though Clyro seem more comfortable in the former – they’re the guys who wrote Folding Stars, after all – the second disc does have more variety. Spanish Radio (which includes a Latin brass orchestra) and Trumpet Or Tap (combining elements as diverse as Clapton and Destiny’s Child) are proof that the East Ayrshire musicians are willing to change things up a bit.
For a double album, the lack of fillers is a pleasant surprise. The pounding Biblical is good enough to bring the alienated Evangelical subset of the Lifehouse base into the fold, while the slow and methodical The Fog is a step back from the madness, gently evoking the lost innocence of 70s soft rock. At least until Neil blows out his amps with some serious feedback. And signalling the change in seasons, The Thaw rounds up the first act beautifully: enough reflection already, it’s time to party! Neil acknowledges as much when he croons, “All those terrible things / Can’t you entertain us all?”
We are duly entertained as soon as the opening crunches of Stingin’ Belle smash our ears. But instead of morphing into a predictable metal gore-fest, it takes a left-field turn and gradually emerges as this sort of Scottish war chant/patriotic march. Completely unexpected and inspirational, this is without a doubt the track that defines the record. Don’t believe me? Just wait until bagpipe solo wins you over.
The Pocket is a fun, guys-jamming-together type of pop track with nonsense lyrics that some may regard as a careless filler. I call these people anal retentive. A band needs to relax and have a go occasionally, as it really helps the chemistry and camaraderie. You can’t be deathly serious 100% of the time.
It’s impossible for any one person to describe the immense range of emotions that are experienced in these 80-odd minutes, but I’ll leave you with this final image. The epic closes with the polar opposite of The Thaw: Picture A Knife Fight admonishes us to “stick together”, now that winter is approaching again. And thus the cycle starts afresh.
What a ride. Can we go again?
With Opposites, Biffy Clyro have fine-tuned their formula – a sort of grungy, melodic, alternative rock – and going forward this will become their signature sound. It retains the best aspects of the dissonant complexity found on their first three records and combines it with just the right amount of pop hooks to bring the masses spilling into their next T in the Park headline concert.
Are they the perfect ensemble? Of course not. Lyrically, Simon Neil still has room for improvement, and the material doesn’t showcase the creative inputs of the Johnston brothers just yet. While forging a unique identity takes time and experimentation in the studio (not to mention media hype), I think it’s safe to assume that Clyro are Scotland’s new marquee band.