Biffy Clyro’s Opposites exemplifies the Scottish rockers’ avant-garde credentials, without actually being overtly innovative or experimental – on the surface at least.
Despite reaching the number one spot, the band continue to attract vocal detractors amongst the chorus of praise. The fact that it reached the top spot is an indication, to some, of Biffy selling out or bowing to commercialism – continuation of the criticism following Biffy’s X-Factor-gate. You know them, the ones claiming to be Biffy’s number one fan by championing Blackened Sky, boasting about seeing them at the intimate King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow back in ’99 and questioning every other fan over the date they first heard the Biff. “Was it after Puzzle?” they ask with eager anticipation, ready to accuse you of bandwagoning following the success of their breakthrough album in 2007. Those are the guys accusing Biffy of selling out – distressed, disturbed and offended by their recent commercial success. It does lead one to question the definition of a true fan, the guy who heard them first, or the guy who continues to appreciate them no matter their level of success whilst they continue to produce records of a stellar quality?
If the bigoted proponents of the “I heard of them first” culture had their way, Opposites would have been a cheap imitation of Blackened Sky, Vertigo of Bliss or Infinity Land. But seriously, who wants that? Learn to appreciate what those records were, and move on. If Simon Neil and co. had reproduced the quirky grass-roots pre-Puzzle sound in the new record, the genuine fans would have been left with a cheap imitation that paled in comparison. With a band like Biffy, so much of their music’s soul comes from the bands experiences, in particular frontman Simon Neil’s state of mind. Quite simply, it would have been unrecognisable – the wizardry of those first albums is a dialect Biffy no longer speak. The magic’s moved on…
Admittedly on it’s first listen, Opposites, sounds decidedly more progressive and more polished – most probably down to the use of a luxury Los Angeles studio as opposed to a Scottish basement or garage. Yes, it may be less raw and visceral than previous releases, but it’s just as punchy and may be their catchiest yet. A personal favourite, “Sounds like Balloons,” has more hooks than a professional angler at the Carp Masters Fishing Competition. The ignorant among us would argue that Biffy aren’t about being catchy or melodic. But then again they probably worship Blackened Sky, essentially Scotland’s answer to a grunge record. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain’s own personal mission was to fuse the best of the Beatles and Pixies. Grunge was as unembellished as it was melodic. Simon Neil’s tattoo of the In Utero angel is evidence enough that the Biff adopted this pattern earlier in their musical journey.
Now, unlike some, I was willing to accept Biffy’s progression, however after further listening it hits you. Biffy haven’t discarded their soul and inventiveness for a conveyor-belt record under pressure from their label. Not one bit. From the onomatopoeic a cappella “drips” of “Black Chandelier” to the unprecedented incorporation of a mariachi band in “Spanish Radio” playing in an alien 5-4 time signature, to the typically surreal lyrics, you are invited on a metaphysical odyssey of gargantuan sound, beautiful production and incredible ambition.
Opposites is a real investment of blood, sweat, tears and soul. It’s achievements sound-wise are equalled by the record’s underlying meaning. When it was revealed to the media that drummer, Ben had suffered from alcoholism and a waning interest in the band, the pervading themes of alienation and isolation reveal themselves as the prominent theme of The Land at the End of our Toes, the first of the two records. The album’s namesake “Opposite” stresses this sense of separation: “We are joined at the surface but nowhere else”. Also, the more metaphorical “A Girl and his Cat” pours out similar concerns: “This is your house this is not your home. I don’t know if we’re ever gonna belong”. The Sand at the Core of our Bones, the second album of Opposites, is a more optimistic response. “Woo Woo”’s, “We’ll start the journey home” plays tribute to the overcoming of their obstacles, the coming together of the band and the writing of a prolific double-record. Opposites is just as emotionally important as the likes of Puzzle (written in the aftermath of Simon Neil’s mothers death) and entertains the same conceptual gravitas.
If you are not convinced by Opposites, I implore you to listen again, immerse yourself and look a little deeper. Understand what they have done the same, what they have done differently, identify progression and appreciate the meaning. Don’t just write it off because it’s popular. It’s popular for a reason and testament to what Biffy Clyro deserve for this impressive and ambitious record.
For the published article at MouthLondon, click here.