Beginning life as two separate records, Biffy Clyro’s sixth studio album Opposites was instead released last week as a duo-disc album with both halves retaining their original titles, The Land At The End Of Our Toes and The Sand At The Core Of Our Bones. Speaking to XFM DJ John Kennedy on a track by track run through of the whole thing, lead singer Simon Neil described the inception of their latest project; ‘I wrote 45 songs for this one…and we were in love with about 20 odd of them…once we kinda sat down and looked at them, the 20 songs made perfect sense to us – it felt that we could perhaps do things we couldn’t on an individual record’. Indeed, what Opposites has provided Biffy with is an opportunity to test the waters of a whole range of musical types.
Whilst overall critical reception for the record has been good, many commentators have questioned whether the band have in this instance been overambitious in creating such a big record, and ask whether they might have ‘spread themselves too thinly’. It is most undoubtedly an ambitious project, and Simon recognises that ‘it might be [Biffy’s] last really over the top record’, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, if this is the last big album, it’s certainly a good one.
One of Biffy’s greatest attributes is that they are a band to which it is difficult to ascribe a single, definitive genre. They cover such a wealth of styles, particularly demonstrated on this album, whilst creating and retaining a sound that is very unique to them. Opposites is (lyrically speaking) an album of two parts, but within those exists a total conflict of sound and style which should be jarring, but actually works surprisingly well. Opening with the slowly-rousing Different People, a subtly hinted at excitement bubbles underneath before exploding into an energetic anthem guaranteed to get wellies leaping around in the mud at the Reading and Leeds festivals, which they have recently been announced to headline this summer. Thick and scuzzy breakdowns sit alongside the jolting, off-beat guitars, characteristic of their style on Stingin’ Belle (complete with bagpipes), while inflections of an almost Californian-punk vibe drives the rhythm on songs such as Little Hospitals or A Girl and His Cat. There are some easily forgettable tracks which ‘play it safe’, particularly on the second half of the album, which are broken up by some stand out tracks such as Victory Over the Sun and the immersive Skylight. Occasionally, songs progress and take on different dimensions to lacklustre beginnings, for example, The Fog isn’t especially interesting, but a heavy 60 second long instrumental slam at the end adds a darker edge and sounds surprisingly reminiscent of Snow Patrol’s Final Straw.
Some harsher critics have suggested that it is simply a half-decent album with a bunch of B-sides slotted in between, but I would be quick to disagree. Not least because some of my favourite Biffy songs are B-sides (cue crying to Breatheher, or The Rain on the flipside of the Black Chandelier EP), but also because it is unfair criticism, to my ears, for an album which covers such a vast expanse of style choices.
In my opinion, Biffy reached their zenith with Puzzle in 2007, a record heavily influenced by the very fresh and raw wound left by the passing of Neil’s mother, but that isn’t to say it’s been downhill since. While Only Revolutions (2009) saw a shift towards more ‘radio-friendly’ rock, Opposites seems to blend the two elements together, taking the frenetic energy of Puzzle with the more polished finish of Revolutions. This album definitely isn’t a game changer, nor is it the jewel in the crown, but it still stands up as a fantastic addition to Biffy’s back catalogue, with a whole host of potential new favourites to come out of it.