Album Review Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions

So, did they embrace their newfound pop sensibilities completely?

Everyone is tired of hearing it, but it must be said once again: In the eyes of quite a substantial number of their hardcore fans, Biffy Clyro have skirted dangerously close to abandoning everything that they loved about them. 2007’s ‘Puzzle’ saw the Scottish three-piece moving in a much poppier direction, eschewing the complex song structures (and very nearly, time signatures) that had been developed on ‘The Vertigo of Bliss’ and ‘Infinity Land’. It was a commercial success, but was not all that well received by a sizeable contingent of the band’s followers.

We got the first taste of what would eventually become ‘Only Revolutions’ last summer, when its lead single ‘Mountains’ was released. As with ‘Puzzle’, it earned them a lot of new fans, and left a sour taste in the mouths of many of the older ones. From their point of view, the next track lifted from the record (‘That Golden Rule’) sounded much more promising, described by the band themselves as ‘like Kyuss and Tool playing with some Scottish freaks screaming over the top of it.’ As more information was revealed, including the album title, speculation about the sound of ‘Only Revolutions’ grew.

So, did they embrace their newfound pop sensibilities completely? Or did they completely veer away from the expectations of the general public and produce an accessible (as they always have been accessible, let’s face it) but at the same time left-field album? The answer to that question is… well, both.

Recent single ‘The Captain’ opens proceedings with some ridiculously over-the-top brass. It boasts a massive chorus, and some exceptional drumming courtesy of Ben Johnston - simple yet highly effective. It’s followed by the aforementioned ‘That Golden Rule’, one of the best songs they’ve written to date. These two, along with ‘Mountains’, would be the songs that have been knocking about for a while. There are no less than nine other, brand spanking new, songs here, and among them are hidden quite a few surprises.

Josh Homme, he of Queens of the Stone Age fame, makes an appearance on ‘Bubbles’, contributing a solo to a song that is simply stunning. It ticks all the right boxes as far as we’re concerned. After this, we have the acoustic ‘God And Satan’; it’s every bit as powerful a track as ‘Puzzle’’s devastating closer, ‘Machines’.

‘Born on a Horse’ is the most ‘out there’ track on the album. Synths and a woodblock feature here, in quite a departure for the band. It contains one of the best/most cringeworthy opening lines in recent memory, courtesy of Simon Neil: ‘I pronounce it ‘aluminium’, ‘cause there’s an ‘i’ next to the ‘u’ and ‘m”. It progresses into more conventional territory later, but it sends clear signals to fans of the band’s celebrated experimentalism.

‘Many of Horror’, known to be the next single from the album due to a Twitter mishap, is a straightforward ballad that packs quite a punch due to its effective use of strings. Ballad. Strings. Yes, it might sound blindingly obvious, but it works so well.

A marvellous one-two punch is next. ‘Booooom, Blast And Ruin’ and ‘Cloud of Stink’ are alike in many ways, both fast-paced and relentless, but the latter is by far the heavier track, hearkening back to the band’s grungy debut ‘Blackened Sky’. Some falsetto vocals are thrown into the chorus, too. We can see this getting quite a good reception at gigs when more people become familiar with it, I’ll say that much.

‘Only Revolutions’ ends on a positive note, with the abysmally-titled but thundering ‘Whorses’, a track driven by appropriately galloping drums, and boasting one of the finest choruses the record has to offer. As it draws to a close, you get the sense that Biffy Clyro made this record knowing that they had to make an accessible one, as they couldn’t turn their backs on their new fans. However, neither could they desert their old ones. Have they managed to reconcile the two sides of their sound? Yes, very much so. This doesn’t sound at all forced, like parts of ‘Puzzle’ did. On the contrary, it sounds like a natural progression. Evolution has triumphed over revolution.

 

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