Saturday, 2 February 2013

Biffy Clyro - Opposites


To their defense, I don't ever necessarily dismiss Biffy Clyro to be one of these many typical acts riding shotgun on the commercial wagon of British rock. It doesn't excuse the likelihood, in equal measure, that they most likely still belong to, what I deem, the essential Q-core listing of today's saturated, same-old-same-old rung of artists who are credited simply for existing and praised just as highly for continually churning out music that is anything but worthy of praise. Four stars out of five, four stars out of five, four stars, four stars, OMG FIVE FUCKING STARS because.... because I said so. That particular pattern. True, I take to the three-piece Scottish outfit with more a sense that they're focused on the actual creative lengths of music, as opposed to simply its lucratively rewarding financial side, but that still doesn't excuse their still somewhat stable, somewhat guarded philosophy on what alt rock in the 21st century should be contributing (that is if it has anything left to offer us other than stale rehashes). And yet, they remain a three-piece, not just because the members are the same as those who had started off over ten years ago, but too in the sense that the ideas feel like that of a group, rather than just that of the front-man, with band-mates merely tagging along for name's sake. So here we have Clyro's sixth studio album and, more surprisingly, taking the shape of a double-album. With this, the possibility of two opposing outcomes begin to unfold: is this a break from the norm and perhaps more a sequential, conceptual approach the band have taken...or, more likely - if recent attempts at putting out more music than need-be, have shown us - is this a wool-over-our-eyes attempt at disguising a lack iof substance, in an attempt to nab some quick millions of bucks?

Well, let me put this way - before I drag my and your own heels through the nitty, grity detail - this is definitely one of the more interesting Clyro records to date. And I say that with an intended case of neutrality about it, because as much as I'm appealed by Biffy's long-running continuation of musical output and, here, holding on to the album's longevity, I don't necessarily feel that the additional disc of material brings about any more benefit than, perhaps a ten-track album would have. The opening track Different People does however open up with a grand promise and some sense of personal intrigue; the opening sweep of droned organs and spreading guitar strums does set the scene well for what is an interesting harmony of vocals and instrumentation. The instrumentation in question, starts off fairly obtrusive and withdrawn, but soon catapults into quickening shots of prog-rock liveliness and uptempo drum hits that match really well with the distant trawl of double-tracked vocals. Likewise, Black Chandelier has a more welcoming and incline return to 90s aesthetics in rock with how secluded the vocals feel this time, and how the instrumentation becomes a lot more engaging and reactive to how vocals deliver when the song's progression demands it.

Admittedly, the actual lyricism and detail to words here feel less effective and involved than their actual toning - let alone lacking in any concrete attraction in word choice - and I'm more appealed by its sound as opposed to the effect the words might have in a textural sense. Especially, as this [first half] progresses, and the music becomes increasingly more narrower and less variant, vocals become more a crucial benefactor to how appealing this record is, both in and away from its motivating risk as a double album. The title-track Opposite does offer a glimmer of Clyro centering their sound on the melodic unison of its prog rock leaning - vocals having a sort of Steven Wilson connectivity to the music, which I find ever-the-more appealing with the outpour the music often takes in delivering its leading streams of choruses. I can admire, in relation, the energy and liveliness this album is often fueled by and it does give the music an accompanying edge, even if the actual content is somewhat unconvincing - The Joke's On Us' lead string of 'Are we alive, because God saved us all...are we alive because God tricked us/And this is all just a joke on us' feeling a tad out-of-place and irrelevant. As a result, Clyro's potential, and more-so the proving ground where they attempt to convince us, lies at the track's centre points where its real essence is based. But what you find instead is that the music overall is either unimaginably fulfilling, or predictably stale in its repetition. It's a mixed bag, unfortunately, and given how quick the album switches between the two states, it's hard to predict just how the band will approach the succeeding track, even if the sounds do suggest something of a similarity with what's preceded it.

I guess then you can take Clyro's sense of imagination and differentiation with what is, for the most part, a stable formula of prog-rock alt rock ideas, to be more the benefit than perhaps what it should be. And yet, there's still that feeling that perhaps they're not exactly giving as much reason to give each of these tracks a manner to return to in future listens. My worries with this album - and again, why I question why this is a double album in the first place - is whether these tracks are truly, fully complete in their stature and their purpose. Tracks like Biblical and A Girl And His Cat do offer some interesting composites of auspicious guitar and hardening percussion, but in its downfall, you do come away from it feeling maybe the vocals aren't contributing as much ambition and sense of variety. Similarly, as a whole, the track The Fog comes off as one of the more incomplete efforts, despite how lush and textural its use of synths and guitar strums, are - crafting here a more finer environment sound-wise. Despite its change, the execution - for the most part - and the integrity of the sounds around it, don't give enough reason to suggest they're fulfilling the ambition the track is aiming for. The way in which the first ten tracks ends isn't, by any means, disastrous. But I do come to enter the second part with something of a cautious uncertainty as to whether I'm about to hear, like many an album in this field, more of the same, or not. The Thaw does give me a sense for optimism, even if the vocals again aren't the most heart-strung, intricate...or even provocative. I am attracted though by the band's lining of guitar deliverance and echoing howls that trickle amid the vocals.

Stingin' Belle certainly kicks off the second half/disc of the double album on a more obtrusive and bare revealing of rowdy electric guitars and thunderous drum hits. And while the sounds do emanate a far-fronted punchier exertion, the song's structure does flicker back to the band's more pop-safe kindred attitude, which here I find slightly off-putting; diluting what is a strongly-contested potential for how the music is originally composed and managed. But the rougher textures coming across on the second disc's opening songs do feel that ever-more interesting, even if the band's decision, in tracks like Modern Magic Formula, to outlay these tracks as some fairly mediocre radio-friendly carry-on, does damper what ambitious likability this music briefly builds up in its openings. The only times when I feel the band are enforcing priority on the music's internal relation - as opposed to its end production value - occurs on tracks like Victory Over the Sun, which sees vocalist Simon Neil's highland ting begin somewhat mellower and lower placed, before it eventually concedes to this, yet again, same-old reused rehashed bellowing of chorus offerings. But even with this, I feel inclined to show a sense more respect for how the band have differentiated, a slight part, from simply exerting the entire track in that same rowdy prog-rock familiarity. And given how the guitar work too takes on a much closely-nestled limitation does offer some suggestion not everything is the same here.

But that difference is indeed, as you'd fear, in short supply and as much, a glimmering hope against Clyro's doomed staleness in guitar chord structures and Neil's harmonized vocal offerings. Perhaps the better moments, and more interesting in a looking-forward optimistic fashion, are tracks like Skylight where synthesizers play a key role in the music's initial build and vocals are placed productively at a slightly off-shot position as opposed to directly in the eye of the storm of the band's collective sound. The twinkling, string-like stretches of electronics give the track a lofty air above the heavy dub of percussion that beats in the background. The final piece of this 20-track album, Picture A Knife Fight, ends the [double] album on an expectant high, but does create one of the better composites of guitar textures and everlasting tone in the instruments' grazed playing. Even if the vocals don't necessarily offer or contribute anything that's as monumental or crafted, the sway and gracious rhythm of lyrics does well to meet the flow of guitars and, all in all, the track does give the album a much-needed rewarding closer.

Perhaps if this were a single-disc ten-track offering instead, as I've stated, my reaction might have been fairly more uplifting and positive about what Opposites actually offers to its listener as far as variance and structure is concerned. The record does feel overly weakened and handicapped, because of the lack of said key elements, as a result, and in conclusion I can only come to define this record as one that attempts to offer quantity in exchange for quality....and ultimately, bores its listeners more than it excites. Not that there aren't already some great double-albums out there in the World, but I don't necessarily see this release format suiting Biffy Clyro. But even with this falter, I remain conspicuously lacking a valid reason to shrug these guys off as if they were non-existent. They do still come across as a passionate band offering less-than-passionate sub-standard rock music. But at least here, in today's day and age, the music they've made can be deemed the best of that sub-standard colony. And that my friends is, at the very least, a welcome change to the norm.
~Jordan
 
4.5

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