x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Biffy Clyro: Opposites

An unmistakably heartfelt double album from the Scottish alternative rock band.

Biffy Clyro's frontman Simon Neil says making the album gave the band 'a chance to touch all corners of the canvas. Mark Allan / AP
Biffy Clyro's frontman Simon Neil says making the album gave the band 'a chance to touch all corners of the canvas. Mark Allan / AP

Biffy Clyro

Opposites (14th Floor)


Done properly, the double album can be a career milestone – like the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street or Prince’s Sign “O” the Times.

All too often, though, two discs equals one too many. On paper, Biffy Clyro’s Opposites sounds like the stuff of grand folly – another double album destined to fall to the twin conceits of overreach and overindulgence. Packing bagpipes, Mariachi brass and 20 songs evenly spread across discs subtitled The Sand at the Core of Our Bones and The Land at the End of Our Toes, it is, in fact, a triumph.

It was recorded more than six months in Santa Monica, California, with the trio’s long term producer Garth Richardson.

Wildly ambitious and unmistakably heartfelt, it is largely about overcoming adversity.

In 2011, the wife of the group’s frontman Simon Neil had three miscarriages; that same period saw the drummer Ben Johnston, the twin brother of the group’s bassist James Johnston, join Alcoholics Anonymous. After the blackouts and the missed flights, the drummer was finally acknowledging that he’d become a -liability.

The dark place of hurt and dissonance that these inked alternative rockers had reached is documented on disc 1 of Opposites, but the last song there, The Thaw, is transitional.

“The secrets in the snow / will always come out in the thaw,” sings Neil on a fine Foo Fighters-like anthem with massed choir. From there the road back is clear, and disc 2 talks about stoicism, healing friendships and a largesse borne of the school of hard knocks.

Neil has said that making a double album was a liberating experience – “a chance to touch all corners of the canvas”. Black Chandelier – alternative, certainly, but with one eye on the arenas – is fabulous, and the cryptic A Girl and His Cat exemplifies the kind of urgent, skewed riffs at which the band excel.

But it’s on Stingin’ Belle and Spanish Radio, though, that they really push the boat out. The former brings Celtic-flavoured guitar curlicues to a Queens of the Stone Age-like onslaught, while the latter adds a touch of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana brass to a thrilling arrangement reminiscent of Canadian prog-rockers Rush.

“I got a heart / I got a reason / To love you all / every single person,” sings Neil. It takes guts and a hard-won life-wisdom to be that candid, and Opposites is the real deal.