Sound — 9
I must admit, after hearing the full album a bunch of times, I was not disappointed. That being said, I was also surprised at a few things. "Opposites" is Biffy Clyro's 6th studio album and with it comes many new things as well as many old things. I will say right now that most of these new things happen in the first disk entitled, "The Sand At The Core Of Our Bones". I will now give a brief track-by-track analysis of the entire disk followed by an analysis of the following disk entitled, "The Land At The End Of Our Toes".
"The Sand At The Core Of Our Bones"1. "Different People". This disk kicks off the album with the track "Different People" which at first gives the impression that it will be a slow start. There is a drone of held string notes and what I am fairly confident is either organ or a synth made to sound like an organ. This is accompanied by Simon singing in soft, multi-tracked octaves. Just when I started to wonder if the song was going to kick in, it finally picked up at about the halfway point. The riff we hear reminds me immediately of Blink-182 with it's use of open string hammer-on/pull off + tremolo picking. That being said, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Overall the song is quite poppy and sets the listener up for several more pop songs to come. Most of these living on the same disk.
2. "Black Chandelier". I won't spend too much time on "Black Chandelier" where it is the album's only single. In interviews, the band did state that this particular disk was more on the darker side than the following disk. This song is a good example of this, with lines like, "... When's it's just the two of us, and a cute little cup of cyanide." The song is quite good however, don't get me wrong. It's a chilly, goosebumps kind of song with one of the coolest bridges on the album - classic Biffy - very heavy - a definite head banger.
3. "Sounds Like Balloons". I'll admit, I couldn't wait for this album just so I could get my hands on this track. They played it live at the 2012 iTunes Festival and it sounded sweet... The good news is it sounds even better on the album. The song starts with a quirky-classic Biffy-riffy. When the drums enter, it completes the groove and leads to the verse where Simon sings killer lines like "Ancient Rome, we built that f**ker stone by stone...". From this point, I just knew the song was going to be awesome. The pre-chorus gives us a break from the drum groove while Simon sings accompanied by harp! It sounds sweet. Then we are blasted in the face with one of the biggest and catchiest choruses on the album, "The Land at end of our toes, goes on and on, and on and on... The sand at the core of our bones, it goes on and on, and on and on...". This one is really worth a listen if you are into Biffy's last two albums.
4. "Opposites". I have heard this one many times. It was played live just weeks before the album release date. I can't say that I like this one. It is catchy but the lyrics make me cringe. It tends to get a little sappy with lines like, "Baby I'm leaving here, you need to be with somebody else. I can't stop bleeding here, can you suture my wounds?" I probably wouldn't have had a problem with this a few years back... I feel like this is one of the worst songs on the album. It continues the pop-like trend that the first two tracks set up. It is quite slow in tempo, and lacking an obvious point of climax that many Biffy songs have. I would skip over it if I were you, but maybe my negativity will allow you to see past this!
5. "The Joke's On Us". Awesome off-beat eight-note deception in the intro played by all guitars and the kick/crash combo. This leads to the coolest, grooviest riff on the album. This riff comes and goes in the verse in which Simon's energy is phenomenal. This is followed by a pre-chorus in which the second coolest riff on the album can be heard. So far, I bet this song sounds amazing... But there's more. The chorus is big and also one of the best on the disk, if not entire album. It also is the home of my favourite lyric on the album, "Are we alive? Because God, saved us all... Is life just a juggernaut? Are we alive? Because God, tricked us and... This is all just a joke on us." No way is this song poppy. This is classic Biffy - combines the sound of all of their albums, in my opinion.
6. "Biblical". This is the biggest question mark on the entire album - straight up pop song. I will admit that this song has grown on me in the few listens I have given it since beginning to write this review. There is a nice Allegro, medium-paced verse which doesn't seem like much with it's simple chord progression (something like I-vi-IV maybe with some variation depending on how many times played). But then the chorus explodes into a rhythmically augmented half-time with blaring guitars, strings and possibly synth. It sounds like a cool idea but in reality it almost sounds like something Hedley would write. I will admit that the vocal rhythm that Simon chooses in the chorus is very interesting and worth checking out. Don't skip over this one... But also don't expect much.
7. "A Girl And His Cat". This song is quite cool. The opening riff slaps us in the face with its upbeat heaviness. The rhythm in the verse is also interesting. Concerning quarter notes, it goes back and forth between 6/4 and 7/4 time signatures. The chorus is also quite catchy, the second of which leads to a bridge which takes the song to a close. Coming across as short and sweet, it is not the best on the album but one of the better tunes on "The Sand At The Core Of Our Bones".
8. "The Fog". This song is mostly electronic music. The song starts with just electronics eventually joined by Simon's multi-tracked octave vocals reminding us of the disk opener. Although this song does climax in intensity at the end, it does not reach that point of head-banging awesomeness that we hope for and expect from Biffy Clyro. It builds to an electronic drum beat along with a deep-blaring synth sounds and some distorted guitars. Another track to maybe give a listen to but if you want to hear only the "killer"/classic Biffy tracks, I'd skip over this one.
9. "Little Hospitals". Reminds me of "Boom, Blast, & Ruin" from their previous album (which is a very good thing). This song opens with a cool riff but soon kicks into a classic alt-rock tempo with an energetic power chord progression. Next, the verse comes in with just bass, drums and Simon's vocals. The bass tone is wicked! The chorus is composed of the power chord progression heard earlier along with a catchy vocal melody over it. In the bridge section of this song, there lies a cool riff accompanied by kazoo! Definitely worth checking out. This one ends big with blaring guitars, and epic vocals before returning to the power chord progression again. The progression is played twice after which the drums cut into half time to get the listener banging their head.
10. "The Thaw". In my opinion, one of the better songs on the disk if not the entire album. It is not an upbeat rocker but more of a slow-middle tempo, emotion-packed epic in 6/8 time. The lyrics in particular are very well written with lines like, "The secrets in the snow, will always come out in the thaw...". This one is a lot like "Many Of Horror" from "Only Revolutions". It is packed with emotion both lyrically and harmonically (the string section helps with this especially towards the end). It is also very contrasting dynamically speaking, going from soft to hard (that's what she said) a lot like with "Many Of Horror".
"The Land At The End Of Our Toes"If you have heard the song "Sounds Like Balloons", you will know what I mean when I say that this disk will go on and on. It mostly brings back that raw, energetic sound that can be found on "Only Revolutions" and somehow sounds at different times like all of their albums to date. As Simon Neil promised, it is a lot less dark and more positive/upbeat (and certainly less poppy than the 1st disk).
1. "Stingin' Belle". I first heard this song when it was released on the internet back in September. I knew then and there that the song itself was a stingin' belle. It's not an official single per se but I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be within the next few months or so. The song starts heavy with pulsing, guitars and drums in a strict duple meter time often switching between meters (4/4, 2/4 etc.). What I really like about the intro is that it suggests a minor key going back and forth between the home key chord and a power chord that lies a minor third above. The riff that comes in immediately following this section is a "triplet-y" riff that immediately used a major third. It automatically uplifts the song in terms of mood. This intro also serves as a good connector between the previous disk and this one, highlighting the darker minor key and then immediately switching to major. The lyrics in this song, especially in the verses, are often humorous and snarky with lines like, "Grow some balls, and speak your mind. You think you're cool, like a porcupine..." but Neil pulls it off extremely well and with that pulsing beat underneath, it's hard not to enjoy. The chorus is another big, powerful, energetic one and quite catchy too. The bridge starts off heavy, bringing back the pounding/pulsing guitars and drums from the intro and then gets soft after 4 bars. The snare drum keeps the time here while this soft, clean-strummed guitar section makes way into a heavy outro section which features the bagpipes (gotta love the Scottish!). After the bagpipes reach the highest note of the section, the intro triplet-y, "major third-y" riff comes back and plays a couple of times before ending the song. If anything, just listen to it for the bagpipes! But the whole song is great.
2. "Modern Magic Formula". This song was another one that Biffy Clyro performed at the 2012 iTunes Festival. It was also another one that I couldn't wait to hear on record. I feel that this song sums up the sound of all of their albums to date quite nicely. When I first heard it, I didn't realize it was a new track. I had to go into my iTunes and check "Vertigo Of Bliss" and "Infinity Land" to see if what I was hearing was off those records. It's mostly the "on-edge", rude vocal style that Simon uses in the verses that made me think this. Besides that, I think the instrumental itself could appear on any of their albums. It has a catchy chorus that one might find on "Puzzle" or "Only Revolutions" but also has the same upbeat edge and heavy/powerful ending that could also be found on these albums or even "Infinity Land" or "Vertigo...".
3. "Spanish Radio". This song is great. It is definitely the catchiest on the album. This one makes use of a mariachi band at the beginning and throughout the song. At first, I was a little sceptical on how it would turn out. But after hearing it, I was immediately hooked. The mariachi band trumpets start off the track and are soon joined by the acoustic guitar and drums, etc. In a groovy 5/8 time signature that lasts the entire song. The chorus is definitely the catchiest part of the song. The satisfying chord progression is enhanced by the basic melody sung in two-part harmony by Simon. The lyrics are great too, "I got a heart, I got a reason, to love you all, every single person...". The bridge doesn't really do a whole lot for the song except offer a cool chord progression once again with vocal harmonies "ahh-ing" over it on the downbeat of every 5/8 bar. This is followed by a final chorus before we finally get that anticipated Biffy Clyro smack in the face. If you know "Only Revolutions" well and even some tracks on "Puzzle", you will know what I mean. This is when a mellow/average volume song kicks in at the end with an onslaught of distorted guitars, and epic, high register vocals that sounds and feels so euphoric that it was well worth listening to the whole song just to get to this point. This is what I love most about Biffy Clyro and they do it so well. On top of this epic outro are the trumpets of the mariachi band once again. This is truley one of the best songs they have ever written in my opinion.
4. "Victory Over The Sun". When I said that "Spanish Radio" was ONE of the best songs they have ever written, I did not mean that it WAS the best one. I give that nomination to this song. Like with "Spanish Radio", the dynamic contrast in this song is genius. The first section of the song is based on the chord progression in the minor mode: i-VI-i-Vi etc and is in a 9/8 meter (although it does not feel like it at all. Johnston's displaced accentuation on the drums and Simon's accentuation on the guitar mess with the time signature) But embellishes this with an awesome, chill riff which sounds like something taken off of "Blackened Sky". The chord progression in what sounds like a pre-chorus changes a bit but keeps that minor, emotional, gloomy feeling to the song. After repeating this intro section somewhat, the song kicks in. It contains one of the simplest, yet coolest, funkiest riffs on the album and is driven by the kick drum keeping a tight beat while the high-hat and snare embellish the groove. It is almost like this song has two separate intro sections or verses. Because a brand new melody and brand new lyrics accompany this new groove. The chorus comes after verse 2.0 and is one of my favourite and one of the best Biffy choruses to date (in my opinion, of course). It takes the dynamics up another notch from the previous distorted guitar, funky section, into another blaring, epic chorus. The lyrics make it awesome with lines like, "... And beg for love, it feels like a memory, if we hold on, there's a victory over the sun." The song basically ends at this level after the second chorus with big guitars, a soaring string section, and repetition of the line "victory over the sun" in the vocals. This song needs to be heard by you!
5. "Pocket". I don't really find anything that special about this song. But there are some cool things to talk about. First of all, you can tell by the simplicity of the song that this one wants to be a single. Not that this is a bad thing. I would love it if this song made it to the radio. The only thing is that it's quite simple and is the kind of song that, when heard over and over, will get on your nerves. It opens with a beat on the kit and is soon joined by a poppy chord progression on the guitar. I do like the pre-chorus in this song the most because of its minor key feel. I'm not the biggest fan of the chorus, but the lyrics aren't bad. Kind of witty: "Nobody loves a spaceman, and nobody loves their friends. You look at me like I'm crazy, but you'll get what you deserve. When suddenly the world stops, and you think I'm not around... Look down baby, I'm probably in your pocket now." Besides this, there's not much else but a half decent guitar solo packed into the 3 minutes and 6 seconds that own this song. If I had my way, I would have put this song on the first disk and swapped it for "The Joke's On Us" or "Sounds Like Balloons" or something. I find that this song really interrupts the flow of awesome songs on the disk.
6. "Trumpet Or Tap". This song is another one of the greats on "Opposites". It is another one of those songs that shares elements from most of their other albums. The intro reminds me for some reason of "Infinity Land" with it's random bursts of forte guitar's + drums and single-syllable "ah!'s" in the vocals. The verse sounds like something from "Vertigo..." with it's quirky, triplet based guitar licks doubled by the vocals in falsetto towards the end of each phrase. The chorus brings in heavy, distorted power chords topped off by multi-tracked, powerful vocals, similar to something off of "Puzzle" or "Only Revolutions". Getting to the bridge, the energy from the chorus is maintained and even bumped up a notch with the addition of a bad*ss brass section, leading to a real head-banging outro. Overall, I would say that this song mostly resembles something off of "Only Revolutions". Although I think that fans of the band and all of their work to date will appreciate this one.
7. "Skylight". This song is very atmospheric. If I hadn't heard this song in context of this album and had to place it on one of Biffy Clyro's previous albums, I would say that it was a B-side from "Puzzle". It sounds almost experimental for the band with its extensive use of synthesizers and electronics. The song however does go somewhere. It builds to a synth driven, bassy, electronic beat and drone of moody, minor key harmonies and sonorities. I would say that this one is album filler but it has grown on me a bit. Check it out maybe.
8. "Accident Without Emergency". This song is catchy and just below mid tempo. It keeps this tempo the entire song but goes from a softer, mostly basic intro and verse to a big, guitar blaring chorus with those signature multi-tracked vocals that Biffy does so well. There is not much more to say about this song. Although, the lyrics are quite good and packed with emotion, especially in the final chorus (which almost functions as a second chorus coming just after the first chorus): "If this is a concert, then where's the crowd? Let's sing it out and sing it proud!". A few more bars of verse material then brings the song to a close.
9. "Woo Woo". This song is short but sweet, clocking in at just 2 minutes and 18 seconds. It is one of the few tracks on the album that actually sticks with heavily distorted guitars for the entire song. The verse has an average yet still cool guitar riff. The chorus is catchy but uses that dreaded chord progression from the Axis Of Awesome video, I-V-vi-IV. They do it a little bit different though, as Biffy Clyro often do. Instead of sticking to a strict 4/4 time, every second bar in the chorus is in 5/4, playing with the listeners expectations and therefore going somewhere unique. Apart from the corny lyrics in the bridge, it goes to cut time, making the listener want to bob their head along with the beat. After this, the chorus brings the short song to a close.
10. "Picture A Knife Fight". This is the song on the album that has grown on my the most. It's a great album closer in the sense that it sounds like a good encore song. It's impossibly catchy and at mid-tempo it can appeal to a variety of audiences. This sounds like the heart and soul of the album "Puzzle". Simon's vocals are at best here and shows us that every song, even the last song on the album is jam packed with emotion and energy. The lyrics are great in this one too. My favourite being just before the chorus: "With your stolen eyes, I'm gonna stare at the sun, until I burn them out, and then I'll picture a knife fight." After the verse-chorus-verse-chorus formula, the bridge takes us to the end. There may not be any heavy breakdowns or Biffy-riffys but instead we get something just as great. I would say that this bridge/outro carries the most emotion on the entire album. Listen to Simon snarl when he sings "... What's the use?". It sounds so simple, but you can just tell when you hear it that it is coming straight from the heart.
Lyrics — 7
My overall impression of the lyrics is positive. I would give them a 7/10 because when Simon Neil is on, he is on. When he is writing sappy pop song lyrics, he is definitely not on. The biggest shocker for me lyric-wise was "Opposite". I had been looking forward to the title track when I purchased the album. But then there were lines like, "Baby, I'm leaving here, you need to be with somebody else..." etc. This is the only song out of 20 that I cannot listen to solely because of the lyrics. That being said, there are a lot of very good lyrics on "Opposites". Possibly some of the best that Simon Neil has ever written. Just a sample from "Stingin' Belle": "We're singing for the Stingin' Belle, she's clearly lost her way. Craving all the simple times, inside her tragic day." Simon's vocals throughout the album are among his best efforts. He has continuously gotten better from album to album. If I were to rate his voice, I would say 10/10 on this album. Unfortunately the lyrics bring my overall rating for the singing down to 7.
Overall Impression — 8
I rate this album an 8 because I feel that Biffy Clyro took a lot of risks in this album. If all of them worked, I would have given it a 10. However, their attempt to write pop songs with sappy lyrics just didn't work for me. All of their other experimentations, from bagpipes, mariachi band, harp, electronics, etc. worked very well in my opinion. They found a way to bring these new sounds into Biffy Clyro and still make the result sound like Biffy Clyro. As I have mentioned above, this album definitely compares to their other albums. But what makes "Opposites" its own are these experimentations with sound. I'd have to say that the best songs on the album are: "Sounds Like Balloons", "The Joke's On Us", "Modern Magic Formula", "Spanish Radio", "Victory Over The Sun", "Trumpet Or Tap", and "Picture A Knife Fight". If this album was stolen from me, I would buy it on vinyl.