Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions
Record Label: 14th Floor
Release Date: November 6, 2009
One of the hardest tasks a band can face in their career is the dangerous transition from quirky underground treasure to mainstream commercial success: the numerous metaphorical wreckages of bands who fell at that hurdle is testament to this. The skill to write songs that remain true to the band's cultural heritage, yet appeal to mainstream musical ideals and trends, while trying not to alienate grass-root support from your fan-base is a Herculean effort and this was the challenge facing Biffy Clyro with the release of Only Revolutions, their follow-up album to the gold-selling success that was Puzzle. Thankfully for everyone involved, they've been successful and while it isn't perfect, Only Revolutions is a remarkably polished and interesting album that really stands out amongst numerous Kasabian-a-likes and Fall Out Boy-wannabes in the modern rock charts.
One of the most immediate features to hit you upon listening to this album is lead vocalist/guitarist Simon Neill. He has firmly become a lead singer in every sense of the word, having the presence to really lead the band and a voice that instantly sets them apart form contemporaries. Importantly it feels like these songs could never be sung by anyone else, or performed by anyone else. The Scottish accent really adds to the individuality but not in a forced way and while Biffy Clyro are evidently keen to stick to their roots, this does not mean descending into cliche, with stock tricks like the bagpipes being left to bands like Dropkick Murphys and The Real McKenzies.
Neill's distinctive vocal stylings definitely add to their individuality but thankfully he's amply supported by strong musicianship throughout the album. While it's definitely true to say they've moved away from their more experimental roots, the guitar work is still complex and often unpredictable. On Only Revolutions however, they seem to have hit upon the trick of fitting an interesting musical soundscape into a melodic, dare I say even a poppy, framework, which was always going to be important to keep the interest of the terminally fickle mainstream public. "Bubbles" is an excellent example of this, with a jagged guitar intro, building into a smooth rhythm, descending back into trickier guitar work, crescendoing into a strong soaring chorus, later finishing in a chaotic but brilliant instrumental closing.
The style of the album is varied as well; the band haven't just got one trick they rely on. "That Golden Rule" kicks a bit harder than the average and harkens back more to their earlier releases. Slower songs like "Many of Horror" and "Know Your Quarry" are sweet without being too sentimental. "The Captain" is incredibly difficult to pidgeonhole into a genre, and "Mountains" is just sublime. Some of the tracks fall a bit flat, such as "Shock Shock" and "Cloud of Stink" but it's not that they're bad, just not especially memorable.
Lyrically, it all gets a bit, well, mental in places. "I've never had a lover who's my sister or my brother" and "You are creating all the bubbles at night, I'm chasing round trying to pop them all the time" being two excellent examples. Throughout the entirety of Only Revolutions, Biffy Clyro rarely really on cliches or stock themes. The love songs like "Many of Horror" and "Mountains" are not straightforward odes or betrayal anthems, instead reflecting the compexities of modern relationships more honestly than the majority of bands can manage. Other songs swing wildly throughout various emotions and themes like anger, joy, self-doubt and a whole host of others that one person will probably interpret completely differently to the next.
Biffy Clyro sound like they belong in the mainstream media, while at the same time sounding like nothing else that would be played alongside them. The fact that they've managed to do this without creating any animosity or alienating their fan base is a remarkable feat. Some newcomers might be put off by their quirky past releases, and some of their old fans may hate the fact that they've become mainstream but that doesn't detract form the quality of the material they've produced. In a way Biffy Clyro remind me of The Gaslight Anthem, not remotely in style or sound, but more the fact that their sound is completely unique but still potentially accessible to a broad spectrum of people. In the end, the important thing about Only Revolutions is that it's simply a good rock album. It won't appeal to everyone, but it could appeal to anyone.