Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions
Music fans are a fickle bunch and if you don’t believe that, just ask Biffy Clyro. After gaining a strong following with their first three albums, they were met with the inevitable cries of ‘sell outs’ when their fourth, Puzzle, became their biggest hit to date and finally propelled them into the mainstream. It’s hard to ignore the softer edge of Puzzle but at worst it was another sign that the band were determined to evolve with each album as they had done since their debut, Blackened Sky, was released in 2002. After evolution comes revolution and with their fifth album, Biffy Clyro have won the battle to become Britain’s best rock band.
Only Revolutions starts with the intention of wiping away all concerns of ‘selling out’ to the mainstream with a flawless three-track attack. ‘The Captain’ lands the first blow with its operatic brilliance as the backing orchestra and the band combine to create something so quintessentially Biffy that you only need to listen to the first bars to know it's them even before Simon Neil’s unmistakably Scottish tones kick in. While ‘The Captain’ recalls the Puzzle era, ‘That Golden Rule’ is a throwback to old-school Biffy with its fierce vocals as Simon screams “I tell my secrets and expose my pain/I’ve had a broken heart and I won’t do it again”. This blends with an epic minute-long outro as the fierceness of the vocals transfers to the instrumental culminating in a track that would scare away any listener daring to compare them to the Foo Fighters – as recent critics of the band have claimed.
All of this leads to ‘Bubbles’ which marks both their final evolution and the start of something new; the catchy hooks of Puzzle are present and correct as is the old-school harder edge in the form of an incredible extended outro, which even outdoes ‘That Golden Rule’ in terms of power and impact. This results in a track that is definitively both new and old Biffy rolled into one glorious track and all in just over five minutes. It serves to show that everything the band have done in the past, up to and including Puzzle, has been working towards this point in order to become a powerhouse of a rock band and to fulfil Simon Neil’s wish of Biffy Clyro becoming their own favourite band.
Most bands would struggle to keep up the momentum gathered from these flawless opening tracks but the band sensibly bring things down a notch with the acoustic ‘God & Satan’ which showcases the strength of Simon’s song writing which often isn’t given half as much credit as it deserves. It’s a dark, cynical track masquerading as a love song – “We’re just dull blue duds/Blinking eyes encased in rust/This ain’t a miracle” – and while it may have been in danger of becoming a tedious, cold track, the band manage to twist it in something quite beautiful under all the darkness.
This is something that is repeated later on in the album with ‘Many Of Horror’ which, strange title aside, is such an achingly beautiful acoustic track that you can’t help sway to while picturing the waving lighters that will accompany it in the live setting. Everything about the track is pitch perfect from the raw, heartfelt lyrics – “When we collide, we come together/If we don’t, we’ll always be apart” – to the return of the full orchestra at the end utilised to give the track a grandiose feeling that it fully deserves.
As impressive as the band are in the acoustic setting, they are no slouches when it comes to straightforward three-minute rock tracks either. These are littered throughout the album and range from the ridiculous, but fantastic, ‘Born On A Horse’ – “We’re galloping slowly through this broken glass/She’s got hooves, preposterous hooves” – to the vicious and intense ‘Shock Shock’ where Simon snarls “You’re a shame to your Dad ‘cause you’re killing his days/Irresponsible life, you’ve only yourself to blame”.
Biffy Clyro aren’t afraid to throw in the classic rock sing along festival track either and ‘Mountains’ covers that area on Only Revolutions. Despite being an odd choice for an album track given that it came out over a year ago, it still ranks up there with one of the finest things Biffy have ever done with its unashamedly simple chorus and catchy riffs destined to be a continual live favourite. It’s a brave choice by the band as very few tracks nowadays have lasting appeal but ‘Mountains’ manages to sound as fresh on the hundredth listen as it does on the first.
The distinct differences between these types of tracks are the most impressive aspect of this album given they take up over half of the running time and never once will you be able to mistake one for the other. Even the two faster-paced tracks – ‘Booooom, Blast And Ruin’ (five o’s, no more and no less) and ‘Cloud Of Stink’ – where bands can often slip up ending up with the tracks being interchangeable, contain distinguishable riffs and standout lyrics to mark them out as roundly different to the other.
A double bill of ‘Know Your Quarry’ and ‘Whorses’ ensure that the album doesn’t peter out in an uninspiring fashion with the former being in the same acoustic vein of ‘Many Of Horror’ albeit with a more up-tempo beat, and the latter having the ‘build up to a big finish’ style not heard since the start of the album – only this time having the extended outro replaced by a wall of feedback. This double helping brings the album back full circle to the beginning and also ensures that the album feels like a cohesive effort and not just a collection of songs from a band struggling to find their voice.
This is a remarkable achievement given that several styles are showcased on the album, from the epic rock of ‘Bubbles’ through the fierce rock of ‘Shock Shock’ to the acoustics of ‘Know Your Quarry’, but it’s also helped by the fact that no band sounds quite like Biffy Clyro – not even the Foo Fighters.