Album review: Biffy Clyro – ‘Only Revolutions’ (14th Floor)

With their fifth album, Biffy have reined it in and ridden all the way to rock glory

“Stomp, stomp, stomp, s-stomp, s-stomp”. With what could well be an applaud-worthy vision of self-awareness-turned-sound-effect Biffy Clyro’s fifth album, carrying more expectational weight than Greek god Atlas could hope to keep off the canvas, begins with the clatter of galloping foot-patter getting louder and louder, nearer and nearer.

Can you hear it? It’s here! Biffy finally make that sprint-burst into the rock stratosphere and trample
over the competition like badly tattooed elephants smashing through dead branches. Well, that’s the idea, anyway. But is ‘Only Revolutions’ really the album that consolidates the forward progress the Ayr trio made with their flawed but tune-packed 2007 breakthrough album ‘Puzzle’? The stone-cold rock cracker their early art-rock leanings clearly had the potential to shape-shift into? It bloody well is, you know.

Not that you’d guess from opener (and new single) ‘The Captain’. Oh no, the initial fear of those not already head-over-beard in love with the band – that their approach to orchestra-bulking usually results in a fatal case of too-much-clatteritis – appears to have reared its head again. The song is so bluster-wrapped in strings it almost cheese-wires itself to death. Thankfully the chorus, if possessing a touch of the [a]Jimmy Eat World[/a] about it, is big enough to slacken them.

Listen to ‘Puzzle’ opener ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’. It has a worthy gravitas having been inspired by the death of frontman Simon Neil’s mother, of course, but Lord, those strings stab. Yikes! STAB! STAB! STABSTABSTABSTAB!… STAB!…STABSTABSTAB! Laughably ridiculous, they’d be funny if they didn’t make you cringe-curl-up like a salted slug. But if ‘The Captain’ is a bit OTT – you’re allowed to be on the opener, no? – it’s like nothing else on ‘Only Revolutions’, thankfully, on which deft strings (deft strings! Not lashed about like a bow tie-sporting conductor with a cat’o’nine tails!) duck and dive under the likes of ‘Know Your Quarry’, gently lifting Neil’s yearny choruses rather than blustering them over a cliff.

Older single ‘That Golden Rule’ too, as you’ll know (it hit Number 10 in the charts), relies on little more than its Nirvana-sired breakdown chorus, while the subtler ‘Bubbles’ floats in with a [a]Kings Of Leon[/a]-ly guitar clang before the kind of needly riff the band first experimented with on ‘The Ideal Height’ from ‘The Vertigo Of Bliss’. Josh Homme guests, and it’s the best thing he’s played on in years; years to come, too, if the tunes [a]Them Crooked Vultures[/a] are peddling are anything to go by.

‘Many Of Horror’ is a perfect rock ballad, while ‘Born On A Horse’ sees Biffy go where they’ve never gone before. No, not the barber’s – to somewhere overtly funky, side-project [a]Marmaduke Duke[/a]’s toe-tap influence wriggling its way into these chaps’ Y-fronts to help them create, if not another yowl-chorus up there with ‘Mountain’ or ‘That Golden Rule’, something more stop-start strutty than all of them (and another chance for Neil to yabber about horses – he’s obsessed).

All these moments are the jigsaw pieces that finally do complete the puzzle for Biffy, as it were, but it’s as a whole that ‘Only Revolutions’ springs the band instantly level with the greatest rock acts in the world. The only thing that can stop them being recognised as such is the 2010 trend of UK guitar music being treated with contempt by the electro-pop-fixated mainstream. But don’t call them a band out of time – they’re the very sound of loud now, and finally it’s time for the last few stragglers to get in the saddle.

Jamie Fullerton

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Click here to get your copy of Biffy Clyro’s ‘Only Revolutions’ from the Rough Trade shop.