Opposing reviews of Opposites

A rant is always entertaining, so here’s one.

I’m a big fan of Biffy Clyro. They grew on me with their last two albums, Puzzle and Only Revolutions. They are just about to release a double-album called Opposites, and I got the chance to listen to it prematurely, many times.

I think Opposites surpasses the last two albums in many ways. I fell in love with it at the first listen. It’s been a while since I sat through an entire album just listening and reading the lyrics. I thought it was so good that I went on the Internet looking for reviews. This is when I got pissed.

What I saw was two 3-star reviews (the Telegraph, the Guardian), and one 2-star review (the Independent). I think none of the three reviewers are rock music fans to begin with, and some of the points they make are just stupid.

The most charitable review is from Neil McCormick of the Telegraph, but even he says a few things that reveals that he is not very well equipped to appreciate Biffy’s latest album:

Biffy don’t have the swaggering adventurousness of Muse or the arty pretensions of Coldplay but they’ve certainly got something.

That may not sound too bad, but it’s just stupid to compare Biffy Clyro to Muse or Cold Play. Is that the only bands you can think of? Indeed not, as he later mentions Snow Patrol and Nirvana… Really? You can’t find any better comparison than these? How about Foo Fighters? Billy Talent? Breaking Benjamin? Even All-American Rejects, Third Eye Blind or Blink 182 make for better comparisons. Well, your post-grunge rock credentials are not that impressive sir.

Interestingly, it’s when you compare Biffy’s music to its closer genre neighbourhood that you realize how original it actually is. I listen to a lot of music and I tend to stick to the music that manages to surprise me. There are a lot of moments in Opposites that surprised the hell out of me. Sounds like Balloons is just one big surprise in itself, containing the boldest contrasts I’ve heard in the last 2 years. I find simple melodic lines like the opening phrase of Biblical so beautiful that they do surprise me, and the whole album contains tons of these. Here’s the closing phrases of Neil’s review:

The problem is it doesn’t leave you longing for more, or pull you back in to savour a favourite moment. If you’re already a Biffy Clyro fan, Opposites might be your idea of a masterpiece. If you’re new to Biffy, it’ll just give you a headache.

The first sentence is completely wrong. I’m listening to the double-album on loop right now. I can’t quit, even if the excellent new Foals album (Holy Fire) is also fighting for my attention. And Neil should have added in the second sentence that he is definitely not a Biffy Clyro fan, and not even a fan of the genre. It would have excused the 3-star review.

Alex Petridis of The Guardian wrote a less forgiving piece on Biffy’s new album, but also more interesting. He definitely tries to prove that he has better rock credentials than Neil from the Telegraph. His review however, can be boiled down to this: I’m judging the book by its cover and I’m expecting to be disappointed. And I am, but not as much as expected, so 3 stars.

I concede that the combination of the Pink Floyd-esque album cover and the double-album concept looks very pretentious. But still, the album covers for Puzzle and Only Revolutions are just as crazy-looking. I don’t see Opposites as having the pretention of being a masterpiece. It’s the author’s inability to clean the slate that’s talking.

A recurring criticism is that the album is too long. I’m pretty sure this is just because Biffy is releasing it all at once. It’s too much Biffy for what non-initiated critics can handle; they’re simply biting more than they can chew. This goes along with the criticism that it doesn’t sound varied enough:

[…] the trio have included a couple of deeply boring songs where they play things straight, sanding away their sound’s angularity to the point where they could be anyone. They’re rare lowpoints. If there’s a problem with Opposites, it’s not one of quality, so much as profusion: the impact of Biffy Clyro’s sound is gradually dulled by just how much of it there is here.

Am I the only one seeing the contradiction between the first and second part of this statement? The songs he is referring to are not low points to me, and count as genuine diversity brought in the album.

Finally, the review from The Independent is just stupid. In a pathetic reflection of the double-album concept, the review contains only two paragraphs. It looks like someone listened to the album with two ears for the first couple of tracks, decided he didn’t like it, and listened to the rest with only one ear. It says there’s little experimentation in the album, which is only half-true. Then again, here’s another critic who thinks that double-album = crazy shit.

The double-album concept seems to be confusing critics a lot. They expect the music in there to contain some world-shattering experimental concept, and they are disappointed when they don’t find it. For my part, I was only expecting some new Biffy Clyro music and I’ve been very well served. To be fair, the album does have a few weak moments, like the couple of songs in the middle. But it’s certainly not enough of a drag to lower my opinion of it. To me, Opposites is a masterpiece.

Here’s a very interesting interview with the guys from Biffy Clyro by The Guardian about Opposites.

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