Back in February when I heard ‘Instant History’, the review for the album to follow began to write itself in my head. It went something like:
“This is the debut album from a new Scottish Euro-pop/EDM act called Biffy Clyro. They’re a three piece formed of brothers Ben and James, plus good looking well groomed frontman Simon. They dress in nicely ironed shirts and you can barely hear their guitars beneath the sort of synths that would not sound out of place in many a poolside disco on a sunny southern European island. They play friendly sounding sounding songs called things like ‘The Champ’.
It’s funny because a few years back there was another Scottish three piece, weirdly with the same name, Biffy Clyro, making shouty guitar music. Their singer, also called Simon, had something about him too, but it was hidden by a sweaty mass of dark beard and ponytail. The three of them were often shirtless. They had discomfortingly titled songs like ‘Kill the Old, Torture Their Young’ and ‘Toys Toys Toys Choke, Toys Toys Toys’.”
I could go on but I think you get the point. Yet it’s still curious that ‘Instant History’ leads with the line “this is the sound that we make”.
That leaves me asking who is this album for? Sure I’ve used examples from their first two albums to labour the point of contrast in styles. But they’ve always had gentler moments on their albums and the pop-sensible anthemic choruses have evolved over time.
In the end we get a kind of best of both on A Celebration of Endings which, like the sliced bread, is a bit of a compromise. Take ‘End Of’ and ‘Weird Leisure’ as examples. For fans of shouty guitar with long hair, there are proper riff heavy headbanging sections. They’ve also got a chorus ready for arena sized singalongs and phone light (rather than lighter) waving (let alone actually going into arenas).
‘Opaque’ sees the band reach for acoustic guitars and strings, but there’s still real venom in the refrain of “take the fucking money, take the fucking money, take the fucking money and run”. There’s as much bitterness as celebration in endings, as the two sides of this album sit together like the chocolate on those salty, savoury pretzels; it shouldn’t work, but it does.
‘North of No South’ and ‘Tiny Indoor Fireworks’ do the pop thing and do it well. But for a band known for honing their craft and building their loyal fanbase in front of an audience, there are a lot of noises on there that it would challenge three men to reproduce on their own, live.
By this point on A Celebration of Endings if you were missing the screamy stuff, there’s a spoonful of it on ‘Cop Syrup’, a song that takes you in all directions in its not so pop friendly six minutes.
So is this the sound that [they] make? I can see ‘Instant History’ bringing them new fans, but I don’t think this album has enough to keep hold of them. Is there enough shouty guitar stuff to keep their oldest fans interested? Again I’m not sure. Neither do I think the band care; this is the sound they’re making now. Sure it is different but Biffy have a knack of continuing to be relevant without having to change radically. They may get older but their fans seem to stay the same age. You don’t get to continue headlining Reading and Leeds by making music for the same teenager who saw them there back in 2003. Whether you like it or not, after nine albums, for this they should be applauded.
Words by James Spearing