27 July 2016

Biffy Clyro - Ellipsis

I am doing this review in reverse in a way, I am writing the introduction after I have wrote the actual review.  As I think that most of the people who have read this before will have heard of Biffy Clyro, I will just give a brief bit of background to the making of this album.  After the release of the double/single album 'Opposites' (review linked here) and the b-sides album ‘Similarities’, Biffy Clyro wanted to go away so that fans would not get sick of them.  There was a rumour of writer’s block as well, but this is only what I have read in other places.  The album came out in July 2016 and it was recorded in California, USA. So, on to the review.....

Starting off the album is the first single “Wolves of Winter” which is a song about how the band are calling out the naysayers who stated that the band would have no future and that they would fall to the wayside.  As a statement, it is a strong set of lyrics which are as powerful a statement as someone who has tasted true success can make; but there is something missing from the music from the start, there is a little spark I would usually associate with Biffy that is absent and it is the duel elements of surprise and rock.  This is a rock song, but by Biffy’s own standards it is very simple and pop.  The sound is polished and all the rough edges apart from a brief flurry at the end have been polished away, they might be wolves, but this is not the best start to an album.  “Friends and Enemies” is the second song off the album, this one is all about the negative friends in your lives that can be worse to your karma that your most hated foe.  We have all been there, the acquaintance that ends up being a bit of a shit, the fair-weather buddy who vanishes when all goes wrong, the person who loves to tell you so when you are on the ground.  The lyrics are once again spot on, but it musically the song is moving further from the natural Biffy sound.  It is the closet that the band get to a Biffy Clyro song throughout the album, but the pop element of the band is growing over the rock element of the band and it is a song that at one-time people might has alluded to be Biffy by Numbers.  “Animal Style” is probably the song that people will see on this album as a throwback to a previous sound by the band, it is an aggressive love song – with the lead singer addressing his wife and asking why she stays with him when he has a dark side that sometimes comes to the surface.   It is the most aggressive number on the album, but even on a song that is all about letting rip and shouting out loud – it feels chained and declawed in places with the band being held back, there is no element of surprise and it can best be described as decent, but sadly a little tame. 

As if to give the flip side to the last song, we have “Re-arrange” which is a cry for help – but it also comes across as a little creepy.  He is saying he has a problem, he is sorry for breaking the other person’s heart & would not break anything, just a slight bit of re-arranging (not too sure if it is him who is going to be changed or the other person) and he is asking for forgiveness.  Now, in the past Biffy have done love songs, they have done numbers that will melt your soul and have passion, drive and have covered similar ground – sadly the music lets this one down, with a sugary sweet production that takes everything that make Biffy special and replaces it with machines.  “Herex” is a song about an ex who is moving onto another and someone is begging the other person to stay and reconsider the actions.  There are some parts of this song that feel as if they are the base of a good idea, the start of something that once completed would lead to a great song.  But the verse sections are so slow, the chorus is not quite there and it all just misses the point for me and the end product just falls by the wayside, it is not quite there and it is difficult not to be either sad or frustrated at this point with the album – it is not quite there and it feels like a missed opportunity.  “Medicine” starts with the words “I was done with talking” and I was almost going to use that as the bases of the review of this song, but there is a depth (and shallowness – I will get to that) to this song which makes it standout from everything else that has followed around.  Dealing with mental health issues, it is easy to say everything can be fixed with a tablet and there are times that arguments will explode into life.  In places, it is a very insightful song and it almost won me over; but there are still some little shit moments here where the lashing out is aimed at the wrong person, but it is wrapped up in an acoustic moment with strings that will be glossed over in lights and passion.  So that will make it all alright, won’t it?  “Flammable” is the seventh song on Ellipsis which is once again about relationships, this time the instability of relationships and how things can go wrong and questions sometimes need to be asked.  The music is a standard pop rock, mid-paced and it does not explode or erupt into life some much as it goes along at an average pace. To be honest, if it was not for Simon Neil’s voice then I would not have been able to tell this was a song by Biffy Clyro and that makes me a little sad to be honest.

“On A Bang” on the other hand has the Biffy signature all over it; it is dynamic, full of life, angry and that dynamic that always made Biffy Clyro such a special act.  It is a short, sharp attack and questioning why someone cannot do better (I have a feeling that it is a self-styled personal attack on Simon Neil and the alleged writer’s block he experienced whilst approaching this album).  It feels like a release that has been building up after all the rock pop tunes, as if Biffy Clyro needed to just say fuck it and let rip.  “Small Wishes” however, this is a country and western song that has elements of the old Biffy style in the riff and then again it feels like it is a million miles away from the band I first heard.  I know that bands and musicians change over the years, but this is poor and it is not a song that I would be returning to very soon – so I will move swiftly on before I say anything that could get me in trouble.  The penultimate song is called “Howl”, this song once again talks about the animalistic nature of the man, the primal releases and withheld information, pent up angry that comes out through the lyrics.  But the delivery is very safe, it needs to have some energy to the song and whilst you cannot say the music is slacking, it is not a tune that is anything over than filler at best, by the numbers at worse.  Ending the album is “People” which is a slow and inwards looking number that once again is full of sorrow for mistakes that have been made.  Musically it is aiming for a similar feel to “Machines” and “Folding Stars”, with a melancholy tint to the music which actually sounds really good (in a given sense of the word ‘good’).  However, at the point there has been such a large amount of negativity in the lyrics that the sympathy you might have is lost due to the destructive nature of the words. 

I take no pleasure in this and it is something that I never thought I would say this, but I am so disappointed with a Biffy Clyro album for the first time.  This is a pop rock record that could have been completed by anyone, seriously it is generic and in places it is just awful.  Biffy Clyro was always an act that could take a simple tune, making it into something magical and then drop one of the most complex riffs you would hear outside of math-core and avant-garde jazz, before returning to something that everyone could sing along to.  They were the ‘everyman’, they were able to make the complex seem simple and vice versa with effortless ease.  I know that there were rumours that Simon Neil experienced writers block with this album, I know that bands will and have to change, I know that acts have fluctuating outputs – but the songs are weak, the production is bland and it could be any other band.  Biffy Clyro were not any other band, they were the boys who took their own ideas and showcased what is good about them.  I will still check out what they are up to, I will still class myself as a fan as well, but this is the first real hole in the armour.

5 out of ten – It could have been a bit better

Top track – On A Bang

You can purchase Ellipsis on Amazon here

You can visit the Biffy Clyro website here

You can follow the activities of Biffy Clyro on Facebook here

You can stream the deluxe version of Ellipsis on Spotify

You can stream the deluxe version of Ellipsis on Deezer here

You can stream the deluxe version of Ellipsis on Tidal here

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