Releasing a double album is like a badge of honor for a band. At best, it’s a bragging right that you can put out double the amount of material in roughly the same amount of time and manage to craft a cohesive whole. At worst, it turns into a sprawling mess that falls apart under its own weight. Thankfully Opposites, the sixth album from Scottish trio Biffy Clyro, falls mostly under the first category, though it isn’t without its faults.
From a purely musical standpoint, Opposites is definitely the most diverse Biffy Clyro album to date. Strings start things off on “Different People,” bagpipes get featured on “Stingin’ Belle,” Latin flavors reign supreme on “Spanish Radio,” and sleigh bells even make an appearance on “The Thaw.” Instead of seeming like one-off gimmicks, those varying styles just showcase how far the band’s range is. They effortlessly bounce from the heavy, like “Black Chandelier,” to the radio-ready, like “Pocket,” a song that’s 75% hook with a chorus that would fit right in on an All-American Rejects album (and trust me, that’s not a bad thing). Alt-rock, pop-rock, prog-rock, hard rock…you’ve got it all.
The lyrics run a similarly varied gamut. Indie-rock obscurity makes an appearance in “Stingin’ Belle”‘s “You think you’re cool like a porcupine.” Some songs are downright mournful. “The Thaw” might be one of my favorite Biffy songs of their entire discography, solely based on the line, “The secrets in the snow will always come out on the thaw.” Then there are tracks like “Victory Over the Sun,” which is exactly as self-affirming and optimistic as the title sounds. Whatever the emotion, Opposites doesn’t half-ass it.
The album manages to capture and combine the best of all of Biffy Clyro’s musical worlds: it blends the prog flavors of the earlier albums and the anthemic sing-alongs of their later work, all while featuring the completely crazy time signatures that set them apart in the first place. There are songs on Opposites that lend themselves perfectly to hardcore moshing and to summer drives to the beach.
On the conceptual side of things, though, Opposites shows its weakness. The album is divided into two halves, each taking the completely opposite emotional standpoint. The first, “The Land at the End of Our Toes,” claims to be the darker, more pessimistic of the two; the second, “The Sand at the Core of Our Bones,” is meant to have an uplifting outlook for the future. But the division between the two isn’t all that cleanly cut. While the first disc certainly has some lyrical downers, “The Sand…” is not exactly happy-go-lucky by comparison. Some songs from the second disc, like “Accident Without Emergency,” with its lamentation “Can I raise my head this morning? / My mind’s needing cauterized,” could easily be transferred to the first half without feeling out of place.
For the most veteran of Biffy fans, Opposites is the perfect double album that has everything that makes the band great. But for others, it might just be overly long and leave you feeling that Biffy have spread themselves just a bit too thin. Inevitably, some tracks, like “Little Hospitals” and “The Fog,” just feel like filler that wouldn’t have been missed if they’d been left off. If they’d trimmed off some of the fat, Biffy Clyro would have released a truly great album, instead of just two that are merely very good.