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Scots on the Rock
Puzzle - Biffy Clyro
Member Name: alf_fly
Puzzle - Biffy Clyro
Advantages: Great rock riffs; epic production; soaring choruses.
Disadvantages: Not all the tracks are flawless.
On their first few albums, Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro gained themselves a reputation for being a bit, well, obtuse. Weird time signature changes, screamed choruses, song structures that lurched in unpredictable directions, titles like "Toys, Toys, Toys, Choke, Toys, Toys, Toys" and "Kill The Old, Torture Their Young" - all elements seemingly designed to alienate all but the most hardcore of fans. Then along comes Puzzle, an appropriately titled album if ever there was one.
Launching with stabbing strings and staccato drums, "Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies" is a perfect statement of intent. It's not a straightforward song by any means, but it does demonstrate that, for Puzzle, the group have cut back on their most distant extremes of weirdness. In place of odd they're aiming squarely for epic.
Powering into the crunching riffs of Saturday Superhouse and on into the Queens Of The Stone Age-like Who's Got A Match, it's clear that the band have lost neither their ferocity or their timing. But the fourth track, As Dust Dances, shows that they've added something else; accessibility, musicality, and a flair for the kind of heart-swelling choruses that most bands would give their drummer for. They've always had a touch of that, of course, but now you don't have to penetrate layers of weirdness to experience it.
A Whole Child Ago is probably the most mainstream punk-pop song Biffy's written yet, bearing favourable comparison to the likes of The Foo Fighters, while The Conversation Is... manages to combine their newfound epic flair with their fondness for unexpected timing changes, opening with a thunderous riff before changing pace, a trick it maintains throughout. Next track Now I'm Everyone is probably the weakest track on the album, opening like Feeder covering The Kaiser Chiefs, but even that erupts into thrilling soar-away rock towards the end. Semi-Mental's grinding guitars leads into the bruised magnificence of Love Has A Diameter, which gives way to what is, for me, the album's standout track, Get F*cked Stud. A masterclass in grunge's quiet-loud song structure, it's syncopated opening and hushed verse make the eventual frenzied chorus all the more effective. It's a song that demands to be played loud.
If anything solves the puzzle that is Puzzle, it's the epic eleventh track, Folding Stars. A heartfelt tribute to the singer's deceased mother, it's the most mainstream and commercial track on the album, with a magnificent sing-along chorus. Lyrically it's also the most straightforward, a clear outpouring of emotion. Considered in the wake of this track, the album's move towards musicality and melody makes a lot more sense, making this track the lynchpin of the whole album.
The album closes on 9/15ths, a creeping, menacing song alluded to during musical interludes earlier in the album, and the acoustic track Machines. The former does it's best to bring the mood down with icy strings and mournful choral chanting, before the latter ends on a note of surprisingly optimism and positivity. A live favourite, it's a fitting end to the album.
Put simply, this album is a stunner. Full of thrilling rock riffs and soaring emotion, even its minor low points can't dent it, and the band is to be applauded for widening their net and making a record that doesn't just appeal to die-hard fans. Of course, accusations of selling out were always a risk, and indeed some of the most rabid fans have done just that, but for me this album retains enough of the Biffy of old to satisfy, combining it with huge, stadium-rock production and layers of strings that allow the groups' musical sensibilities to really soar. If it's taken "selling out" for Biffy Clyro to reach the heights that this album does, than I'm all for it.
Summary: A breathlessly epic, effortlessly magnificent album.