The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


Biffy Clyro 'Puzzle'Review Snapshot:
Three years since ‘Infinity Land’ the curiously named Scots trio Biffy Clyro return with ‘Puzzle’. Less complex and slightly more accessible than their three previous albums to date, ‘Puzzle’ is still one of the most inventive and ambitious guitar albums you will hear all year.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10.

Full Review:
Is the simple pop melody, superimposed on a swathe of hard-rock guitars and thumping drums, the perfect rock equation?The myriad genres and sub-genres that clog the crowded world of alternative music will always confuse and enthral in equal measure. It’s easy to get lost within the surfeit of styles and attitudes, of empty poses and rock-careers built on a strict drug regimen. Ever since Bob Mould’s Husker Du started gluing pop melodies to hard guitar signatures, tuneful yet emotional hard rock will always grab the listener with an immediacy that other styles never will. Husker Du were the spark for the fire of The Pixies, who married off-kilter and disquieting song-structure with deceptively simple melodies. Kurt Cobain, in turn, liked their style. He copied their quiet/loud dynamic wholesale but pushed it a little further. While Black Francis’ world view was singular and distorted, Cobain’s world was one of narcissistic self-loathing. He put his feral, anguished howl over ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, injected the song with a pop DNA and turned it up to….12. It worked because it got under your skin and made your heart pump a little faster. It was cathartic and violent yet it was essentially a conventional pop-song, albeit hidden under layers of misanthropy.

Is it ridiculous to claim Biffy Clyro as the next link in the chain? Maybe in different times, Biffy might have been huge as they balance perfectly the two supposedly mutually exclusive concepts of a pop melody with hard rock, as ‘Teen Spirit’ did. But music will never be the social force that grunge was. It will never unite the disaffected on a global scale as everything now is easily accessible and compartmentalised. The Internet, with its attendant blogs and networks, is now the social force, and no Art form will supersede it. Yet, Biffy have a spirit that eschews fashion and famous girlfriends and empty NME hyperbole. There is something going on in their music that would unite people in the same intense way Nirvana did, if the world was the same as it was in 1990.

But it’s not just Nirvana that can be heard on their fourth album ‘Puzzle’. There is Queens of the Stone Age’s grimy, mechanical funk-rock on ‘Who’s Got a Match?’ There are even a few subtle nods, possibly ironic, to the skinny trouser angular-rock brigade. The theatrics of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is in evidence (in a good way) and a few knowing winks to early U2 (always early U2).  Muse can be heard on the monolithic opener ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’. It starts with an atypical intro, a series of short, sharp stabs of strings and drums before exploding into a trademark Biffo chorus, replete with full choral accompaniment. Like Muse, Biffy always try to incorporate arena friendly song-structure into their unique, music-as-math template. Although, ‘Puzzle’ is a little more straightforward than their previous efforts, it still jolts the listener throughout the course of its 14 tracks, both for its disconcerting tempo changes and for the plain fact it is so damn catchy. ‘Saturday Superhouse’has got a massive chorus that shows that no matter how complicated they try to be, they have a strong pop sensibility at heart and it’s no surprise it reached number 13 in the UK charts. Later ‘The Conversation Is…’ showcases another effortless hook on an album that is full of them.

 ‘Puzzle’ creates a puzzle. If Cobain was still alive, and became a little more musically adventurous, might he have come up with something like this? Quite possibly. Though they hail from Ayr in Scotland, ‘Puzzle’ is an American sounding album. It has a scope and expansiveness that is at odds with the musically blinkered outlook of contemporary British rock. You would be well advised to spend some time with it.

Ken Fallon

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.

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2000 - 'Rock Criticism: Getting it Right', written by Mark Godfrey. A thought provoking reflection on the art of rock criticism.