Despite living less than fifty miles from this band’s hometown of Kilmarnock, I’ve arrived late to the Biffy Clyro party. Perhaps I should start this review with an apology…
Biffy Clyro first crossed my musical radar about six years ago when Boy Child asked me to buy him one of their albums. I did but I didn’t listen to it.
They launched themselves into my radar and, literally, had me swept off my feet (took me three songs to get my feet back on the floor) when I saw them play live at the MTV Worldstage double header show with Slash back in November 2014 at Glasgow’s O2 Academy. Their set on that occasion was mainly comprised of songs from 2009’s Only Revolutions album, the one that I’d bought years before for Boy Child. It was an incredible set!
Biffy Clyro recently released their seventh album, Ellipsis, on the Warner Bros label. The album opens with a little snatch of almost derisive laughter and captures front man, Simon Neil, scoffing “Record this?!” …eh… yes!
If I had to describe Ellipsis in only one word, I’d say emotional. Each and every song is filled with emotions – half angry; half personal and more than a tad haunted.
Simon Neil has spoken openly and candidly to the press about his emotional breakdown. The songs that make up Ellipsis see him explore the various aspects of this tormented period of his life and make for a powerful listening experience.
The album opens with The Wolves of Winter, the first song that the band recorded for the record. It’s an impressive start! It’s angsty. It’s aggressive. It’s fantastic! Biffy Clyro are back in business!
Friends And Enemies follows, complete with children’s choir in the background. Great drumming with an African tribal feel to it. This is an anthem about betrayal. “With friends as good as you who needs enemies.” Speaks volumes.
Animal Style completes the opening powerhouse trio. Another aggressive energetic track. “I didn’t want the captain’s role but I’ll steer us over highs and lows.” And you’re doing a grand job, Captain Neil.
Then suddenly the mood shifts with Re-arrange, written as an open letter from Simon to his wife. This song has a haunting fragility to it and is stunningly beautiful. “I wrote a hundred songs to make sense of the meaningless. I’ll un-write them if you help me clear up this mess.” The fact that Ellipsis was written, recorded and released suggests that Mrs Neil did. Thank you!
The anger and aggression returns a few tracks later with On A Bang. Strong punk/hardcore influences here. A complete change of tack for our captain. Awesome drumming from Ben Johnston. This song threatens to descend into a rant but Simon Neil holds his anger in check….just! “Why don’t you f**king do better?” I can’t help but wonder if the rant was directed inwards at himself.
Small Wishes is a delightful find and a moment of light heartedness amidst all the emotions of Ellipsis. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy. A bit like an American happy family TV drama theme. Small Wishes has a strong country air and flavour of summer to it. Love the honky tonk piano. Great melody and the wolf howl is inspired. Love this wee song!
Howl follows on (more wolf references) and is perhaps the most commercial/radio friendly track on the album. Hints of the Foo Fighters here perhaps? Howl is sure to be a big fan favourite when played live. Again it echoes back to past torments – “Lately it’s hard to let you know that I’ll never learn” in the fan friendly chorus.
A standard version of Ellipsis draws to a close with People. Another change of mood. Horns and an acoustic guitar into. A very powerful song musically and lyrically. “Life illuminate dark.” Yes, it sure does. Gorgeous song.
There are two more gems on the deluxe edition of Ellipsis. The first of these Don’t Won’t Can’t has strong ska/reggae influences. A fantastic beat and my favourite line on the entire record. “By the time you reach thirty you’ll be useless as f**K.” Brilliant! (I guess, as I’m on the far side of forty five, I’m done for!)
In The Name Of The Wee Man (love that title) rounds things off in a defiant angry volatile display of talent. It suggests that Biffy Clyro are a force to be reckoned with…and I for one won’t disagree.
This album is a powerful emotional and, at times, very intimate musical journey. The personal nature of some of the songs may make some listeners uncomfortable. I however think that the band, especially Simon Neil, are to be commended for showing their vulnerable side to their fans here. Scots folk aren’t very good at admitting when things maybe aren’t quite right on an emotional level (“Och, I’m fine” – we’ve all heard it said and known it to be a lie) but the Scots are world class at pouring their hearts and souls into their music.
To reflect on the title for a moment – Ellipsis means “the omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues” It is the perfect title for this masterpiece. All the clues are there if you listen.