By Biffy Clyro
A cynical attempt by Biffy Clyro's former record label to cash in on the Scottish trio's newfound popularity? Possibly. But, with fourth album 'Puzzle' breaking Biffy Clyro into the mainstream, a re-cap of their previous work is a necessity for many people. While 'Puzzle' fans could just buy the previous three albums, Biffy Clyro often cram so many ideas into each song, that battling through three albums' worth of material is a daunting task. This collection of songs is a much easier way for new fans to ease themselves into Biffy's back catalogue.
The songs are arranged in the order they were released. This highlights Biffy's progression from the straightforward rock with sing along choruses of '27' and 'Justboy' to the experimental vocals of 'Joy.Discovery.Invention' and finally the glammed-up, twisted disco of album highlight 'Glitter and Trauma.'
Although Biffy's experimental leanings really come to the forefront halfway through this album, there are glimpses of eccentricity right from the get-go. This is an album that charts Biffy's growth into full-blown alt-rock pioneers, while simultaneously showing that Biffy Clyro have always, to a certain extent, sounded like the Biffy Clyro we know today. For this reason, 'Singles' makes the perfect partner for their chart-bothering 'Puzzle' album.
As the album traces Biffy's career, each song becomes more surreal and towering than the last, and the lyrics gradually move from straightforward ballads, to cryptic weirdness. While this sees 'Singles' grow into a sprawling piece of prog-rock, it also means this album become increasingly challenging. The final few songs are extremely difficult to get to grips with, largely because Biffy Clyro never stick to a formula, even within the songs themselves. New riffs, lyrics, musical genres and wildly contrasting vocals are crow-bared in at every opportunity.
'There's No Such Thing as a Jaggy Snake' in particular refuses to be digested on the first (or third) listen. Every time you think you've figured it out, this song veers off in a completely different direction. It opens with some truly bizarre strangled-chicken vocals, sobers up for a poppy chorus, then lurches into angular indie before finally entering into a brief flirtation with the grunge genre. In this song alone Biffy cover more musical territory than many bands cover in their entire career, and it's far from easy listening. You'll have to work at liking this album.
But, what saves 'Singles' from the 'off' button is that Biffy always doll out at least one moment of pure pop perfection per song. Even if this album increasingly resembles a puzzle you're struggling to crack, those poppy hooks will keep you coming back for more, even if at first you won't particularly want to. With every listen, an extra piece of each song gets stuck in your head like shrapnel, and without even realising it you'll soon have all those mind-boggling songs committed to memory.
This collection really draws attention to how Biffy Clyro never play it safe. Singles are the way a band present themselves to the world beyond their fan base, but this eclectic mix won't clarify what a typical Biffy song sounds like (if there is such a thing.) But, if you're interested in a Biffy Clyro 'greatest hits' collection, then chances are you don't want formulaic rock - and you're in no danger of getting it with this album, even though it's a collection of singles.
There are few real downsides to this album. It's varied despite the fact that it's a 'greatest hits' collection, and it showcases just how many ideas and musical avenues Biffy are willing to explore. And, of course, the nature of this album means that there isn't a bad song on it. There is also a real need for an album that will introduce Biffy Clyro's older work to the masses, following the mainstream success of 'Puzzle.'
The downside is that there is little overall coherency and no real relationship between the songs, but this is unavoidable in any 'greatest hits'-style collection, where songs are taken out of their original context. However, if you liked 'Puzzle' and want to hear more of Biffy Clyro, then this album is perfect for you, and an easy way of introducing some of Biffy's older work into your music collection.