From Glasgow-based sweat-rock fledglings to major festival headliners, Biffy have always held a special place in my eardrums. Their rise to mainstream prominence has been an organic, gradual process that has taken in the tiniest taverns across the UK- over and over again- building a devoted fan base as a result, before their switch to a major record label in 2006 paved the way for Simon Neil and the Johntsons to showcase their songwriting talent and performing prowess honed over fifteen years to a wider audience.
Neil had always declared himself an obsessive Weezer fan, and relished the chance to write an album of more breezy pop-rock numbers in 2007’s Puzzle. The album duly became the band’s biggest commercial success. Only Revolutions continued along much a similar route, also displaying an increased confidence in an expansive sound integrating orchestral accompaniment. For many, Biffy have been lost forever to the music industry (exemplified most poignantly by the sexual assault carried out on ‘Many of Horror’ by the X Factor’s Matt Cardle) but at least you get the sense they remain sufficiently in control of their output to ensure quality control for the foreseeable future.
‘Eradicate The Doubt’ from The Vertigo of Bliss
A great opener always needs to set the tone of the gig, and this track does just that. Opening with jangling clean guitar, it soon rips into a high tempo frenzy of distortion and crash symbols setting the pace for the rest of the song. As in most of the band’s livelier tracks, Simon Neil’s vocals spill over into demented shrieks that add a twist of rage to really fuel the song’s fire. Ben Johnston’s busy drumming adds a depth of musicianship, and all three members join in for vocal harmonies including the song’s climax of the rousing ‘take me to your heart’ line.
‘57’ from Blackened Sky
The ‘difficult second song’ needs to keep the momentum going, and a ‘big’, more straightforward track like this beauty from the debut album would get the crowd singing along with the catchy pre-chorus and epic chorus roared from Ben Johnston behind the drum kit. The bridge involving the ‘And over... and over’ chant also sounds like ‘Bend over… bend over’ which always pleases immature mosh-dwellers like myself. It’s a loud, back-to-basics three and a half minutes with a heart of gold and remains a favourite of long-standing fans. The musical equivalent of an early hefty sliding tackle from the team captain, it would be sure to get the crowd right behind the band for the next few tracks.
‘Got Wrong’ from Infinity Land
This track lays its cards on the table within seconds, breaking into the central melody immediately under a thick layer of heavy distortion. 'Got Wrong' burns along in a more grungey tone than the opening two songs, its strength lying in the powerful hooks found in three of its four melody lines. The ‘Could you dance to the bright light of my glow’ chorus is beautifully delicate and the ‘Got wrong, got wrong’ harmonised verse refrain is driven nicely by an interesting chord progression.
‘All The Way Down Chapter 2’ (B-side from Joy.Discovery.Invention/Toys,toys… double A-side)
It’s at this point at the gig Biffy would break out the ‘This is an old B-side that you may not have heard’ line. The recording of All The Way Down Chapter 2 that accompanied the Joy.Discovery.Invention/Toys,toys… double A-side sounds like it was mastered in five minutes, but the home-recorded sounding fuzz-pedal bass, dry guitar tone and distorted vocals provide a rawness that only adds to the song’s primal rock sensitivities. The song structure is perhaps the simplest ever recorded by the band, and is rare inasmuch that it revolves around one main riff. The chorus is worth a listen alone; there’s every chance it’ll remain lodged in your head for a good while (although whenever I’ve made a hopeful attempt at singing it through, I’ve ended up a in coughing fit).
‘Diary of Always’ from The Vertigo of Bliss
This beautifully hypnotic number fits the ‘mid-set breather’ bill nicely. The staccato ‘I just wish we all called betray’ refrain repeats from beginning to end, as the song evolves from its tender organ-laden start accented by an electro pulse, through to the feedback-heavy crescendo. Throughout, Neil’s vocals chime with a fragile quality that he has rarely, if ever, shown in other recordings. The distant screaming ‘harmony’ with the ‘Wish I could have faltered’ line towards the end drips with emotional pain, and in a perfect set list, it’s important to capture the full spectrum of the band’s sound.
‘Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies’ from Puzzle
Written by a bereaved Neil after the loss of his mother, 'Living is a Problem…' sounds like an anguished outpouring of frustration and anger- and a bloody good one at that. The orchestral accompaniment may be pre-recorded in a live set, but the expansive sound will fill the room regardless. In fact, this being the perfect set list, I’ve decided there will be a live string section and choir- rigorously sound-checked- in order to produce the epic quality Neil and co intended. The three-piece move into top gear for the pre-chorus of ‘I pray to God that you're right before my eyes, bathed in white light with halos in your eyes’; guaranteed to set the crowd alight despite the sombre lyrical content.
‘Joy.Discovery.Invention’ from Blackened Sky
The penultimate song starts softly, building up to the ‘Take Me To Your Blackened Sky’ melody that returns throughout. It rolls along with floor tom-heavy drumming before exploding into life just before two minutes, where again Ben Johnston’s inventive drum patterns adds real meat to the song’s bones. It may be fair to say that Biffy have moved their sound far beyond what is displayed in Blackened Sky, but the sheer quality of the hooks in 'Joy.Discovery.Invention' escpecially the ‘If you want it get it, come and take my heart; take me to your blackened sky’ line, have yet to be reproduced in any of the band’s proceeding records.
‘That Golden Rule’ from Only Revolutions
Only Revolutions is by no means a weak album, and plenty of its tracks would sit handsomely within a strong Biffy set list, but for me only That Golden Rule deserves a place in the ultimate live show. The London Philharmonic string section would be called upon once again, and the lighting engineer would really be expected to earn their money during the last couple of minutes (as shown in the brilliantly orchestrated music video below). The song meets all requirements for the finale; it breaks out at lightning speed to create serious crowd movement, and then gradually builds towards an epic ending, complete with intersecting strings and a frenzied crescendo.