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Mr. B. L. Jones "cheese, anyone?" (UK)
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One
One
Price: £13.67

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost tech-perfection., 22 Mar. 2011
This review is from: One (Audio CD)
Easily one of the most exciting `djent' bands to emerge on the UK scene, TesseracT sit comfortably between tech-metal overlords Meshuggah (instrumentally) and more easy-listening hardcore fare like Coheed and Cambria (vocally). 2010's taster EP, `Concealing Fate', was a thrilling experience, showcasing a group that could create complex musical ideas coupled with an organic and emotional sound (one that is rare to hear from bands like this) within one glorious 25-plus minute song.

High hopes, then, for debut album `One'. Although it is essentially just `Concealing Fate' with 5 tracks sandwiched on either side of it, the new songs do well to carry on the spirit of the aforementioned EP while maybe not hitting the EXACT same giddy heights in terms of quality. Now it should definitely be pointed out that this is not the bands fault, but part of the problem is that, although Concealing Fate very much felt like one song in 6 parts, it is very strange to hear TesseracT write such succinct compositions (closer `Eden' aside). Openers `Lament' and `Nascent' hit hard but feel too short; JUST as they start to get going, both songs end with what feels like a whimper. As I said, this was my initial reaction to both of these compositions and I've warmed to them both a great deal, but it certainly does feel strange. On the other side of the EP tracks, `Sunrise' is probably the most aggressive thing on the album and `April' is the only song that really has any `ballad' inspiration on here (the verses are pure pop emoting). Album closer `Eden', the albums other real highlight, starts off rather seductively before descending into organised chaos that unfolds over 9 minutes.

It's no surprise, then, that the real meat of the album is embedded over the 6 tracks that make up `Concealing Fate'. As a whole, these songs remain an immensely entertaining listen that is not challenging in the same way that Meshuggah or Sikth are (I absolutely mean this as a compliment). It takes absolutely no effort at all for these songs to get buried under your skin; they are immediate and accessible, with no desire to alienate. This is, of course, a review of the whole album (not just these six tracks), and the other songs do threaten to approach the EP tracks in terms of quality, but `Concealing Fate' really is the best thing on the album. However, as mentioned before, the spirit and intent of these EP compositions linger over the whole disc; `One', as a whole, is immediately likeable, yet repeated listens are also rewarding. This is mostly down to the phenomenal performances by the players themselves and the fantastic production. Guitars sound warm without over-the-top distortion, the bass is quite prominent and independent in the mix and the drums feel very real and organic, not to mention vocalist Daniel Tompkins who deserves multiple plaudits for his emotional performance. Too often clean vocals can sound ridiculous over music like this but Dan's tone, harmonies and charisma make it seem very natural.

A couple of gripes: even though the rest of the tracks on `One' are independent works, too often much of the music feels like it should be part of a larger single work as there is not much variation in the sombre mood that permeates the whole piece. There are also too many moments where individually plucked rising guitar notes serve as a mood setter before delving into Meshuggah-style off-tempo riffage. Used sparingly, this technique is thrilling, but TesseracT seem to open most of their songs this way. Finally, the vocals are very much an instrument unto themselves. Don't expect too many hummable choruses and pop-hooks; they are used mostly for colour and texture, something which I love but can imagine will grate on some listeners.

Yet these really are small complaints. Overall, this is a genuinely exciting release and I wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of Animals as Leaders, Meshuggah or Periphery (though I suspect you`ll already be aware of TesseracT). To non-fans, though, this could be the perfect introduction to the `djent' scene; `One' is immediately enjoyable while retaining the more complex elements of the usually alienating tech-metal style. It is easily enjoyable on the first spin and will retain this bite over multiple plays. TesseracT have crafted a warm, endearing, intimate record in sound that just happens to be epic in scope. They are, to sum up, hugely admirable. I thoroughly enjoy this debut and look forward to their next step.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 6, 2012 11:06 AM BST


Lateralus
Lateralus
Price: £12.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Put simply, an unrivalled masterpiece, 14 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Lateralus (Audio CD)
Whilst it could be argued that 1996's `Aenima' remains the band's crowning achievement to date, few would dispute the hypnotic power that `Lateralus' can hold over the listener. Where the former record dealt with deep, intense anger (toward Los Angeles, L. Ron Hubbard, even their own fans), this record, released in 2001, has a far steadier pulse. The heavy moments are still heavy, sure, but they are tempered with long passages where nothing and everything seem to happen at once. Take `Tick's and Leeches', for example, a song which carries with it some of the bile left over from `Aenima'. For most of the tracks eight-plus minutes, singer Maynard James Keenan sounds like a demon with Tourette's; it's all so INTENSE, so heart-stoppingly heavy that when the rhythm section drops out completely for a lengthy break mid-song, you'll feel like you're only passing through the eye of the hurricane; you know it will get MUCH worse before it gets better, but there is a terrible beauty in this calm.

There is very little point in reviewing individual tracks as this record needs to be absorbed as a whole or not at all. It is a dense, multi-layered work that cannot be digested in one sitting. Tracks bleed into each other, if not in sound then in spirit, and quite literally in the case of `Parabol'/'Parabola'. The hypnotic tension built up throughout `The Grudge' is mirrored in `The Patient's haunting introduction, and when the band do unleash their full weight it comes as sweet relief. `Eon Blue Apocalypse', `Mantra' and `Faaip de Oiad' should feel like throwaways but they somehow add to the eerie atmosphere that surrounds the whole album. Aforementioned `Ticks and Leeches' is perhaps not the heaviest track the band has ever recorded, but it's certainly one of the angriest. That heart-stopping break, where the rhythm section disappears for a time, is shadowed at the end of `Reflection', which is itself an introduction of sorts into the Middle Eastern-tinged instrumental, `Triad'. `Schism' is Tool distilled into its most accessible form, which is to say that it captures the very essence of the band: razor sharp bass hooks, pulsing guitar lines, off-beat drum loops and the haunting nature of Maynard's voice, all wrapped up in a tune which barely stretches the seven minute mark. These song traits all come together in the magnificent title track, `Lateralus', surely the most epic, intelligent and touching song in the bands catalogue. It's as if they took the key ingredients from `Third Eye', the closing track from `Aenima', and distilled them into an even stranger, denser, warmer, sharper track. It is, and remains, my favourite Tool song.

The modern music press is quick to label a new group, or an album, as `eye opening' or `mind blowing' and this readiness dilutes the meaning of these phrases. Happily, I can wholeheartedly describe Tool, and `Lateralus', as both these things and more. This album was life changing for me. It is one of a handful of albums that have made me a more avid music listener, despite being difficult to the point of alienation. Eight years on, it continues to fascinate, to provoke, to challenge. I hear new things each time I listen to it, which is often. If you need your eyes opened or your mind blown, you need look no further than this record. It is, in short, a masterpiece.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 13, 2010 3:05 PM BST


Zeitgeist
Zeitgeist
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £6.28

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Billy Corgan turned up to 11 is not necessarily a good thing, 28 July 2009
This review is from: Zeitgeist (Audio CD)
And so, the Smashing Pumpkins return from a LONG hiatus...or, to be more accurate, only half of them do. A lot of fans were up in arms when this was first announced, but let's not kid ourselves; the Pumpkins were always Corgan's baby, and if he can write, record and play `Siamese Dream' pretty much single-handedly, then this `back-from-the-dead' thing should be a doddle...right?

Wrong. `Zeitgeist' doesn't so much announce its arrival as it does aurally punch you in the face. `Doomsday Clock's droning, angular riffs demand your attention, even if you don't particularly like what you hear. `7 Shades of Black' follows this formula, combining stabbing riffs with quick-fire singing that almost instantly becomes irritating. `Bleeding the Orchid' and `That's the Way (My Love Is)' offer some welcome respite from the aural assault being, respectively, a down-tempo number that wouldn't have felt out of place on `Adore' and a cheery, sunny pop song that carries itself with an infectious energy. `Tarantula', unfortunately, swiftly follows. It's not that it's a particularly bad song, it's just that there's no real chorus to speak of, and the stabbing-riff formula set by the first two tracks is, by now, becoming very repetitive. `Starz' meanders around with no clear direction, `Neverlost' fails to take flight at all, and album closer `Pomp and Circumstance' feels completely out of place in this world of crushing dynamics. So far, so mediocre.

There is, however, some serious quality on the album. `Bring the Light' is played with the same infectious energy as `That's the Way...', and you just can't help but be swept up along the way. `United States' is a near-10 minute epic, showcasing some of the best drumming of Jimmy Chamberlain's career (it should be said, the drumming on the album as a whole is uniformly excellent). `C'mon, Let's Go' features a great riff, reminiscent in spirit to `Bullet with Butterfly Wings'. `For God and Country', despite being drenched in synths for the majority of its running time, emerges as a damn fine song. When he is willing to strip his compositions to the bare bones, Corgan's ideas work wonderfully; as he slowly recites `for God and country, I'll die' over a hypnotic bass loop, you'll have to remind yourself that he is probably being sarcastic, such is the dramatic power of this moment.

The album is, in parts, very good, and reminds you what was great about the Pumpkins in the first place, but at its worst it is nostalgic in the unkindest possible way. The man that wrote `Bullet...', `Today' and `1979' seems to have run out of ways to make any impact on listeners aside from bludgeoning them over the head with tedious riffs and sub-par song writing. It's as if he wants to make ANY sort of impression that he can by playing as loudly as possible. There doesn't seem to be any sort of quality control, something the Pumpkins have been guilty of since the bloated-but -brilliant `Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness'.

I should probably point out that I adore `Mellon Collie...', and I wanted to LOVE `Zeitgeist'. I really did. Unfortunately, this album serves as little more than a reminder of why the Pumpkins were one of the defining bands of the nineties and why they are no longer as culturally relevant a decade on, which is pretty damn ironic considering the album title.


Monuments And Melodies
Monuments And Melodies
Offered by BestSellerRecordshop
Price: £6.73

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ignore the hits; these b-sides are far more interesting..., 24 July 2009
This review is from: Monuments And Melodies (Audio CD)
I won't do you a disservice here and review the first disc, `Monuments'. So, a brief overview then: it consists primarily of the hit singles the band have had since their inception in 1991, although it omits anything from the bands second album proper, `S.C.I.E.N.C.E.'. This makes sense; it was the song `Drive' (from 1999's `Make Yourself') that scored the band their biggest hit and launched them into the big leagues. Anything before said period (`Fungous Amongous', the `Enjoy Incubus' E.P. and aforementioned `S.C.I.E.N.C.E.') shouldn't technically be on a greatest hits package as it didn't really HIT anybody, bar the underground metal scene. However, including something from the bands funk-metal days may have helped to illustrate how much they've grown as musicians and song writers. They're not peddling sub-Mr Bungle or Primus anymore. These guys have grown up. So along with two new, strong compositions (the anthemic `Black Heart Inertia' and `Midnight Swim'), that pretty much encapsulates the first disc.

The second disc, `Melodies', is far more interesting. Consisting of b-sides from the bands back catalogue, this disc illustrates, like Smashing Pumpkin's `Pisces Iscariot', that an album of throwaways doesn't necessarily mean a throwaway album. Songs like `Neither of Us Can See' and `While All the Vultures Feed' cleverly reverse the typical Incubus formula of hummable-verse into epic chorus by featuring genuinely thrilling opening bars of music with verses that, in my opinion, are stronger than the choruses that follow. `Look Alive' is played with such spirit that you can't help but be sucked along for the ride, whilst `Punch Drunk' starts off slowly, hypnotically, before descending into the kind of organised noise the band explored in `Sick, Sad Little World' from `Crow Left...'. The odd one's out, `Martini' and `Pantomime' are deliberately playful, Brandon's voice dancing around the guitar before moving to centre stage in each chorus. `Anything' is the kind of alt-rock song the band perfected during the `Morning View' sessions, but the fact that it's not as immediately catchy as said album makes it more worthwhile when the hooks do sink in. `Admiration' and `Monuments and Melodies' are perfectly pretty songs, even if they suffer next to the infectious energy of the first half of the disc. All that's left (a ridiculous cover of the Prince song `Let's Go Crazy' and the frothy acoustic version of `A Certain Shade of Green') gets by purely because it sounds like the band is having so much fun. So it's a strong collection, if not all encompassing (it should be noted that with the special edition of this album, you are given a link to download hundreds of Incubus b-sides at your leisure, increasing the value for money represented by this collection and also providing a more comprehensive overview of the bands history).

I can think of better albums to buy if you're just getting into Incubus (start with `Make Yourself', see if you like it, and work your way up). If you're a fan already, see if you can get the album at a cut price because the second disc doesn't justify the price tag (personally, I'd have preferred the b-sides album by itself with the two new songs but...y'know). If you just want the hits, hey, you got `em, plus a disc full of songs you might not like. However, sour grapes aside, this double-disc set does a good job of showcasing Incubus as a band with fantastic song writing skills, as adept at writing popular rock songs as they are performing more intricate, less accessible work. They just keep getting better with age (not least Mike Einziger, whose riffs keep getting sharper and sharper). More pre-`Make Yourself' would have illustrated this point even better, but on the strength of the music found on these two discs...well, it's gotta be a four-and-a-half out of five.


STRANGE COUSINS FROM
STRANGE COUSINS FROM
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £14.07

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The natural follow up to '...Beale St', 24 July 2009
This review is from: STRANGE COUSINS FROM (Audio CD)
You always know where you stand with Clutch. For years, the Germantown quin/quartet have been peddling straight, no chaser riffs coupled with preaching-from-the-pulpit guttural roars, and they've become something of an underground phenomenon. Not quite stoner rock nor 70's throwbacks, Clutch have remained true to the groove since forming in 1990. This, their ninth album, continues the bands current fascination with all things blues, something they explored with some depth on their previous album (the magnificent `From Beale St to Oblivion').

Being a huge fan of the group, and having followed their output from their self-titled sophomore album all the way to 2007's `...Beale St', I greet any new Clutch material as reverentially as if it were the second coming (I imagine Neil Fallon would be delighted with that imagery). So when the album arrived (three days before the official release, thank you very much Amazon), I took my time taking it apart, admiring the artwork, scanning Fallon's atypical `so bizarre this man's either a genius or a madman' lyrics and staring lovingly at my new shiny gold disc. Too much? Yes, it probably was. The artwork and lyrics impressed, but it wouldn't be worth a damn if the music inside didn't hit the proverbial spot. So...the album.

The first thing that hits, as `Motherless Child' lumbers into view, is how, well...flat it all sounds. Sure, the groove was there, and `...Child', `Struck Down' and '50,000 Unstoppable Watts' move along at a decent pace, but there was nothing that sank in, nothing that had the bite of `Blast Tyrant' or the inherent whisky-soaked catchiness of `...Beale St'. Clutch sounded a little bored, like they'd discovered the blues and hadn't liked what they'd found. `Abraham Lincoln' (ironically) gears things up a notch by being a laid-back lament for the late prez; all military drumming and brontosaurus-sized riffage. `Minotaur', however, seemed like a clutch (ahem) of good ideas in search of a song. `The Amazing Kreskin' and `Witchdoctor', whilst ably demonstrating what great musicians these guys are, made no lasting impression whatsoever. `Freakonomics', `Algo Ha Cambiado' and `Sleestak Lightning' round the 11 song set off with great chorus hooks a plenty, but little in the way of the killer song writing that made `...Beale St', `Pure Rock Fury' and `Elephant Riders' such brilliant albums. The only song that stood out amidst all the mediocrity was `Let a Poor Man Be', an impassioned cry for help set against trademark, groove-alicious Clutch riffs. All in all, disappointing.

But wait! Slowly, whilst admiring the awesomeness of `...Poor Man', the hooks started to sink in. `Motherless Child's off-beat drumming and slide-guitar riffs started to make sense, to slot together in a way that recalled the Clutch of old. The simple-as chorus of "anthrax, ham radio and liquor" in '50,000 Unstoppable Watts' began to sound like an anthem rather than a tired rehash of well-trodden ideas. `...Kreskin', `Witchdoctor' and `Freakonomics' showed themselves to be brilliantly written songs, full to the brim with well-crafted hooks and world beating choruses. And the only way that `Sleestak Lightning' let's itself down is that it just isn't as strong an album closer as `Mr. Shiny Cadillackness' from `...Beale St'.

My advice, for what it's worth; give it time. This album reveals itself favourably only after multiple spins. My initial disappointment has been replaced by that feeling I get whenever Clutch get into the groove - hot damn! The album's good, and I could use a stiff drink.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 3, 2009 1:11 PM BST


21st Century Breakdown
21st Century Breakdown
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.98

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stagnant growth...does that make sense?!, 5 Jun. 2009
This review is from: 21st Century Breakdown (Audio CD)
It amazes me when people bash bands like Green Day. Any rock band that attempts to do something a bit different, to grow, to embrace new ideas, seems to end up crucified (an apt metaphore) by their long term fans and beloved by new ones. Is it REALLY so bad that a band like GD want to step out of the slacker pop-punk mold they've peddled (superbly) throughout the 90's and early noughties to become something a little more? These people are in their late 30's, for god's sake!

Anyway, they tried to do this with the rather good 'American Idiot' and were lambasted/applauded for it. The album was a great mix of the insanely catchy pop-punk songs that we've come to love with an often unintelligable rock-opera about Jesus of Suburbia/St. Jimmy. If you pushed the story to one side (only slightly) and focused on the music, you were left with an often thrilling album that seemed a logical step forward for the group. Good times. It would seem silly to follow this grand-ideas album with something closer to pre-'...Idiot' GD (which is kind of what they did with the shallow but loveable Foxboro Hot Tubs), so '21st Century Breakdown' is definitely the natural follow up. Still growth, but continuing with the theme set previously. See! Stagnant growth. I knew it would make sense.

Anyway, the album is broken into 3 acts. Ignoring the pointless 'Song of the Century', 'Heroes and Cons' kicks off the album with the well named '21st Century Breakdown', a song bristling with Springsteen-lite stadium fodder. Great start. 'Know Your Enemy', I'll admit, I don't like, but it is catchy as hell and I can see why they've released it. 'Viva la Gloria' starts as a nice piano-led ballad before bursting into the kind of GD tune that they used to write in the Nimrod days...full of energy, great hooks, all you want in a Green Day song really. 'Before the Lobotomy' is kind of the same, starting slow and dreamily before getting heavy. In my opinion, it's the best song on the album. 'Christian's Inferno' is great; bouncy, with a killer chorus. The act closes with the forgettable 'Last Night on Earth', a little slow and dull.

'Charlatans and Saints' is the weakest act here, opening with the scathing, anti-fundamentalist 'East Jesus Nowhere' before heading into 'Misery' (off 'Warning') territory with 'Peacemaker'. 'Last of the American Girls' is fun, but unsubstantial, before things get slightly back on track with the over-too-quickly thrill of 'Murder City'. The second 'Viva la Gloria' and 'Restless Heart Syndrome' are mostly lacklustre, ending the second act on a slight downer.

But don't be disheartened. 'Horseshoes and Handgrenades' kicks up a fuss as soon as it arrives. The song of the same name (bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Hives) announces itself with a punchy riff and shouting from the soap box singing from Billie Joe. 'The Static Age' sounds like something Blink-182 might have written if they were stadium rockers, before '21 Guns' brings a 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' calm to the proceedings. Bringing the album to a close is the brilliant 'American Euology', split into two parts but coming together at the close to make a glorious whole, which sounds manic, focused, tender, aggressive all at the same time, and also showcases some solo singing from Mike Dirnt. All that's left is 'See the Light' which brings things to a fantastic, gloriously feel-good ending. Job done.

So apart from the mid-album slump, Green Day have crafted an album which, on the whole, builds on the high standards that were set by 'American Idiot'. Ignore the crucifix shapes thrown by Billie Joe and the self-important lyrics and you're left with a record which, at times, contains some of the best music of the bands career. It'll be very interesting to see what they do next.

As an afterthought, whoever wrote that pianos don't belong in punk music needs beating around the head. It's ridiculous to suggest that only 3 kinds of instruments (guitars, vocals and drums) should make ANY kind of music, let alone simply punk. Without a rich variety of instruments we'd have no 'Shape of Punk to Come', no 'Full Circle', no '...thanks for all the Shoes'. Music is a canvas onto which musicians create art with whatever tools they choose...GOD, is that last sentence pretencious, but I stand by the sentiment. Apparently this mans definition of 'hardcore' exists entirely so he can say how good New Found Glory are. Yeah, dude, you're TOTALLY hardcore. A 13 year old, brand new to the world of rock, trying to decide between the new Green Day CD and a lifetime of funky house should TOTALLY LISTEN TO YOU because you're, like, RAD and stuff.

Sorry, rant over. Buy this CD if you like Green Day, think twice if you don't.


Coaster
Coaster
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £10.55

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best NOFX effort since 'Pump Up The Valuum', 5 Jun. 2009
This review is from: Coaster (Audio CD)
Whilst the title of this review is, of course, only my opinion, I'm sure that most NOFX fans would agree that their last effort (the mediocore 'Wolves in Wolves' Clothing') was a bit of a backwards step. After the winning, though slightly overrated, 'War On Errorism' and the promise of the 'Never Trust A Hippy' EP, their 10th full length felt a little flat, a little NOFX-by-numbers. It seemed that one of my favourite bands of all time had run out of steam; the songs lacked spark and, most importantly, those killer NOFX hooks were missing. End of story?

Er...not quite. Although 'Coaster' will seem instantly familiar and nostalgic (not a good thing) as soon as you pop it into your CD player, stick with it because the end results are more than worth the initial disappointment. My least favourite tracks, 'We Called It America' and 'One Million Coasters' (strangeley enough the first and last tracks on the album...oh yeah, and didn't Fat Mike call time on woahing in 'Whoa on the Woah's'?...am I being too fussy??!) are still miles more focused and catchy than anything on 'Wolves...'. 'The Quitter' kicks off the album proper with a trademark Fat Mike bass riff, great staccato verses and a PHAT spoken word breakdown. 'First Call' adds some hilarious lyrics (which most people will relate to) and a ska feel into the mix before bringing the mood crashing back down to earth with 'My Orphan Year'. 'Orphan...' sounds to me like the most personal song Fat Mike has ever written (I could be totally wrong), and despite the frantic pace it's very moving. This is all swept away, though, as 'Blasphemy' is both extremely funny and very catchy. A hit single, I'm sure, if anyone else had written it. 'Creeping Out Sara', 'Eddie, Bruce And Paul' and 'Best God In Show' follow this formula, combining lyrics about freaked out lesbians, a gay take on the relationships within Iron Maiden and the pig-headedness of religious zealots with, respectively, cheery pop, tongue-in-cheek metal and more ska. Absolutely brilliant. 'Suits and Ladders' ditches the funny, however, and delivers a magnificent dressing down of people who have to "hustle all day just to make a buck" and who are "superfluous" to society. It reminds me very much of 'Dinosaurs Will Die', in a good way. After the almost forgettable 'Agony of Victory' (a cover), the album 'ends' on a high, with the brilliant 'I AM an Alcoholic', the kind of bouncy, power-pop-punk song that only NOFX can do. Hilarious, catchy, uplifting, fantastic.

Which is why I cannot understand why the album closes proper with 'One Million Coasters'. It's ok...nothing special, let's say. It reminded me of 'Wolves...'. Having said that, the final few minutes are worth it for the 'lounge' ending of the song.

So, in summation: this album rocks, as much and more as anything NOFX have released in the past 10 years. Totally worth the money if you're already a fan, totally worth getting if you're new (though you might want to start with something pre-'Valuum...'). Just don't go expecting them to re-invent the wheel or anything.


Puzzle
Puzzle
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £4.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Biffy, but not as we know it., 13 Mar. 2009
This review is from: Puzzle (Audio CD)
Most great bands (and Biffy Clyro are a great band) eventually create an album that divides their existing fanbase down the middle. The Beatles, Metallica, Faith No More and Radiohead (to name a few) have all released records that have challenged the long-term fan to embrace a new direction, usually, but not exclusively, a more commercial one. Biffy's first three albums ('Blakened Sky', 'The Vertigo of Bliss' and 'Infinity Land') were challenging, vital records. Challenging because of their approach to songwriting, often cramming more ideas into a single song than most bands manage in an entire career. Vital because...well, once those pop hooks (which WERE there if you dug deep enough) took hold, they wouldn't let go. With those records (my personal favourite being 'Infinity Land'), Biffy had crafted an almost-genre for themselves, becoming the noise choise for people who liked intelligent, heavy rock. Which brings us to 'Puzzle'.

'Puzzle' is an easy record to like, and an easy record to dislike. For some long time Biffy fans, the commercial grate of 'Folding Stars' and 'Living is a Problem...' will prove too irksome. Many who I have spoken to do not like this album, and yearn for the Biffy of old. I am not one of these people. I can think of no better example of modern rock that would qualify for the status of bona-fide pop/rock/metal classic. Songs still lurch with heavy riffs and interesting guitar work (See 'Living is a Problem...', 'Semi-Mental' and the uplifting 'Saturday Superhouse'), but a clear decision has been made by the band to push their pop leanings to the forefront. The single 'Folding Stars', which has had so much vitriol spewed on it by Biffy fans, is a lovingly crafted pop song. Nothing more. As I've said, it's quite easy to dislike, but I cannot understand the hatred poured onto this song. 'Saturday Superhouse' has a world-beating chorus that remains on the right side of ANTHEM. 'A Whole Child Ago', ditto. The "such a lonely ride" refrain in 'As Dust Dances' should sound depressing, but ends up like 'Fake Plastic Trees' slightly happier big brother. 'The Conversation Is...' bristles with anger and sadness. And I've not heard a stronger acoustic album closer than 'Machines' in a long time. Vital. Uplifting. Powerful.

Not to say there are no flaws. The opening of 'Living...' is dull and has nothing to say bar a couple of false-starts that fool the listener into thinking they're listening to AN ACTUAL SONG. The middle-8 in 'Now I'm Everyone' is nice for a few bars, but quickly becomes repetitive. And 'Who's Got A Match' deserves special mention. I'd be suprised if Queens of the Stone Age havn't contacted someone to help them sue in response, as the song resembles something that they would have chucked off 'Rated R' for being slightly dull.

But the album remains an uplifting listening experience (and I know I've overused that word, it's the best I can think of to describe the album!!). I recommend it wholeheartedly but would advise that, whether you liked this album or not, you should probably check out 'The Verigo of Bliss' and 'Infinity Land' after you've absorbed this effort. Both are brilliant.

So, 'Puzzle' is a good album. Great, even. Very, very easy to like. But for the best of Biffy, you should probably go back a few years, as their most challenging work continues to be the most rewarding.


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