When you think of Biffy Clyro live you’re most likely to think of a night out which leaves you sweaty, with ringing ears and a raw throat, and possibly some sort of discombobulation at a cellular level. The Scotsmen are known for their high-energy gigs, with raucous sing alongs and lack of upper body clothing (them, mostly), so the idea of an acoustic album is a distinct departure from the norm.
Enter MTV Unplugged (Live At Roundhouse, London) – the latest in a long series of stripped back gigs by some of the world’s biggest and best bands. Recorded last November in London’s famous Roundhouse, the new album from Biffy Clyro is an opportunity to experience the band in a more low-key environment.
Opening with the familiar “Mon The Biff” crowd chant it’s immediately evident that there’s no need to be concerned about the essence of a Biffy gig being lost in translation to the acoustic stage, indeed it’s as engaging and immersive as their standard shows but with a new level of intimacy that is breathtaking.
The mix on this album is phenomenal. It’s as close to having Biffy Clyro in your lounge room as you can get (unless you have Biffy Clyro in your lounge room, I guess). The stripped back performance brings with it an enhanced level of clarity and really enables you to appreciate the incredible musicality of the band. Simon Neil is easily one of the best lyricists in the business and there’s a real joy being able to savour his writing through this set. Special mention also to the delicious harmonies of brothers James Johnston and Ben Johnston. I always love the way their voices blend, and then join so beautifully with Neil’s, and this album brings this to the fore.
There’s a great selection of songs on the tracklist, hopefully enough to please old and new fans alike. The ever-glorious “Many of Horror” holds up as you’d expect, as does “Machines” and “Medicine”. A newly discovered delight is the Unplugged version of “Opposite”. That has long been my favourite Biffy ballad and I didn’t think I could love that song more than I did, but this acoustic version blows the original out of the water, which is really saying something in my books. “Mountains” is momentous – starting with a simple piano accompaniment then building through those wonderful harmonies into a soaring finale.
Frankly there’s so many great moments on this album it’s hard to pick clear highlights, but “Drop It” is wonderful. Looking back at the notes I took during the playback it simply says, “Oh, sweet Jesus”, so hopefully my lack of adjectives will speak volumes on that one. One other highlight is “Different Kind of Love” which, in the words of Simon Neil, is ‘kind of a new song’. It’s a unexpected treat amongst the familiar.
During their recent Australian tour they told us that they didn’t think they were worthy of an MTV Unplugged slot. Not only have they proven themselves worthy, they’ve produced a performance which will long be mentioned in the same breath as the iconic Unplugged shows which have gone before. Album of the year for me.
Review Score: 10 out of 10.
MTV Unplugged (Live At Roundhouse, London) is released on May 25.