To say the very least, it feels a bit odd to be writing about Embrace in 2014. It’s been almost sixteen years (!) since their much-hyped debut album The Good Will Out, and, depressingly, there will be TLOBF readers who weren’t even born when the band were regular NME and Melody Maker cover stars in the late 90s (a portfolio including one breathless feature that featured the hyperbolic strap-line “HERE TO SAVE YOUR SOUL”.) But a cursory glance at a list of other acts who also graced the front pages of the UK music press the same year Embrace first did - Kula Shaker, Space, Mansun, The Seahorses – puts into stark perspective just how much time has elapsed since their breakthrough.
A heartening arrival in the pre-Millennial, post-Britpop wilderness, TGWO was equal parts bombastic Madchester swagger and string section-saturated balladry, with heartfelt vocals delivered in an emotional but reassuringly earthy Halifax burr by singer Danny McNamara. After an initial blaze of glory, the band’s stock soon fell, but a Chris Martin-inspired rejuvenation (the Coldplay frontman penned Embrace’s 2004 comeback hit “Gravity”) ensured their star was once more in the ascendancy before this lengthy exile.
Always good for a brash pull quote back in the day, McNamara has made predictably Gallagherian noises in pre-release interviews about how this record is as good as their first. Embrace’s old calling cards - mammoth, bellow-along choruses and a lyrical blend of vulnerability and bluster - remain intact on their sixth album.
The familiar-sounding “In The End” and “I Run” will appease long-time fans without difficulty. But there’s plenty else that marks a major departure from Embrace 1.0 too. “Follow You Home” avails itself of the synthesized sweep that characterized old pals Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, while Danny’s manipulated vocals on “Refugees” are nigh- unrecognisable . The Edge-style guitar delay effects dominate “At Once” and “A Thief On My Island”, and the riff on “Self Attack Mechanism” sounds like something off Elastica’s first album. “Quarters” –blimey, and this just goes to show we’re a long, long way from ‘All You Good Good People’ - finds McNamara attempting a falsetto over pounding club beats.
Embrace’s modus operandi remains a commercially viable one, even if it does remain slightly surreal to be discussing a group that got its break opening for Longpigs and Travis. Despite the curveballs and their extended break from the biz, the band’s phasers remain set to festival-primed, punch-the-air anthemic bravado, a formula as solid today as it was in their early feted period. Don’t count against a loyal long-term fanbase thrusting Embrace back into the limelight.