Release Date: Apr 28, 2014
Record label: Cooking Vinyl Records
Embrace took an extended sojourn after the release of their 2006 album This New Day, not returning to action until 2014, when they released their eponymous sixth album. Embrace doesn't necessarily embrace the shifting fashions of the last half decade or so but rather settles into the group's middle age, with the bandmembers clearly enjoying how they no longer need to try as hard. Once seen as a mini-Oasis, Embrace are now clearly part of the sober-rock lineage spawned by Radiohead and Coldplay; they favor sonic skyscrapers, their sighed melodies competing for space with guitars chiming so strongly they could easily be mistaken for keyboards.
Amidst this month’s never-ending Britpop anniversary coverage let’s not overlook one thing: at the end, Britpop got really shit. The post-Gallagher, Noel-Rock, introverted, maudlin fag-end of the Nineties was dismal, and Embrace were right at the forefront of it it. ‘All You Good, Good People?’ ‘Your Weakness Is None Of My Business?’ ‘Come Back To What You Know?’ Genuinely awful.
“The water’s frozen to ice, we opened up the floodgates far too late this time,” Danny McNamara sings wistfully over a subdued guitar line, and you know at once that you’re listening to an Embrace album. But it’s only here, at the start of this album’s fourth track I Will, that we come across the point at which that moment of recognition really appears. Embrace have gone all electro, you see.
Embrace’s self-titled sixth album is their first since ‘This New Day’, eight years ago. In the intervening years, clamour for a new Embrace album has been minimal, so the question of “why?” hangs over the record like a Saharan dust cloud. A more specific question that arises while listening to lead single ‘Refugees’ is, “Is that a fucking vocoder?” Putting it kindly, Danny McNamara’s voice was never the best, but at least it was honest; on ‘Refugees’, he sounds like Kano.
Eight years have passed since the West Yorkshire quintet's last album. This eponymous effort, delayed, we're told, by writer's block and perfectionist urges, aims to create a fresh start by going deeper and darker than previous work. "We used to turn this town red, now all I see is black," sings Danny McNamara on The Devil Looks After His Own. But despite the more brooding approach and the New Order-referencing bass riffs, Embrace's populist sensibilities remain intact: stadium-friendly choruses rise up and grab you by the throat at every opportunity.
Gone are the days when Embrace could be dismissed as mere Oasis copycats. These days the Yorkshire band have made a brave stylistic shift, and find themselves more accurately described as Coldplay copyists instead. In fairness, they do what Coldplay do at least as well as Coldplay themselves. This sixth album, their first in eight years, is packed with sky-scraping choruses tailor made for punching the air mildly to at festivals, ideally as the sun sets.
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.