Embrace - The Good Will Out
AT LAST. AFTER ALL THEIR grandiose claims, their futile obsession with Oasis and this record's seemingly endless delays, here's something we can work with. What could have been a debut album of hollow gestures, obsessed with size and choked by pressures, instead offers 1998 the light at the end of the tunnel: an album by a British band that actually stands comparison with 'Definitely Maybe'.
Not that it's a similar record. Embrace are the very opposite of the corrosive rock'n'roll sensibility that marked Oasis' debut. 'The Good Will Out' is an album of uplifting optimism that substitutes vulnerability for bravado, and heartfelt sentiment for boisterous thrills. And as such, it more than reflects the characters of those who created it.
The McNamara brothers may occasionally appear a perversely worthy duo (professional Northerners, suspiciously teetotal, not renowned for their sense of humour) but without those traits, 'The Good Will Out' would have been a different (and arguably poorer) album. Recorded in Huddersfield - via New York and Abbey Road, London - it has the sound of a record fuelled by love, as opposed to drugs, one they've poured their souls into, and one designed to touch rather than incite the listener.
What remains is a romantic, but instantly recognisable, album. With only seven out of the 14 tracks previously unreleased, much of 'The Good Will Out' will already be familiar to most Embrace fans. A cop-out? Well, only if you've already hardened your heart against them. After all, why wouldn't you put all your best material on your debut?
Besides, such criticisms appear painfully irrelevant after you've been swept away by the impassioned emotional magnitude of the first half of this record. Beginning with 40 seconds of psychedelic orchestral de-tuning, there's a rattle of kettle drums and then 'All You Good Good People'. Rerecorded yet again, it appears here in its most pristine form to date: an incredible, multi-sectioned symphonic anthem that introduces you to both Embrace's lyrical clarity and epic ability with a chorus.
'My Weakness Is None Of Your Business' immediately follows in an ocean of maudlin strings and keening self-doubt to obliterate any lingering doubts about Danny's ability to either a) hold a tune or b) convey the profoundest emotions. It's also a reminder of why all the truly outstanding moments on this LP are ballads (something we'll return to later). First though, you're lifted skywards by the two magnificent singles - 'Come Back To What You Know' and 'One Big Family' - before reaching the first real pinnacle with 'Higher Sights' and 'Retread'.
Doomed and deeply romantic, both these songs reverberate with the same passion as 'Urban Hymns' or any early Bunnymen record. 'Retread', in particular, with its devastating account of a collapsing relationship ("Now I feel so insecure/I can't save something I feel so much for") is proof that Embrace demand to be judged against the greats of British music.
Which brings us to the only problem. While Embrace excel at introspection, they're not so confident with crazed hedonism. They were not born rock - and even though a new song like 'I Want The World' might fly by in a flailing excess of wah-wah pedals and feedback, it doesn't feel entirely comfortable. The same is equally true of 'You've Got To Say Yes' and 'Last Gas', both sound fantastic, all slashing, needle-sharp guitars and firecracker choruses, but neither take you to the same altitude as the rest of the album.
Ultimately, though, it's a minor complaint, because the closing three tracks here are among the most beautiful sounds you'll hear all year. Stately and elegant piano pieces, 'That's All Changed Forever', 'Now You're Nobody' and 'The Good Will Out' are exactly what make Embrace unique. It's hard to think of any other contemporary group who could match the emotional clarity and wavering romance which pierce the spine of these songs, while only the cynical could accuse them of being a contrived attempt to occupy the middle ground between Oasis and The Verve. It just confirms what's always been apparent throughout. This is one of the great debut albums of the past decade.
All you've got to do is open your heart.