In retrospect, it probably wasn’t Embrace’s greatest idea to compare themselves to Oasis when they first appeared back in 1997. Arrogance and being ‘mad for it’ was the order of the day, and with Be Here Now being a major disappointment, the world was ready for a new bunch of gobby Northerners with songs to die for.
Sadly it didn’t quite turn out that way. The fact that both Embrace and Oasis had a pair of brothers in the band was the only thing that the two had in common, and The Good Will Out was widely perceived as a disappointment. Now, five years on, comes the Best Of, which may seem a bit odd for a band with only three albums worth of material. It would seem though that this isn’t the contractual obligation album before the inevitable split – main man Danny McNamara has described it as drawing a line under his band’s career to date before embarking on a brand new direction.
It’s true that Embrace have been much maligned. It’s difficult to see why when listening to this collection. The band specialise in big, epic songs – nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the opening track and debut single All You Good Good People. Sadly this isn’t the superior original Fierce Panda release, but it’s still pretty damn good. A stirring, spirited song, this really should be up there with Bittersweet Symphony and Live Forever as one of the finest northern records of recent years.
The main criticism of Embrace is usually directed at McNamara’s voice. It’s true that he can be a bit flat sometimes and struggle to reach the high notes, but Embrace’s songs are perfect for him. Some of the ballads on this record are almost too fragile, and McNamara’s battered, bruised voice fits the bill perfectly. You can really believe in him as he pleads Come back To What You Know, and tracks like Fireworks, The Good Will Out and the slow-burning recent release Wonder would melt the hardest of hearts.
Unfortunately this collection isn’t in any particular chronological order, which is a shame – it’s interesting to note how easy the band move into the kazoo-featured, Beta Band-influenced lope of Hooligan, if you program this CD in release date order. As it is, we swing from Good Good People to the highlight of the second album You’re Not Alone, with a couple of curios such as the rather inessential b-side cover Three Is A Magic Number.
If you’ve always kind of liked Embrace but have never been tempted to buy any albums, then Fireworks is a perfect purchase for you. It’s free from the rather turgid filler that some of their three albums possessed, and is a good introduction to the band for the uninitiated. Hopefully Embrace’s new record deal with Independiente will provide them with a new start and a new direction.