FOREWORD: Believe it or not, before Coldplay got famous as tenderhearted well-orchestrated neo-Classical pop balladeers, there was Embrace (not to be confused with same-named ‘80s US hardcore band). In fact, Coldplay front man Chris Martin liked them so much he lent them instant chart hit, “Gravity,” from their gorgeously rendered ’04 album, Out Of Nothing (making number one in England). Yet despite overseas success and a solid critical rep, Embrace’s fifth long-player, ‘06s This New Day, sold shit in America. Too bad. Someone’s really missin’ out. I found a comprehensive piece on the bands’ history at www.embrace.co.uk/history/. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
For those not yet aware, English combo Embrace were formative catalysts prefiguring the entire late ‘90s British orchestral pop explosion. They conveyed nakedly evocative confessionals enveloping sincere torch songs, widescreen dystopian epics, and stunningly provocative ruminations highly praised post-shoegaze Radiohead offshoots Coldplay, Doves, Travis, and Starsailor scrutinized, internalized, and affirmatively regurgitated.
Beginning with exquisite ’98 debut, The Good Will Out (its aborted American release disrupted momentum), singer-guitarist Danny Mc Namara and his brother, lead guitarist Richard, struck a nerve constructing poignantly majestic anthems that’d soon become comprehensive blueprints for many adherent cathartic brooders.
Following an extensive layoff in the wake of more experimental, less distinguished albums, ‘00s Drawn From Memory and ‘01s If You’ve Never Been, the Mc Namara’s, plus keyboardist Mick Dale, bassist Steve Firth, and drummer Mike Heaton, return in fine form with ‘04s brilliant illumination, Out Of Nothing. To gain belated stateside support, Embrace toured the states, landing in Manhattan’s commodious Bowery Ballroom during March for a sold out gig. Playing their first ever New York date was a dream come true, rendering ardently gracious Danny Mc Namara to exclaim halfway through an astounding set, “I saw the Doves play Irving Plaza awhile ago, and I said, ‘God, just once.’”
Live, charismatic heartthrob Danny pranced slowly across the stage with utmost confidence and ease, stretching his arms to the heavens in a shamanist manner, a gesture of solidarity mope-rock luminary Morrissey would dig. To his left, sibling Richard eloquently fingered the fret-board, applying sundry pedal affects for stirringly surrealistic intrigue. Second song, the enduringly enthralling UK hit, “All You Good Good People,” got an awestruck fanatical audience to merrily sing along. Happily, Danny’s empowering lyrical fervency and resplendently solemn soft passages lacked the drippy sanctimoniousness miring descendant emo brethren.
Filled with beautifully symphonic ascensions, Out Of Nothing marks the second phase for the re-focused Embrace. Opening with the positively reassuring ‘rise up’ chant of “Ashes,” the immaculately resonating, pristinely detailed 10-song comeback commemorates a virtual rebirth. Lushly textural colossal monument, “Gravity,” written by chummy Coldplay protégé Chris Martin, and grandiose choral resolution “Someday,” with its forthright ‘a light is gonna shine’ benediction, fortify the sentimental uprisings gloriously manifested throughout. Breathless lullaby “Spell It Out” and subdued lamentation “Wish ‘Em All Away” allow Danny’s honey-dripped tenor flights to seductively linger above delicately restrained, masterfully crafted arrangements.
How’d your swimmingly symphonic sound initially transpire?
RICHARD MC NAMARA: By accident. It was the easiest, most natural way to get our songs to work – making them as big as possible. The bigger it got the better we sounded. I started playing guitar when I was twelve. I’d been in straightedge metal bands but never got signed. I decided to get into a band more akin to what we’re doing now. So I’m trying to get to sleep one night and Danny was telling me what he’d do if he was in a band.
DANNY: I had no discernible talent so I became the singer. (laughter) When we came out, we were hailed as Brit-pop’s great next thing. We were seen as an anecdote to all the bands informed by the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Kinks, and Who. We had American influences like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound. We came from a family background listening to Motown-Tamla and old Soul. The Northern Soul clubs in England play modern alt-rock next to that. So it was a natural progression. When we came along, there were no bands doing that – maybe Manic Street Preachers. We were the first to bring a big orchestra to a seven-and-a-half minute single, like the Beatles did with “A Day In The Life.” It’s a massive honor to have Coldplay and Doves get their impulse from us since they’re fantastic bands. It seems like the mainstream chose us instead of us compromising, which is weird because we always considered ourselves outsiders.
Were your parents involved in music?
DANNY: My dad was big into Motown singles. There was a club in Manchester called Twistaville that played Martha & the Vandellas, the Supremes, and Temptations. He loved that. So the records we grew up with were Sly & the Family Stone and that ilk.
RICHARD: I liked Adam & the Ants a lot. They were a kid’s punk band. Then I followed the Smiths, U2, House Of Love, and Stone Roses.
What growth has there been since Embrace’s startling debut, The Good Will Out?
DANNY: Fans always said we were better live then on record. This is our first record where I’ve felt we captured some of that live sound. That’s mostly due to our producer, Youth (The Orb/ Killing Joke). He was a total genius – unpredictable – but he had the ability to capture the magic moments in two, three takes what would’ve taken us fifteen tries. Our first album, we did the Phil Spector aesthetic and built a big wall of righteous noise. Bands like My Bloody Valentine and Ride that were around when we started did that, but we wanted to do it with orchestras instead of big guitars. From there, we lost our ambition. We needed to get off the dole originally, but once we got signed, we began enjoying being in a band and the second and third albums were adrift. We didn’t care how they did commercially. But we’ve gotten stronger since being dropped by our label. Our ambition came back after that bite in the ass. At this point, we raised the bar to a level that’s so high we couldn’t see from the ground. That’s why it took so long to get these ten songs together.
Making orchestral pop is more difficult than just playing three chord rockers.
DANNY: The first album, we probably spent four years writing, the second only two, and the third, maybe one.
Do you have to live through the bittersweet emotions the lyrics project?
DANNY: (hearty laughter) I usually write the lyrics and it takes a week or so of sitting down before the pen starts working and I get in that frame of mind. Then it all pours out and I could write five songs in a day. An analogy is you’re with a girlfriend, three years go by, one night you have too much to drink 3 o’clock in the morning, and she says, “I don’t like the color of your shoes.” Five hours later, the whole fucking thing gets turned on its head because all these emotions pour out. Most of the time, you’re civilized and don’t wanna go into deep feelings. But when they work their way to the surface it all gushes out. Pretty much every song we’ve done that I love, little truths come out that really hit you and I cry.
Is it difficult to deliver such emotionally compelling songs onstage?
DANNY: What tempers it onstage is the crowd. Away from our records at the gigs there’s a celebratory aspect ‘cause the songs are quite epic and the crowd sings along. It’s like a gospel choir. That takes away the dark edge and makes it easier to get through the songs without bursting into tears.
Is there an awakened spirituality at work?
DANNY: “Someday” is quite twisted. It’s about someone who needs to believe in themselves to such an extent they believe they’re the second coming. I wanted to give that a cult-ish celebratory joy and I like the contrast therein. It’s also about how we’re all different, important, and need to feel special. But I have no solid answers. I’m just asking and I’m restless about it.
How’d you get Chris Martin to hand over heartfelt piano ballad, “Gravity”?
DANNY: Before Coldplay released Parachutes, we became good friends straightaway and we’re quite a lot alike. We’ve written songs together. I thought “Gravity” was one of the best songs he’d written. So when I’m in the mixing stage, he called up and said he had a big favor. He wanted to know if I wanted “Gravity.” I said, ‘Why aren’t you recording it?’ He thought it sounded too much like us. He was too shy to ask so (wife) Gwyneth (Paltrow) convinced him. I initially said no, but the band said if the recording turned out well, we’d use it. Our third album dealt with the breakup of an ex-girlfriend. I didn’t want to revisit that and “Gravity” seemed to fit perfectly.
So have you matured enough to appreciate your second chance at fame?
DANNY: Nowadays, we’re enjoying the experience more and taking it as it comes. We let the label worry about marketing and the engineer worry about recording. We’ll worry about the songwriting. It’s less dangerous, the ground we’re standing on. But I haven’t wised up, grown, or learned anything new in ten years. I’m very set in my ways.