Drawn From Memory / If You’ve Never Been
When Embrace first emerged at the tail end of Britpop, they were immediately heralded as the next Oasis (and confused with Ian MacKaye’s ’80s proto-emo band of the same name by some). Here was another UK rock band led by two brothers, the McNamaras — Danny the vocalist, Richard the guitarist — who wrote statement-making orchestral rock anthems and regularly boasted about their greatness. The story sure sounded familiar, but Embrace were hardly some copycat tribute band (there were already two of those: No Way Sis and Northern Uproar).
The West Yorkshire band certainly had the success to compete with the Gallaghers, et al. Embrace established themselves immediately when their debut album, The Good Will Out, went gold on its first day of release. And they didn’t stop there. Over the next three years they would release their next two albums, 2000’s Drawn From Memory and 2001’s If You’ve Never Been, both of which are now receiving vinyl reissues after years of being out of print.
When Drawn From Memory arrived, it proved that Embrace weren’t going to rest on their laurels. Though they continued to rely on their unrelenting earnestness as the driving force behind the music, they also decided to have some fun. First single, “Hooligan,” almost felt like a prank; with its slacker flow, frontman Danny McNamara’s Dylan-ish mumble and the ambitious use of kazoo (seriously), the track let it be known that Embrace weren’t a one-trick pony.
Lacking Good Will‘s cohesion, Drawn opted to break out of any mould they may have set, for better and worse. They still brought the bread and butter, with big tunes like “You’re Not Alone” and the stunning title track, while stripping things down to almost nothing on “Liars Tears.” But it’s where they truly stepped out of their comfort zone that made Drawn such a departure. “Save Me” flashes that same triumphant spirit, but slips bongos and wah pedals in to loosen the collar. They go full on grunge for both “New Adam New Eve” and “Yeah You,” maxing out the fuzz pedals for some needed release.
If Embrace rubbed some fans the wrong way with Drawn, it sure felt like they were issuing an apology with If You’ve Never Been. Not quite as parading and grandiose as Good Will, the songs sure felt like a return to that form. The McNamaras upped the use of strings and horns on the arrangements, hitting the mark with “I Hope You’re Happy Now” and “Wonder.” But the subtle ways in which they utilized the vibraphone and melodica on “Make It Last” and the Beach Boys bop, “If You’ve Never Been In Love With Anything,” helped steer it away from becoming too much of a retread.
While Embrace would need to wait for their next album, 2004’s Out of Nothing, to return to the commercial glory of their debut, in between they managed to release a couple of contrasting albums that demonstrated their desire to loosen up and push the envelope. At a time when British rock music was stale suffering from imposter syndrome, the McNamaras even outdid the Gallaghers themselves, which was a feat in and of itself. (Craft Recordings)