Embrace, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Ecstatic fans extend a warm embrace
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The Independent Culture

This was never going to be a run-of-the-mill showcase to preview a band's latest work to industry and fans, but even Embrace were surprised by how the audience hijacked their first London gig since 2001.

This was never going to be a run-of-the-mill showcase to preview a band's latest work to industry and fans, but even Embrace were surprised by how the audience hijacked their first London gig since 2001.

In a night made memorable by the fans' adulation, a key moment came during the languorous anthem "Come Back t o What You Know". Singer Danny McNamara extended a pre-chorus pause to tease them, though rather than wait patiently, the crowd burst into a raucous cheer they kept up for a good half-minute. Danny could only toss his head back in wonder as the year's most unlikely comeback unfolded.

Forgotten for three years since being dropped by their record label, the band have bounced back with a Top 10 single. Written by Coldplay's Chris Martin, "Gravity" follows the favour he bestowed on R&B star Jamelia with her hit "See It in a Boy's Eyes". He said that when he wrote the song, his bandmates agreed it sounded more like an Embrace number. The Coldplayers' authority on this subject came from supporting the Huddersfield band during their early days.

In fact, with its plodding piano motif and epic chorus, "Gravity" sounds more like an outtake from Coldplay's first album. At Shepherds Bush, it fitted snugly alongside a slew of mid-paced ballads from Embrace's own breakthrough album The Good Will Out. For while Coldplay have moved on to more intriguing sounds, this has been a period of retrenchment for the older band.

Embrace's two McNamara brothers, Danny and guitarist Richard, still bear the unkempt mullets of their earlier days, and - in the studio - they have been reunited with Youth, the producer of their debut album, and with the big choruses that previously earnt them instant rewards. The problem with maintaining the same template is that it has exposed the band's limitations. While it was a continual surprise that the versatile Richard was the only guitarist on stage, his fellow musicians remained largely anonymous. Danny's voice lacked enough emotional range to enrich the bland sentiments that could have come from a trite self-help manual. Yet Embrace have found a way with easy-to-remember words in a key comfortable for anyone to sing. Accordingly, their fans could belt out the lyrics to even the most obscure album track.

Occasionally, Embrace showed they could progress. They opened with the first track from the new album Out Of Nothing, "Ashes", their take on the house-influenced beat of Doves' "Pounding". On "Looking As You Are", Danny made use of Martin's falsetto, though the most interesting new track, billed as the opener to album number five, was an intense number led by a complex, military tattoo of a drum pattern.

By the end, Danny could restore his authority. On the delicate "Fireworks", he got his band to stop playing before leading the audience in a triumphant a cappella. With the loyalty of fans assured and a hit single in the bag, his band's comeback is not in doubt. But they will need more daring if they want to stay for longer this time around.

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