Pop music: A spiced-up supernova

Who do you think you are? Oasis? No, say Embrace. They're better than that.
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The Independent Culture
IT'S 18 months since Embrace offered up the slogan "Better Than Oasis" to the music press after a gig in front of 100 people resulted in a deal with Hut in the UK and Geffen in the States, a three-night residency at London's ICA and a mud-thwarted non-appearance at Glastonbury. They crashed on to the scene with an impact that marked them out as a kind of (male) indie Spice Girls. Embrace could have grabbed the invite to Next Big Thing bash, left a hastily-recorded debut album with the butler and picked up on every lucrative offer thrown at them. Instead, they bided their time and released three EPs as calling cards and refused a request for one of their songs to be the soundtrack for a tabloid advert.

A year and a half after being signed, they have come out of Yorkshire with their debut album, The Good Will Out, which went straight to No 1. Rather than a Soho studio, their address is a Huddersfield community centre. Forget cocaine: they are more likely to be found doing pub quizzes.

"We sort of got lead into saying all those statements about being better than Oasis by people with their own agendas," says Danny McNamara, the band's vocalist and guitarist. "We were naive." He says they needed to square up to the criticism and improve their technical skills. "People really love this band and they stick up for us. They forget that we are new, and compare us with stadium rock bands. Just because we have written good songs, that doesn't mean this is going to be the best we can ever do."

Rather than the Verve and Oasis comparisons that greeted them ("the similarities are cosmetic," says McNamara), James Brown, Otis Redding and Nirvana are more telling inspirations. The influences can be seen in an album which reaches for melodic House of Love, begs the guitar licks and riffs from Stone Roses' funk and has Aretha Franklin's soul sewn into each song as if Embrace discovered a pipe that pumps emotion from the heart.

"We kind of just go for something that is really uplifting," says McNamara. "We try for a strong melody - one where you get to the end and feel better. If you are writing from the heart and not from the head, you just let it come out. It does work on a cerebral level, but I think it is more visceral. We don't analyse it much."

Their current EP, "Come Back To What You Know", balances instinctive feel-good lyrics with a tight leash on its cliches. This ingenuity runs through The Good Will Out as it rubs muscle-to-muscle rock ("All You Good Good People", "One Big Family", "The Last Gas") and head-to-head serenades ("Fireworks", "Retread", "Now You're Nobody"). "All You Good Good People", for example, works as a terrace anthem, but was in fact written about a relationship breakup. Embrace are more the subject of dispute than definitive statements. "It's like the Bible," is typical grandiloquence which has been misinterpreted as arrogance. It's only to point out the songs are open to interpretation.

If you want to pretend Embrace are a Brit Pop parallel to the Spice Girls, - and the media certainly have treated them like that - here is the Easy Guide. Mike "Sweet" Heaton, on guitars, says: "You can't complain about being compared to two of the best bands in the UK." Steven "Shy" Frith, bass, says nothing. Danny "Chatterer" McNamara, vocals and guitar: "If you are describing a colour like dark blue, you can't do it without comparing it to blue and black. Music is abstract like that." And Richard "Minx" McNamara: "Big ideas? I wanted to be a superhero last week."

`The Good Will Out' is on Hut/Virgin Records