Pop: Where they go, egos

Embrace London Astoria

While the editors of the music press were hiding under their desks rather than criticising Oasis for a shoddy album, new band on the block Embrace said it was rubbish and did little short of ask the Gallaghers for fight.

As the self-proclaimed best band in the world, Embrace have talked a good battle all year. Fine, but for every Stone Roses and Oasis there's a dozen mouthy no-hopers. Remember Birdland or These Animal Men? Thought not. Apart from anything else, unless you release something as sublime as "Wonderwall", the self-aggrandisement tends to wind people up. Just as well Embrace have got a song as achingly beautiful as "Fireworks".

But pity the poor band. They had everything. They're signed, they've got an anthemic sound, and a touching, ballady mix borrowed from a great band that has split and that no one has heard of. Everything's coming up roses and then The Verve reform. And, suddenly, Embrace look a bit silly when The Verve get a number one single and the album of the year. Embrace's huge sky-scraping tunes all tend to look a touch shrunken in comparison.

Still, "All You Good Good People" and "Retread" wouldn't be out of place in Wembley Stadium but it's hard to believe a man singing "I feel so insecure" when he's bellowing it like Ian Paisley at the Northern Ireland Shouting Competition. With their debut album to come in February, everything's already gone Simple Minds-shaped for Embrace. If you tap them you'll find they're hollow and empty.

Three songs in and McNamara brother is admiring the interior of the Astoria and is pleased to say that this is the first time they've played anywhere as big. But half-way through this momentary humility, self-consciousness deals him a hefty slap around the chops and he says: "This is the first and the last time we'll play venues this small." Don't think so.

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