Embrace - Manchester Apollo - 27.2.05

A lone fist in the air from Danny McNamara signals the triumphant return of Embrace. From the dole to all conquering heroes they launch into the driving "Ashes" with the opening lyrical send off "I've waited, and given the chance again, I'd do it all the same, but either way. I'm always outplayed, up on your down days. I left it the right way, to start again". Although in truth its about a failed relationship, it's hard not to look at this an autobiographical tale of their career so far. As always Embrace have always been about turning round a negative into a positive and the mood continues into "All You Good Good People", their early calling card to rally the troops.

McNamara has always exuded confidence, but there's always been self doubt behind each exclamation that they're the best band in the world. Tonight without a fear in the world he has the cocksure swagger of Ashcroft or Gallagher. The fact that new song "Contender" makes the whole of "Out Of Nothing" redundant speaks volumes about their state of mind at the moment. Gone are the safe formulaic ballads and in their place are dirty sleazy riffs with McNamara sneering about not seeing everything in black and white and being wide of the mark. It's the best song Embrace have ever written in their lengthy career.

"Look As You Are" and "Someday" received ecstatic reactions, but the Chris Martin penned "Gravity" has elevated itself to a modern day classic. When it was first released many old school Embrace fans, myself included, saw it as lacklustre at best. Now there's no doubt of it's magnitude and you have to think that Martin is kicking himself that he didn't save it back for the third Coldplay album. In what seems like a constant battle throughout tonight's show they complement each soaring ballad with a beast of a tune and following "Gravity" the band look into the archives with "New Adam, New Eve". Bizarrely enough it reminds us of the Banana Splits theme tune.

"New Song #1" is one of 23 songs the band have recorded last month and is essentially "Ashes Pt 2" with rolling piano. Lyrically it's unformed and almost freestyle, but it's further proof that we're witnessing a very different Embrace. McNamara croons "Dry your eyes, there's no use crying" without any need to add the words "mate" or "Stella" or "a walk down the chippy" - Take note Mr Skinner.

"Opposites" is Embrace at their most soulful and sees the band lining themselves with the great's - Leonard Cohen, Marvin Gaye and Al Green - rather than some pissy white guitar band. If one song is set to silence the doubters it's this one.

A trio of singles follow in the shape of "My Weakness Is None Of Your Business", "Come Back To What You Know" and "Save Me" before they leave the stage with a haunting rendition of "Out Of Nothing". Before the band come back for the encore the thought whizzes round our heads that surely they're going to return with "Fireworks". While we're disappointed they don't, it's hard not to be taken by "One Big Family" with squalling feedback and the sort of tune that several years later Kasabian are trying to rewrite. "A Glorious Day" passes by unnoticed, "Wonder" returns unsuspectingly and reminds us that their 3rd album did actually exist and ending on the epic Beatles-esque "The Good Will Out" Embrace prove that good songs will always outlive fashionable haircuts and rock n roll pretension.

With "Out Of Nothing" they have an album that sold shitloads and was of the zeitgeist, but the new material proves why they could not only become the biggest band in the UK, but also the best. The McNamara Brothers have done us proud.

Words: Alex McCann
Photos: Karen McBride www.karenmcbride.com


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