London W1 Hanover Grand

[B]Danny McNamara[/B] could stick that frigging kazoo up his arse and get his brother to blow a [a]Vengaboys[/a] medley...

There’s no room for agnostics at fan-club-only events like this, when the subjects inspire such fawning devotion they could probably get away with anything. Danny McNamara could stick that frigging kazoo up his arse and get his brother to blow a [a]Vengaboys[/a] medley, but the Embrace massive would still acclaim the act as further evidence of their heroes’ limitless virtuosity. To say that proceedings might be a good deal more interesting were the McNamaras to do exactly that is, of course, cavilling of the meanest nature, wholly out of place at an event where joy is the key.

But hey, someone’s got to do it. Embrace are a strange band. Their many interviews reveal an awkward mix of humility and presumption, as they strive to convince us that this mundane assimilation of standard-issue bedsitland boyrock is somehow reinventing the wheel. Not that anyone can dispute their aptitude for the job at hand. When it comes to musical white bread, Embrace are master bakers. At this far remove, ‘All You Good Good People’ now seems emblematic of the post-Britpop hangover, all puffed up with nowhere to go other than the next big chorus, superficially tasty but of negligible nutritional value. Yet to espouse such unfettered ambition as Embrace have with regard to their new LP, invoking Zappa and ‘Paul’s Boutique’, and then deliver a collection of stolid four-square homages to convention is downright odd.

Whatever, only a grouch could question their sincerity. Watching Danny McNamara‘s hugely unconvincing attempts at exhorting the crowd is to witness a man temperamentally ill-suited to rock stardom, but who’s gonna give it 100 per cent anyway, because that’s what the job demands. So come the encore it’s not Evian but Jack Daniel’s he’s slugging back, somehow making Jack Daniel’s look like the least rock’n’roll substance imaginable. Yet the fact that he seems happiest doing the ‘zoo thang in ‘Hooligan’, that slyly charming red herring sung by Richard, surely speaks volumes.

Inasmuch as Embrace have attempted to spread their wings and see beyond the big-arsed anthem/moist-eyed ballad bridgehead, the results are mixed. ‘New Adam New Eve’ is a groovy twist, a bit like The Stranglers rewriting ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, but the anaemic ‘You’re Not Alone’ suggests that like all too many white bread boys they’ve equated soul with Soul, and are found out in the process. The crucial northern soul selections played before and after the set merely rub it in: Embrace would like to be Sly & The Family Stone, but the best they can hope for is the family who might get as big as The Stone Roses, and not even that lot at the height of their coke-fuelled dementia would have thought covering De La Soul‘s ‘The Magic Number’ was a good idea.

At least Embrace save that folly for the end, by which time even the agnostic in the house has felt the heartstrings nostalgically knotted by ‘Retread’ then ‘Fireworks’, and wondered whether this group really did peak so early. To recap, then: nice boys conquer their own little world for 90 minutes, featuring some moments of extreme pleasantness. Is this really good enough?