They aren't exactly renowned for setting the musical spectrum on fire, so why are these bands three of Britain's biggest? NME investigates…
Before we start, we ought to point out that we didn’t actually go to the Keane gig outlined above. Now, this isn’t some sort of new lazy NME ‘make it all up at home’ gig-going policy, nor could we simply not be arsed to go. Nice blokes, sensible haircuts, an album full of good tunes, good live: what pleasanter way could there be to spend an evening of light entertainment than at a Keane gig?
No. NME’s non-Keane attendance was part of a one-off experiment to investigate how Embrace and The Thrills – two bands sometimes unfairly labelled as ‘bland’ – still manage to rock. And for every experiment you need a control, a benchmark to relate your results to. Chances are, there were no drive-by shootings, no weird onstage sexual acts and no escaped zoo animals at Keane. There aren’t – we can vouch – any such inconveniences at Embrace or The Thrills which gives us our first point.
Unlike Oasis (will they be drunk?), Babyshambles (will they turn up?) or Selfish Cunt (will we all be rumbled to the ground in a pile of horse manure?) – we are in safe hands with Embrace and The Thrills.
Sure, it’s easy to knock them: Embrace received a rather harsh one out of ten in NME for the new album ‘Out Of Nothing’; likewise, The Thrills’ latest, ‘Let’s Bottle Bohemia’ only scored a measly six out of ten. We’re not backtracking here – our individual reviewers are entitled to their opinion – but many of you didn’t agree. ‘Out Of Nothing’ and ‘Let’s Bottle Bohemia’ have sold 300,000 and 100,000 copies respectively in the UK alone, and both bands have just completed sell-out tours.
Anyway, back at the experiment, results show that (using Keane as a standard) Embrace are actually slightly more exciting than The Thrills. We know this because for both gigs we are wired up to a portable electrocardiogram (used to measure heartbeat frequency) to plot a graph of excitement versus time.
High frequencies (and therefore genuine excitement) register during Embrace’s ‘Come Back To What You Know’ and ‘Wonder’ and The Thrills’ ‘One Horse Town’ and ‘Say It Ain’t So’ thus proving that a good tune can tug at one’s heartstrings. With six albums’ worth of material between them, both bands have plenty to choose from, and both are packed with Tunes You Know. Due to limitations of the heart-monitoring equipment, some external bursts of excitement are inadvertently recorded while standing next to a large man at the urinals and being asked for a light from an attractive girl, but these ambiguities need to be ignored.
As your mum will tell you, politeness will get you everywhere, which is why NME’s own ‘Polite-ometer’ notes how many times the audience are thanked in each gig. Embrace’s Danny McNamara scores a reputable 16, the Polite-ometer nearly exploding as Thrills frontman Conor Deasy thanks us a whopping 43 times, which – with a capacity crowd of 4,000 – is a personal thanks for every 93.2 audience members.
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By plotting sin-1 (time) against (1/excitement) 2 or something, we can see a pictorial representation of the general interest of the two evenings. The Thrills’ evening starts on an unexpected high when the man who does the “one two” soundcheck bit does so stark-bollock naked to The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’. This must be some sort of Irish joke. They end on a high with best song ‘Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far)’ , with the added relief of no end-of-gig male nudity.
Embrace peak early with a glorious version of ‘Gravity’, but interest wanes throughout the evening as the five-song encore seems to go on a bit, with NME getting a bit worried that we might miss our bus home.
We also note that while The Thrills are keen to explain the meaning of their songs (“this is about a punk rocker”, “this is about an actor who was big in Hollywood in the ’80s”), Embrace are more eager to clarify what people did at their gig yesterday (“when we played this yesterday, everyone went fucking mental”, “only about a hundred people were dancing yesterday: there are probably more serial killers in this room than that”). Also: while The Thrills dedicate the befitting ‘The Irish Keep Gate-Crashing’ to all the people at Brixton Academy for giving them their first sold-out show, Embrace, accidentally thank their crew by playing them ‘Wish ’Em All Away’.
We can thus conclude that, well, Embrace and The Thrills might be a little modern-day MOR, but is that really such a bad thing? People find passion in music in many different ways: from dancing their tits off to some superstar DJ in Ibiza to crying into their pint to some old geezer at the piano in a pub. Embrace and The Thrills exude a passion that people feel they can relate to, and both performances are moving and heartfelt.
It’s all about finding a happy place. A place where you can feel safe. Not too much unlike a Keane gig. Case concluded, QED.
Rich Pelley, BSc