You aim high, you can miss badly. You try to climb the tallest peaks, all ambition and no preparation, you’re going to have a pretty grievous accident. The bigger they come, as Embrace know only too well – in a piece of homespun wisdom they could have written themselves – the harder they fall.
Yet still you strive onwards, and if you can, upwards. And this is where, nervously thumbing the pages of their second album, we find the brothers Dan[a]!!![/a]ny and Richard McNamara: two men who were born to scale lofty heights, yet cut their own ropes, who bore down on goal and still skied it over the bar, essentially fouling up what had promised so much. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?
Well of course it doesn’t. But to understand why ‘Drawn From Memory’ (relaxed, innovative, best album they could have made right now) represents a major victory for Embrace is to understand how things could have all panned out so differently. These are two men, remember, who could convert the raw grace of their first single into a leaden debut album, turn goodwill to bad, and turn the charm of their early performances into a succession of received opinions on rock’n’roll posing. Nice one.
It comes down to greatness, you see, and it’s a cross that Embrace have not borne effortlessly. They’re an orthodox rock’n’roll group in a time of orthodox guitar groups, and their ability to be led collectively by the nose through canonical ideas of ‘classic’ rock moves – the string sections, the name producers, the avant-garde hairstyling – in the name of this greatness looked in danger of leaving them disingenously adrift in their own material.
There’s a song on ‘Drawn From Memory’ called ‘You’re Not Alone’. It’s great, it’s uplifting, it’s pulling together, it’s Embrace goddammit, and there’s a line in it that goes a good part of the way to explaining what’s changed in this group. Danny McNamara is, as usual, singing some advice to somebody, and he’s singing: “It’s time you took a look at what you need”, but this time he’s practising what he preaches. What Embrace needed was to relax. To be themselves. To be allowed to play by their own rules. This is what they’ve done, and it’s excellent.
The funny thing is, it’s not even down to the songs themselves as such. If ‘The Good Will Out’ was a selection of extraordinary songs sabotaged by the excesses of the recording studio, then ‘Drawn From Memory’ demonstrates how Embrace are beginning to be able to translate their ideas (blaxploitation themes on ‘Bunker Song’, heavy psychedelia on LP highlight ‘New Adam New Eve’, as well as the obligatory balladry) onto their records. If Danny McNamara‘s claims for Embrace were previously a grevous problem, then they now make some sort of sense. Embrace are becoming the band he always said they would be.
It’s an exhilarating ride to watch. ‘Drawn From Memory’ trawls emotional depths, plays to its strengths, comforts and encourages, strong in the knowledge that sometimes the good really will out. From here it’s a long way down, and with good reason. Embrace have finally put their flag firmly at the summit.