Sunday, 10 November 2013
Classic Albums No.12: The Good Will Out
Even before they had split up, a number of bands were being touted as the “New Oasis” in the late 1990s. The eventual winners were crowned after the millennium, when Kasabian emerged as a far more camp looking (just look at Serge‘s outfits), but equally primal, rock beast.
But before then, the most likely contenders were Embrace. They too were led by a pair of brothers, and they too had a swaggering arrogance, utterly convinced of their brilliance, despite what people might have thought of them. I seem to recall seeing them in a tent at a 1997 festival, where despite being billed to play for 40 minutes, played for only about half an hour before leaving the stage, effectively saying “we know how good we are, we don’t need the full 40 minutes to prove it to you”.
Although they made a Coldplay endorsed comeback in the noughties, Embrace have spent the last seven years seemingly doing nothing, but they are back on another phoenix from the flames style return. But still, some of you might think that for me to suddenly throw them here into my classic albums list might seem like an insane curveball. But the fact is, that their 1998 debut LP “The Good Will Out” is a masterpiece, a glorious, over the top, relentlessly epic piece of rock and roll, an album that is not afraid to start off in a bombastic manner, and to then keep the pace up for the remainder of the record. Everytime I listen to it, it reminds me just how unambitious so many other records were that followed it. It even out-Oasised Oasis’s later efforts.
As with so many other bands, the formative years of the group stretched throughout the nineties, with not so much as a sniff of a record deal, although self produced cassettes were made, as were changes of musical direction. In 1997, the group released their first record via that regular indie band “debut 45” route, when Fierce Panda issued the “All You Good Good People” single. Whilst most Fierce Panda 45’s were scratchy, lo-fi, 3 minute anti-pop releases, this one went the other way. Big, booming, over the top choruses, a big booming over the top middle eight, which resulted in the final section of the song being an entirely big, booming, over the top finale. It was over six minutes long, longer than both sides of the usual FP 7”, full of (over) confidence, and not afraid to be bold enough to make a huge, roaring, impact. The b-side was no different. “My Weakness Is None Of Your Business” starts off as a genteel piano ballad, and then about halfway through, WHOOMP! A big key change, marked by a big noise of guitars and terrace anthem style vocals, the song suddenly goes into full on lighters aloft, arms in the air mode, before gliding to a beautiful, understated, finish. For a debut single, it was quite remarkable.
“One Big Family”, the lead track on the next EP of the same name, repeated the trick - this time with brother Richard trying in vain to be heard over the looping grooves and the wailing guitar lines. Complete with another magnificent terrace anthem style chorus, it was the closest the band ever really got to Stone Roses style dance-isms, the song later being remixed by Paul Oakenfold. This EP was their first top 30 hit, and unlike the “Fireworks” EP, the extra tracks would not make it onto any versions of the debut album, although some would reappear in re-recorded form as B-sides the next year.
In the fall of 97, a re-recorded version of “All You Good Good People” was issued as the next single. Again, it was to be issued as an EP, although in an attempt to hit the charts at a higher position than “One Big Family”, two distinctly different versions of the EP were to be released, one of which would feature both an edited mix of the track as it’s lead song, along with the Fierce Panda original as one of the extras. This bout of multi formatting did the trick, and bolstered by radio play and a continuing buzz surrounding the band, the single hit the top 10. Embrace had arrived.
With the album scheduled for a summer 1998 release, it was previewed by the May release of “Come Back To What You Know”, another quiet/loud beast of a record, easily the match of anything the band had released on 45 so far. (Claim to fame - A subsequent gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire in May 2000 was filmed by MTV, and at one point, the camera zooms in on me and several other nutters pogoing like mad people during this one!) The “EP” concept was still in place, 4 tracks on each format, although the single was not marketed as such, and each format just listed the a-side as the title of the single.
“The Good Will Out” appeared in June. Reviews were highly positive, the album went to number 1, and sold quickly. They were the Arctic Monkeys of their day. For once, the hype was justified. It is a glorious piece of work, a record that seemed to suggest that Embrace were going to take over from Oasis, now that “Be Here Now” had caused Gallagher lovers to scratch their heads in confusion.
What I love about the record is that it’s ambition is absolutely towering. A lot of albums have some good singles, and a bit of filler, and the running order could easily be rejigged, and it wouldn’t really matter. But you get the impression that Embrace really worked on this record with a view as to how it should sound, how it should start, and how it should end. So, it starts with a string section tuning up, a bit like the end of “A Day In The Life” going backwards, before rolling into “All You Good Good People” - and we’re off.
Subsequently, three more singles follow straight away thereafter - there really seems to be a statement of intent here. But as soon as you hit the first “album track”, the quality simply remains sky high - the simmering beauty of “Higher Sights” is followed by the astonishing “Retread”, which starts off slow and quiet a la “Fireworks”, then explodes into a wall of sound midway through. The impact is incredible, McNamara‘s vocals sound tearful, choked up and vulnerable...it‘s stunningly beautiful, and noisily powerful at the same time.
The record finally starts to calm down during the final quarter - the piano driven beauty of “That’s All Changed Forever”, the sublime horn filled simplicity of “Now You’re Nobody”, the latter being mostly instrumental during it’s final section, proof that the band did not necessarily need to follow the verse chorus verse formula that some of the singles adopted.
The album closes with the title track. A magnificent, “Hey Jude” style finale, seven minutes long, with an insistent “sha la la” sing along ending that stretches the song onwards to the climax, with a slow, lengthy fade out prolonging the sheer genius of the record. There are some who will tell you that a lot of these songs have nicked their ideas from other sources, and that this is nothing more than overblown, “meat and potatoes” indie, with the sheer wall of sound a noisy mistake hiding potentially half-decent ideas. This is nonsense. The album’s brilliance lies in the fact that it knows exactly what it is doing, every key change, every epic power chord, every “la la la” shout in lieu of a lyric appears in the right place, this is an album where everything has been crafted perfectly - the intro, the outro, the sheer heart tugging beauty of the slower numbers, the soaring powerhouse genius of the rockier ones, “The Good Will Out” is absolutely magnificent. Whenever you hear it, you automatically want to get the lighters out for “My Weakness”, you want to jump around like a loon to “One Big Family”, and you want to do a communal clap along to the title track - the whole thing, I guess, is really as catchy as hell, the hooks are as brilliantly executed as they would be on a Beyonce or Britney song, only with added walls of sound.
With the album having arrived and marked Embrace as serious contenders to the Britpop crown, “My Weakness” was issued as the next single, in a different form to the original ‘Fierce Panda’ mix. The second CD was a live EP dubbed “The Abbey Road Sessions”, with all three songs having been taped at the legendary London studios in the fall of 1997. The ‘second half’ of the release was issued as a mail order only CD release some months later, known as “The Abbey Road Sessions Part 2”, and was designed to slot into the packaging of the first half.
“The Good Will Out”, meanwhile, was issued as a 12” single in late 98, I guess it was issued on this format only to try and reinforce the epic nature of the track - it probably wouldn’t have looked quite as impressive had it been squeezed onto a 7” single in edited form. B-sides were all previously released EP material, although the version of “Blind” that appeared on side 2 was a mix previously unissued in the UK - known as the “Road Version”, it had appeared on the US version of the LP, instead of “You’ve Got To Say Yes”.
Embrace were never able to top “The Good Will Out”. 2000’s “Drawn From Memory”, at times, maintained the full on rock and roll of it’s predecessor (“New Adam New Eve”, “Yeah You”), whilst the Motown-esque stomp of “You’re Not Alone” was near faultless, but at other times, in what seemed to be an attempt to do something different from the debut, it never fully worked - the bizarre kazoo solo in “Hooligan”, the slightly enforced quiet/loud structure of “Save Me” didn’t have the same oomph as when it was employed on the likes of “All You Good Good People”. 2001’s “If You’ve Never Been” was mostly downbeat, the two singles issued both “arms aloft” ballads, giving no indication to the heavier side to the band. 2004’s “Out Of Nothing” restored some pride, the likes of piano driven (Coldplay written) tunes like “Gravity” balanced out with balls to the wall rockers like “Ashes”, but by the time of 2006’s “This New Day”, the likes of Radio 1 were beginning to disown them, and the final single from the LP, “I Can’t Come Down”, failed to dent the top 40, whilst reviews were rather mixed. Embrace went into hiding.
But it’s not really fair to compare any of these records to the debut. Last time I listened to “This New Day”, it sounded quite good, but the fact was that Embrace had released a first LP that few people would be able to ever match, not least themselves. Whenever I listen to it, it never ceases to amaze - it’s sheer ambition is something to be lauded, and yet it manages to create this euphoric atmosphere without having to resort to Muse style histrionics. I’m not the only person who thinks it’s the work of genius, and although the idea of claiming a “Britpop” style record to be one of the best ever made might seem like the work of madness, I do not care. “The Good Will Out” is a storming record, truly astonishing at times, magnificently OTT, and supremely confident in it’s bolshy arrogance. It’s obvious that when the band played that “shortened” festival set in 1997, they knew exactly how good their first album was going to be - and they were not wrong. Monumental stuff.
Oh yes. And welcome back.
So good is that first album, I am not sure what I could write about the others. So I thought I’d use this opportunity to list all of the Embrace studio albums (and singles) from the UK up to the present day, just in case I never get round to doing another article on them. One or two albums were reissued with freebies following their initial release, and those are the ones in the list. As for the 45’s, Embrace usually issued something exclusive or at least rare on most releases, so all of the singles are shown. It’s only really the 1-sided “I Can’t Come Down” which is a bit pointless, edited for the promo, but with the LP mix on the 45. Quite a few of the latter period B-sides appeared on 2005’s “Dry Kids” rarities set, and so even though some singles are of interest because of their unique sleeves, or the fact that a lot of the 7” singles were pressed on coloured vinyl, some of these B-sides can now be found on “Dry Kids”, making one or two formats “defunct”.
The Good Will Out (CD, Hut CDHUT 46)
Drawn From Memory (CD, Hut CDHUT 60)
If You’ve Never Been (CD, Hut CDHUT 68)
Out Of Nothing (CD+DVD, Independiente ISOM 45CDX)
This New Day (CD+DVD, Independiente ISOM 60CDX)
All You Good Good People (7” Mix)/My Weakness Is None Of Your Business (Numbered 1300 only 7”, Fierce Panda NIN 29)
Fireworks EP: The Last Gas/Now You’re Nobody/Blind/Fireworks (Cassette, Hut HUTC84)
Fireworks EP: The Last Gas/Now You’re Nobody/Blind/Fireworks (12“, Hut HUTT84)
Fireworks EP: The Last Gas/Now You’re Nobody/Blind/Fireworks (CD, Hut HUTCD84)
One Big Family/Dry Kids/You’ve Got To Stop To Get Better/Butter Wouldn’t Melt (Cassette, Hut HUTC 86)
One Big Family/Dry Kids/You’ve Got To Stop To Get Better/Butter Wouldn’t Melt (12”, Hut HUTT 86)
One Big Family/Dry Kids/You’ve Got To Stop To Get Better/Butter Wouldn’t Melt (CD, Hut HUTCD 86)
All You Good Good People/You Don’t Amount To Anything This Time/The Way I Do/Free Ride (12“, Hut HUTT 90)
All You Good Good People/You Don’t Amount To Anything This Time/The Way I Do/Free Ride (CD1, Hut HUTCD 90)
All You Good Good People (Radio Edit)/One Big Family (Perfecto Mix)/All You Good Good People (7” Mix)/(Orchestral Mix) (CD2, HUTDX 90)
Come Back To What You Know/Love Is Back/If You Feel Like A Sinner/Perfect Way (12“, Hut HUTT 93)
Come Back To What You Know/Love Is Back/If You Feel Like A Sinner/Perfect Way (CD1, Hut HUTCD 93)
Come Back To What You Know/Butter Wouldn’t Melt (Live, London ICA 24.7.1997)/Dry Kids (Live, London ICA 24.7.1997)/Come Back To What You Know (Orchestral) (CD2, Hut HUTCDX 93)
My Weakness Is None Of Your Business (New Version)/Feelings I Thought You Shared/Don’t Turn Your Back On Love (Cassette, Hut HUTC 103)
My Weakness Is None Of Your Business (New Version)/Feelings I Thought You Shared/Don’t Turn Your Back On Love/One Big Family (Perfecto Mix) (12“, Hut HUTT 103)
My Weakness Is None Of Your Business (New Version)/Feelings I Thought You Shared/Don’t Turn Your Back On Love (CD1, Hut HUTCD 103)
My Weakness Is None Of Your Business (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997)/Higher Sights (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997)/Retread (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997) (CD2, Hut HUTCDX 103)
The Good Will Out/Butter Wouldn’t Melt (Live, London ICA 24.7.1997)/Dry Kids (Live, London ICA 24.7.1997)/Blind (Road Version) (12”, Hut HUTT 107)
The Abbey Road Sessions Part 2 EP: All You Good Good People (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997)/That’s All Changed Forever (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997)/You’ve Got To Say Yes (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997) (Mail Order Only CD, Hut HUTCD 109)
Hooligan/I’ve Been Running/I Can’t Feel Bad Anymore (Cassette, Hut HUTC 123)
Hooligan/I’ve Been Running/I Can’t Feel Bad Anymore/Like A Believer/With The One Who Got Me Here (12“, Hut HUTT 123)
Hooligan/I’ve Been Running/I Can’t Feel Bad Anymore (CD1, Hut HUTCD 123)
Hooligan/Like A Believer/With The One Who Got Me Here (CD2, Hut HUTDX 123)
Note: this was the first of a number of Embrace releases which included a non chart eligible 12” release, issued after the original 45, with all the relevant B-sides on the one disc.
You’re Not Alone/Brothers And Sisters/Happy And Lost/Come On And Smile/A Tap On Your Shoulder (12“, Hut HUTT 126)
You’re Not Alone/Brothers And Sisters/Happy And Lost (CD1, Hut HUTCD 126)
You’re Not Alone/Come On And Smile/A Tap On Your Shoulder (CD2, Hut HUTDX 126)
Save Me/Get On Board/Still So Young (Cassette, Hut HUTC 133)
Save Me/Get On Board/Still So Young/Save Me (BBC Radio 1 Evening Session Version February 2000)/(Perfecto Mix)/(Reverend Bass Mix) (12“, Hut HUTT 133)
Save Me/Get On Board/Still So Young (CD1, Hut HUTCD 133)
Save Me (BBC Radio 1 Evening Session Version February 2000)/(Perfecto Mix)/(Reverend Bass Mix) (CD2, Hut HUTDX 133)
I Wouldn’t Wanna Happen To You (New Version)/The First Cut/I Know What’s Going On/Top of The Heap/3 Is A Magic Number (12", Hut HUTT 137)
I Wouldn’t Wanna Happen To You (New Version)/3 Is A Magic Number (Numbered Blue Vinyl 7”, Hut HUT 137)
I Wouldn’t Wanna Happen To You (New Version)/The First Cut/I Know What’s Going On (CD1, Hut HUTCD 137)
I Wouldn’t Wanna Happen To You (New Version)/Top Of The Heap/3 Is A Magic Number (CD2, Hut HUTDX 137)
Wonder/Anywhere You Go/Everyday (Cassette, Hut HUTC 142)
Wonder/Anywhere You Go/Everyday (CD1, Hut HUTCD 142)
Wonder/Today/Caught In A Rush/Wonder (Video) (CD2, Hut HUTDX 142)
Make It Last (Single Version)/Fight Yer Corner/It’s You I Make It For/Make It Last (Video) (CD1, Hut HUTCD 144)
Make It Last (Orchestral Version)/Giving Forgetting And Giving In/What You’ve Never Had You’ll Never Have (CD2, Hut HUTDX 144)
Make It Last (Live, Secret Gig #6 28.7.2001 - Video)/Over (Live, Secret Gig #6 28.7.2001)/The Good Will Out (Live, Secret Gig #6 28.7.2001) (DVD, Hut HUTDVD 144)
Gravity/Wasted (Red Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 87S)
Gravity/Too Many Times (CD1, Independiente ISOM 87SMS)
Gravity/The Shot’s Still Ringing/Waterfall/Gravity (Video) (CD2, Independiente ISOM 87MS)
Ashes/Enough (Yellow Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 89S)
Ashes/Maybe I Wish (CD1, Independiente ISOM 89MS)
Ashes/Flaming Red Hair/How Come/Ashes (Video) (CD2, Independiente ISOM 89SMS)
Looking As You Are/The Final Say (Grey Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 91S)
Looking As You Are/Madelaine (CD1, Independiente ISOM 91MS)
Looking As You Are/I Ache/Soldier’s Hours/Looking As You Are (Video)(CD2, Independiente ISOM 91SMS)
A Glorious Day/Hallelujah (Orange Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 94S)
A Glorious Day/Milk And Honey (CD1, Independiente ISOM 94MS)
A Glorious Day/Feels Like Glue/Red Eye Shot (CD2, Independiente ISOM 94SMS)
Nature’s Law/Soulmates (Orange Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 103S)
Nature’s Law/Deliver Me/Collide (CD, Independiente ISOM 103MS)
Nature’s Law (LP Version)/(Video)/(Live, Manchester MEN Arena 16.12.2005 - Video)/(Behind The Scenes Video) (DVD, Independiente ISOM 103DVD)
World At Your Feet/What Lies Behind Us (7” Picture Disc, Independiente ISOM 107S)
World At Your Feet/Celebrate (CD1, Independiente ISOM 107MS)
World At Your Feet/Love Order/Whatever It Takes/World At Your Feet (Video) (CD2, Independiente ISOM 107SMS)
Target/Just Admit It (Red Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 110S)
Target/Run Away (CD1, Independiente ISOM 110MS)
Target/One Luck/Thank God You Were Mean To Me (CD2, Independiente ISOM 110SMS)
I Can’t Come Down (1-sided etched 7”, Independiente ISOM 115S)
I Can’t Come Down/Contender (Live)/Heart And Soul (Live)/I Can’t Come Down (Live, Manchester Apollo) (CD, Independiente ISOM 115MS)
Note: for interest, the “notable” B-sides on “Dry Kids” are “The Shot’s Still Ringing”, “Waterfall”, “Too Many Times”, “Maybe I Wish”, “Flaming Red Hair”, “How Come”, “Madelaine” and “Milk And Honey”. Aside from the usual DVD releases, there also exists a “hits” set from 2002 called “Fireworks”, which was also issued on DVD. The audio contains nothing particularly unusual, so the DVD version is the one to track down.