As I started playing ‘The Good Will Out’ a few days before this 25th anniversary gig, I realised I probably hadn’t actually listened to Embrace’s debut in full since its release in 1998.
Not least, because like many albums from that era, it’s far from perfect. While it does have five or six hugely popular songs (and I’d count ‘Come Back to What You Know’, ‘My Weakness Is None Of Your Business’, ‘Fireworks’, and ‘The Good Will Out’ as amongst my personal favourites from any band), and a couple of other decent tunes, at 14 tracks long it’s certainly got its share of filler too.
That said, Embrace are a band you’d be hard pushed not to love. Never reaching for that egotistical level of fame, it’s their longevity and loyal fanbase that’s seen them through – largely brought about by the band’s own generosity and good nature. Notably, after being dropped by their label Hut in 2002, their infamous Secret Gigs and giveaways kept their fanbase loyal when many would have waned.
As the encore tonight shows, many actually know them best from their distinctly average 2004 comeback ‘Out of Nothing’, with the Coldplay-gifted ‘Gravity’ and follow-up smash hit ‘Ashes’, – which sold more than all three preceding albums put together, at a time when the rise of Landfill Indie meant some Radio 1 airplay and a decent chorus could propel you up the charts.
But back in 1998 Embrace were (by their own admission) a different band – having re-recorded their early songs several times, and taken years to find their sound. They now describe themselves as post-Britpop, despite wearing their influences firmly on their sleeves.
As is still evident today, ‘I Want The World’ is clearly them aping early 90’s Verve and Stone Roses, and you can almost sing Oasis’ Supersonic directly over the top of ‘You’ve Got To Say Yes’ – but the band absolute relish in playing both live 25 years later.
Danny McNamara is in a typically jovial mood too, perfectly toeing the line between serious performance and tongue-in-cheek nostalgia – at one point explaining how to dance if your knees are aging, and later urging the crowd to join in as he did as a teenager at a barn dance.
And while there aren’t any mosh pits per se, the classics are of course sung word-for-word by the expectant crowd, who are equally just here for a great time. But it’s actually those lesser-known tracks – the touching ‘That’s All Changed Forever’, the rousing ‘Retread’, and a rare outing for b-side ‘Dry Kids’ – that are real highlights, and the reason these full album playthroughs are so popular.
Looking around the tightly-squeezed room as the “la la las” of the title track ‘The Good Will Out’ ring out, it’s clear to see why Embrace are still so loved. “Will you be here for the 50th anniversary?”, they ask at one point. If it’s half this much fun, let’s hope so.