Dry Kids (B-Sides 1997-2005)
ast year, Embrace’s stellar, unexpected return to the pop mainstream felt like a reconciliation with an estranged lover. Triumphant, jubilant, world-beating: hearing Embrace playing at the top of their game once more and receiving the appreciation they deserved was wonderfully gratifying. Embrace are that lover to me, the one that years down the line you are drawn back to; she is drawn back to you. You had it right, you got it wrong somewhere, you get it right again and you know that this time it’s for good. You had to go there to get here. The means justify the end. Embrace exist in a world where these clichés are acceptable—not sick-making or trite but accurate and airtight. Sometimes the clichés are spot on.
The set-opener to Dry Kids is “The Shots Still Ringing,” a song in every respect evocative of the band’s return to form. It sounds like any of Out Of Nothing’s anthems: it’s cocksure and emphatic, its guitars scream righteousness, its pace is unrelentingly encouraging. It sounds like a hit single, but like fifteen of the other songs on the record, it never has graced the charts and never will. Dry Kids (The B-Sides 1997-2005) is an attempt to document the other side of the band’s semi-successful career with a selection of B-sides released via both their former (Hut) and their current (Independiente) record labels.
There’s no denying the release of a compilation like this acts partly as a stopgap before the release of the band’s fifth studio LP, but what one might expect Dry Kids to be is a selection of substandard songs—a release aimed at completists only, a token; filler. Around Embrace’s creative low point (widely considered to be marked by the release of 2001’s If You’ve Never Been), the band were forced to fit the recording of some B-sides into an already hectic schedule, at a time when singer Danny McNamara was suffering from a common cold. The result was sloppy work, which goes mercifully unrepresented here. The solution was a new work ethic, borne out of their second chance at long-term success: “we’re not even writing B-sides anymore,” went last year’s typically defiant rhetoric.
The vaguely psychedelic, bass-heavy electricity of “Flaming Red Hair,” from last year’s “Ashes” single, seems to substantiate claims of raised games, the song as far removed from the band’s archetypal sound as possible: it makes me want to walk into a nightclub and take strutting my stuff seriously. “Milk And Honey,” also from the band’s Out Of Nothing era, treads within more familiar Embrace territory—a song about hope and community, about spreading the love with big choruses and choirs; a song that knows it’s on to a good thing.
Much, much older work is fairly represented here too, the title track’s redemptive overtones and piano-led melancholy brings us closer to an understanding of how Embrace got to where they are today, why a band so often accused of being little more than latecomers to the Britpop party still hold the attention of so many in 2005, how much of their success is down to the tuneful sensibilities of both McNamara brothers. A band that can afford to leave songs as blisteringly forceful as “Blind” or as touching as “Free Ride” from their studio LPs is a band worthy of the second (and in many cases, first) look they’ve been granted in the last fourteen months or so.
This collection also demonstrates the breadth of the band’s oeuvre; as they move effortlessly from the punky thrash of “Brothers And Sisters” to delicate minimalism in “Love Is Back,” and across to expansive post-rock soul (“Feels Like Glue”) and blue-eyed, freeform pop (“Waterfall”), always maintaining their gift for melody and occasionally leaving you slack-jawed with a moment of unexpected musical alchemy.
Two songs from Dry Kids…’ shockingly un-exhaustive eighteen don’t fully belong. The Perfecto Mix of “One Big Family,” originally the lead track on a top 30 EP for Embrace prior to their chart-topping debut The Good Will Out, will serve for many as a welcome hook and for others as another dancefloor distraction. Stripped of its heavy rock guitars in favour of spacey drums, bass, and synthesised horns, the song’s vitriolic verses guide us between a chorus that sounds even more like a football terrace anthem than it did eight years ago. The inclusion of a cover (of D12’s “How Come”) is perhaps as likely to rile the band’s largely rockist fanbase as much as it will fans of Eminem and the gang’s original, but for Embrace, “How Come” is no novelty. Danny McNamara’s notoriously fluctuating voice struggles slightly through the song’s refrain, but arguably increases the emotional weight of the song. Embrace’s version is simple, powerful, and executed as if it were one of their own.
What next for Embrace? We’re promised more creativity, more drive, more of the experimentation that seems to propel so much of Dry Kids…, sometime early in the new year. Surprisingly, this collection does hold up alongside the rest of the band’s back catalogue, and very well too. Factor in extensive liner notes from Stylus’ own Nick Southall, and what might at first glance appear to be a fan-only purchase becomes somewhat essential in understanding why the diehards love Embrace so.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: NOVEMBER 7 - NOVEMBER 13, 2005
Reviewed by: Colin Cooper
Reviewed on: 2005-11-07