@uspic¡ous Fish¿!
Delirious With Weird

Tuesday, July 06, 2004  
Part One

The Enormous Embrace Exercise

Or; reasons to be woeful

Or; the most misunderstood band in the world

Or; what the fuck were you thinking, N1ck S0uth@ll?

Or; shut the fuck up and listen to my song

Or; a song-by-song directory and exegesis of my in-and-out-of-love affair with The Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band On Acid

How the hell does one even begin to do this? To distil seven years of love, antipathy, excitement, disappointment, idiocy, gigs, travelling, psychosis, drink, tears, people, shouting, singing, falling over in Irish theme pubs, starting fights (nearly) in Wolverhampton and, most importantly, songs, into mere words on a page? Well, if it’s good enough for a depressive Beatles fan then it’s good enough for me. Embrace are better than The Beatles anyway, The Beatles never used a kazoo. I can prove this by SCIENCE.

Song-by-song, eh? It’s a big job. It’s pretty stupid. You’ll be revealing precisely where you stand on EVERYTHING here and you might upset people.

Oh well.

You have to understand that I’m not one of these people who unquestioningly likes every song in any given artist’s catalogue (you know who you are, you fucking fools – what’s the point in it?), and, when it comes to Embrace, there are probably as many songs that I dislike as there are ones I love. How could it be any other way? I’m in an almost unique position regarding this band; it wasn’t by accident that I ended up sitting on that fucking train station platform (I drove to that gig!) answering benign questions and talking shit (stop me if I’m wrong, stop me if I’m wrong). “N1ck S0uth@ll; professional Embrace fan” – well I actually fucking am now, now that I’ve taken their (new) record company’s coin (in a roundabout way [on the verge of indecision]) in exchange for seven years of built-up stuffness in my brain, congested into no less than 7x400 and 3x1000 words. Well, that was for money; this is for love, such as it is.

Take into consideration that this has been written both in a single day and over the course of seven years – these are thoughts as held in my head RIGHT NOW and I reserve the right to change my mind at any given second of any given day, ever and ever, amen.

Song… by… bleedin’… song… here goes…

All You Good Good People
NME live review, London Oxford Street 100 Club, January 1997; looking for the new Stone Roses, blah blah yadda yadda, you know the drill; “the width and whoosh of The Verve” etcetera. The Fierce Panda version is, frankly, pretty lousy; Danny’s lost his keys and it’s as muddy as all fuck. But there’s a stateliness and an ambition apparent. And, you know, they kept comparing it to Barry Manilow, and that’s cool. The best version is the album cut, produced by Youth – it’s faster, livelier, there are more guitars – but even that never caught what it was like live. Fucking hell – the noise, especially at the end when Rick would spiral off into nowhere, jumping around and squalling reels of sonic shit out of his instrument; it was absolutely awesome, but they never caught that rigidity-devolving-into-chaos properly on record. It still sounds like rolling back into home in a beaten-up old car after a long time away, though.

My Weakness Is None Of Your Business
The Fierce Panda version of this was even more muddy and unsure and off-key than AYGGP, if possible. But at the same time it was absolutely glorious watching this wretched little thing unfurl into something so desperate to be beautiful, so vainglorious and pleading. By the time they redid it for the album it was too solid and workmanlike, almost, the fragility and, haha, weakness had almost been worked out of it. Overdubs are bad, kid. Like much of the really early stuff, it was badly realised on record, which is a shame, cos the seed is beautiful.

The Last Gas
This is more like it. Turbo-shoegazing! And more NOISE! Sheets of the stuff, and nonsensical lyrics, all held down by a clumsy, slow, malevolent groove, clattering and bashing. The video was so exciting; crap, but exciting! The band crashed a party, or something. I always used to segue from this to “This Is Music” by The Verve on mixtapes. The guitar solo is like being punched in the face or an electric shock. Parts were rerecorded for the album, the vocal cleaned-up and the synth-trumpets got rid of; both decisions, in my oh-so-humble opinion, a mistake, because it lessened the NOISE.

Now You’re Nobody
They’ve still never done anything else which sounds quite like this. It shifts and floats with an assured delicacy just wasn’t evident anywhere else in Embrace’s music. I can’t remember whether I read it or hypothesised it myself, but the way Embrace’s (early) songs were put together almost seemed as if they’d deconstructed the very building blocks of how to write a song and put them back together again from the bottom up. At it’s best this manifested itself in a sense of craftsmanship and instant familiarity that was both comforting and made the songs seem incredibly strongly focused. At it’s worst it was like the songs were built of Lego and you could see all the joins. Or I could, anyway. I never felt as ‘located’ within a song as I did with certain early Embrace songs, and I’m still not entirely sure how this affects me; I like being ‘lost’. During the calamitous periods of university and such they gave me a bedrock to cling on to, but if all a song is useful for is getting you through the bad times (and it wasn’t the stereotypically weepy numbers I was clinging to) how are you ever going to listen to it after you’ve got through to the other side? The music needs to have it’s own worth outside of your associations with it. The inability of most Embrace fans you encounter on their messageboard to disassociate their affections and memories from the songs (and this happens a lot with ‘indie’ fans in general) pisses me off because it demeans the art by reducing it to a painkiller, to a subjective beta blocker; “this only has worth when I am in pain; only has worth because I have pain”, and that is, I believe, selfish and wrong.

This doesn’t feel as if it’s made of Lego at all. It doesn’t feel like a song in the way that, say, AYGGP does - “this is the end of the verse; this is the start of the chorus; this is the blah blah yadda yadda” – I never got that with “Now You’re Nobody”, and that sense of topographical dislocation within the actual song was great, because the destination and momentum of the song becomes unimportant, and all that matters is the point of impact of each second on your eardrums, as the sound waves touch the hairs that sense the vibrations and turn it into information in your brain, with no sense of expectation or history, no past or present, just how the song makes you feel now. And that’s why I love “Now You’re Nobody”; because it sounds beautiful now.

Whereas this is just overload. Rumour has it (and rumour is true, I know cos I’ve been told) that Johnny Dollar made them record it in the wrong order; verse-chorus-verse-chorus-shoutyguitar, when it was meant to be verse-verse-chorus-shoutyguitar-chorus, because “you can’t do a song in that order”. In return for this they blew his eardrums and gave him tinnitus. SUCKS! “Blind” actually finds the middle ground between Oasis, The Pixies and MBV by overloading on guitars and shouting. JD’s production may be in the wrong order, but it sounds absolutely fucking fantastic, especially during the middle section when Rick’s guitar slips from speaker to speaker with wilful, noisy abandon. Also Steve’s bassline starts like a motorbike revving, which is a great thing to sound like. They rerecorded it for the American release, in the right order, but the sheer weight of guitars was gone. I remember one Radio 1 live thing (probably April 1997) when, during the climax of this song, the broadcast cut out for a coupe of seconds. “Blind” – Too Loud For The BBC!

This is weightless and delicate and came out BEFORE “The Drugs Don’t Work” which is the same song with flashier guitar. Supposedly someone in the band who plays guitar and had dreadlocks for a while doesn’t like this song much because it’s “boring”. I’ve got nothing to say about it, really. It’s lovely, but I’m not the same person I was seven years ago.

One Big Family
Seek out the Perfecto Mix by Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osbourne (I’m not sure how much Oakenfold would have been involved though) which dubs this out to incredible lengths; by the later gigs in 2000 they were performing it live in that manner. When I first saw the band in Bristol in 1997 they encored with this, and the ba-ba-ba’s went on forever – a much more satisfactory end to a gig, in my opinion, than the finale that would become traditional in 1998. There are little tweaks to the production of the EP and album versions (they are different – Karim informs me they’re in a different key, whatever that means [nb. the tardy Arab fuck now says he never did say this = he’s a LIAR]) by Steve Osbourne that elevate it above some of their other material from this era, which, despite the often lavish strings, were generally produced in a very basic a fashion. As a dance kid since the age of 16 (not that I ever go out dancing, you understand), those little soundworlds in the production mean a lot to me; sometimes they’re almost the only reason I listen to music.

Dry Kids
This is a lovely little tune, and I like the way it echoes a lyric from “Blind” (that kind of self-referential cannibalism blurs authorial lines interestingly) but I still don’t quite understand the massive level of affection most fans have for this.

You’ve Only Got To Stop To Get Better
Layers and layers of scree and noise (but not quite NOISE) almost drag this into greatness; the opening riff is classic, the lyrics meaningless enough to be shoutable without feeling like a prick, but the groove and sonic mayhem aren’t… quite… there. Turned loud enough, the rolling finale is quite something, but not the full-on, malicious lock-groove it should have been. Better than those two… things… on the album though. This is also a perfect example of their knack for RIDICULOUSLY LONG SONG TITLES. “You’ll Never Fit A Family Of Five In A Ford Cortina”.

Butter Wouldn’t Melt
Again, this is sweet enough, with a touch of bitter (or is it sour?) to start, but… ‘pretty’ is about all I can say. Finding their way I think here; the ringing piano is perhaps the best bit, the way it interplays with the guitar to almost sound like a different instrument, which is what Mad Brian Wilson was trying with Pet Sounds, placing microphones equidistant between guitars & pianos to make a new sound.

You Don’t Amount To Anything – This Time
Interesting guitar over the chorus-bit, but this is a total Lego song otherwise. Country-ish strum to open always reminded me of that Oasis one from Be Here Now with the screaming and the Johnny Depp.

The Way I Do
This is great though; my personal theory is that it’s Richard’s proposal to Jo given musical form. It’s totally pure, an unabashed Love Song, something Danny doesn’t quite seem able to write (or didn’t? – thus far his have almost all been at least touched with bitterness, negativity or spite). People always mention Lennon as a comparison/inspiration, but I’m not so sure (and only partly cos I have no solo Lennon) – I’d suggest Otis was perhaps more important to this. The pianos to close, swirling and sweeping like ripples in a pond, are magical, stately and grand and warm

Free Ride
I really really really dislike this song. A; it’s made of Lego. B; it’s a nasty, selfish, self-pitying little thing that bleeds selfish spite, reminds me of who I was at my worst and most adolescent and lacking in vision. C; it pampers to the meme that “slow & quiet = profound and moving” which is Not The Case. D; there’s fuck-all going on.

Come Back To What You Know
Embrace In The Gym. My dislike of this song stems from… from Danny telling me of it’s existence in December 1997, saying it was “pop” and me hoping for “She Bangs The Drums”. And then it’s… there’s nothing to it beyond form, and the form is not that special. Youth on production made it sparkly and shifted the dynamic into just the right shape for it to go massive. And I’ve no problem with that, but it painted Embrace in people’s minds as this Anthem Band, and, as you can see here, there’s more to them than that. Plus the sentiment is nasty! How retroactive and unadventurous can you get? Go away from what you know! Embrace the new! (Pardon the pun.)

Love Is Back
The NME review suggested the b-sides to CBTWYK “descended into 70s singer-songwriter hell” and I’m pretty close to agreement. This is… nice. But completely inconsequential. The hummed refrain is very pleasant and the drums light enough to suggest brush-work (it’s not though), but after things like “Blind” and the OBF remix I was hoping for something more dynamic (or just plain weird), and all I got was a load of pussy ballads.

If You Feel Like A Sinner
This is better; the organ/piano interplay reminds me of the instrumental from Automatic For The People, the lyric is cannibalised from all over the shop, and the melody moves with much more ease than you might at first think. Danny’s very good at running a lyrical conceit across too much melody line, carrying his train of thought into odd places, areas where it should not reside; lyrics don’t always finish at the end of a line, he often carries them on over the beat. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work (the title track of the first album, maybe) and other times it’s wonderful. Many of the early songs contained melodies that repeated themselves almost too rigidly (which I think contributes to the locationism I was talking about earlier), and while this is fine on the rockers (magnificent on OBF) you want something more fluid and wandering for the softer numbers, I feel. This does it right.

Perfect Way
Closely recorded vocals, doom-laded sentiment, minimal acoustic guitar = YAWN. “Liar’s Tears”, “Happy & Lost” and “Happiness Will Get You In The End” all pull the same trick – if you’re going to do minimal you need huge swathes of unsettling space; this is certainly the most unsettling of the guitar+voice songs they did, but I was never much into guitar+voice anyway.

40 seconds of orchestral manoeuvres in the hall – I’m still convinced you can hear (Richard?) say “fucking hell” in the background.

Higher Sights
In one of those Radio 1 live things Richard miss hit the chord going into the chorus and BAM I fell in love. Unfortunately neither that nor the glorious live piano part made it onto record, although the 3/3 waltz time did. Karim insists the alternate version, produced by Youth, from the US release did it better. I can’t remember (the drums sound like they were recorded in a big CAVE; the horns are a touch reedy; it doesn’t move easily enough). The song itself is great, powerful, but, as ever at this stage, badly realised.

Just where the fuck is the bass in this song? This should be almost physically unbearable by the climax but it isn’t because there’s no bottom end, wtf? It makes me wonder if they mixed the album at too high a volume, like The MC5 did with Back In The USA, making it sound thin and ready unless played through an enormous PA. Again, this is a great song, one of their best, but not done properly. THIS ONE TIME, AT BAND CAMP- sorry, on that goddamn Radio 1 live thing (again!) it was incendiary and searing and so on and so forth and live at the tail end of 1997 it almost made me cry (inasmuch as I ever do cry which is not a lot because I’m one hard muvva). Where’s the NOISE? And also what’s the point in recording stuff for an album in exactly the same manner as you’d play it live, only not quite as good? The studio is your friend. Boxes and buttons are to be cherished. This, along with a handful of others from the first LP, was rerecorded at Abbey Road live for the BBC and released later via the internet only, and that session caught them much better. The best it’s ever been was live at Blackpool in 2000, when an extended intro opened the whole song up and made it seem much less hermetically sealed from the outside world. (Also Danny once said “Retread” was about blowjobs. Not entirely convinced, myself…)

I Want The World
This and its partner in crime were meant to be “like the worst excesses of MBV and The Jesus & Mary Chain”. They weren’t. They were Lego. This at least had a serious attempt at bluster and chaos, but the noise was too neat and the mess too organised (and yet not meticulous enough), the groove not harsh enough.

You’ve Got To Say Yes
Whereas this had a clumsy attempt at a groove and a should-have-been-great-but-actually-ended-up-wretched horn-laded middle-8. America deemed the word “fucked” too nasty for people to hear, and so swapped this for the rerecorded “Blind”. The very first tracklisting I ever saw for the album had “Blind” running straight after AYGGP. I still think that’s how it should have been. But I digress… To achieve real NOISE post Loveless you need to produce it properly, which is why the EP take on “Blind” worked, why later stuff works, why MBV works, why Fennesz works, why Boredoms and Bark Psychosis and so on and so forth works, because the NOISE is layered to hell and intricate as well as ferocious.

That’s All Changed Forever
Live this rolled in awesome, sweeping circles; on record it had the exact same sound as the b-sides. Another great song badly- oh, you know the drill by now. In my head it was “This Is The One” gone gospel. Just imagine! A lot of people find this to be a sad song, but for me (and others, eh Muzzy) it was one of the most positive things they’d done – again, slow & quiet does NOT necessarily equal sad, and sad does NOT necessarily equal more profound than happy.

The Good Will Out
Whereas this… Well. Danny had said “wait till you see what we’re holding back for the album” and… they were holding back two bad rockers and a “Hey Jude” rip-off. This is the song in which the joins are most clearly visible. It’s practically coming apart before your eyes. And yet… saying this song is anything less than amazing in earshot of an Embrace fan will get you lynched. The album came out on the day I was diagnosed with chickenpox, three weeks after my 19th birthday. I had myself convinced it was great before I’d even heard it (which was two days before, when my brother winger a blue fabric promo to me) and then when I did hear it I couldn’t listen, because the spots in my ears HURT. Sure, singing along with it live was nice, but that’s not enough. Plus, on record, it lacked the harmonies and energy and spontaneity it had live. Karim and I were talking about it last night and he suggested the singalong would have been better tacked onto a reprise of one of the album’s other songs, and I in turn suggested AYGGP’s orchestra+noise explosion would have been perfect (stick both the Beatles steals together for maximum po.mo. frippery!).

I’ve said it before and doubtless I shall say it again, but this song was a complete epiphany for the band, it opened up a world of possibilities. Even though it was simple there was no trace of this being made from blocks like some of the earlier material; its progression through itself seemed totally natural. Plus kazoos! Prior to the launch gig for Drawn From Memory some idiot was running up and down Regent Street with a handful of them bought from the Early Learning Centre, giving them to random strangers so people could toot along. That idiot was me, unsurprisingly. I remember writing a huge spiel on the messageboard about how “Hooligan” reaffirmed the band’s identity by allowing them to step outside themselves and alter who they are, Nietzsche style; Danny replied, saying if I wasn’t in a band inside six months he’d come and beat me up. It’s been almost five years and we’re both still waiting… James heard it before me, on Simon Mayo’s show I think; he told me there was a kazoo and I couldn’t tell if he was lying or not. READ HIS BLOG, HE’S MENTAL – COULD YOU TELL? I’m glad he wasn’t lying. Everyone said “Gomez” or “Beck” but it was actually sourced from Delakota (burbling samples) and Bob Dorrough (the actual tune).

I Can’t Feel Bad Anymore
The opening sounded like the sun coming up, and as soon as he opened his gob I remember thinking “he’s found his voice!” and running around telling people. It was like Marvin Gaye saying he sang best when he was laying down; Danny sounded relaxed and easy and it suited him. Strong chorus here seemed (we’d discover later) to steal from “The Love It Takes”. The whole feeling was one of assured ease, confident comfort, and while the lyric may have wandered around clumsily (“I wont take another trip / on that lonely ship”) the spontaneity of the tune made up for it.

I’ve Been Running
This was recorded in one take, as was its predecessor, during a seemingly magical period at Batsford. We know this because back in the day the band would post to the board too (RICK DIDN’T KNOW WHERE CAPSLOCK WAS), and Steve told us about the genesis of the pair. Starts from nothing and builds through proper Motown keys into something really special, horns and rolling guitar and a big surge, but gentle. Again there was a confidence and ease about this, a fluidity that hadn’t been there before. Richard reveals, at the end, that he only knows two guitar solos – here he nearly plays BOTH (first solo goes widdle-diddle-dum-twiddle-diddle-dum-dum and the second goes GAKKA GAKKA GAKKA). More Otis influence too – this so consciously echoes “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” that in anyone else’s hands it would be pointless, but here it was a sweet homage.

Like A Believer
The prettiest thing they’ve ever put to tape in terms of the actual balance of sound and the production, this fluttered in out of nothing and never quite solidified. Guitar falls in thin layers like smoke, slightly country, slightly psychedelic (my fault? – Richard said in one of the video feeds on the site that whilst recording DFM he’d stumbled across an old interview in the site’s archives, wherein he and Danny had promised the interviewer the second record would be “psychedelic… Sly & The Family Stone mad”, and that had prompted him to think “shit, we’d better make it psychedelic then!” That interview was with me, from my old fanzine, and was conducted backstage in Bristol after a gig in December 97).

With The One Who Got Me Here
This was completely deconstructed, not in terms of the blocks of the song but the entire substance of its sound. I gather it was recorded normally with guitar and piano and so on before they stripped away everything but the rhythm section, and replaced it all with electronics and swathes of synth – the result is odd and compelling and strangely beautiful; it always reminds me of “Kangaroo” by Big Star, fractured and distant and obtuse. The rolls of sound to begin and end always remind me of breaking waves. NOT the work of a stodgy ballad band with no ideas – because Embrace are NOT a stodgy ballad band with no ideas.

You’re Not Alone
Motown-tastic! The Boo Radleys were an influence on this (as they had been on AYGGP – horns = “Lazarus”); it was recorded after the DFM sessions with Hugo Nicholson, stuck on the album at the last minute and picked as the single, something the band seem to do quite often (“Gravity” anyone?). Best bit? The elastic-bass + organ + guitar + falsetto to finish. It’s a pop song! Richard was absent from the band’s performance on CD:UK because of a short stay in hospital (not lung cancer or pleurisy or a heart murmur but posture problems because he holds his guitar weird had caused his chest pains! – I was having chest pains at about the same time too, but this is because I was essentially functioning as an alcoholic – the entire band [except Danny, a committed non-smoker {he has to sing!}] gave up fags in sympathy, and it was funny as piss watching Danny lay the law down every time one of them went near a cigarette; no more atmospheric, smoky rock’n’roll photographs by Mary Scanlon for the band). It’s all about the horns and the singing-along. Yeah, it’s a cliché, but it picks you up; a friend at university (the one with the pierced clit) was never into Embrace until she borrowed my MD walkman one night for the walk home – she kept it and the MD inside for another three weeks, and at the end of it she commented, simply, that “they write songs for singing.”

Brothers And Sisters
MONSTER! Should have been on the album? Possibly. “I’m not saying I think we’ve written a song as good as ‘Love Me Tender’, I’m saying we want to write one that’s as good. I don’t think we’ve done a song as good as ‘Gratitude’ by the Beastie Boys”; you fucking have now, you really have now. The guitar starts too fast, too eager and then the bass drops in like a handbrake turn, completely shifting the momentum of the song. Nuts lyrics about dogs and submarines and bombs and nonsense; in the middle everything drops out, there’s what sounds like bongos (they’re not – it’s Danny with a microphone in his mouth, slapping his cheeks), and then everything drops in again, ferocious, with a huge PUNK SCREAM. People say “why do you love Embrace?” and I ought to just give them this tune. They do the heavy stuff so well (once they’d sorted out the density of sound and fluidity of momentum) because they’ve got an ear for melody at all times…

Happy And Lost
This is an acoustic nothing; quite why the pre-eminent fansite is named after it I don’t know. Two minutes long; two minutes is all it deserves. It’s nice enough, but once you’ve heard it once what possible impetus could you have to go back to it?

Come On And Smile
This is great fun – especially when the drums cut at the end, dugga-dun dugga-dun, duggaduggadugga-DUN – crunchy and overdriven and daft, with a nice, inaudible, mysterious and positivist lyric, but it’s got b-side written all over it. In my quest to construct the Perfect Embrace B-Sides Collection (iPods have made me so happy…) this misses out because there’s just not quite enough tune. But it shows off Embrace as a band rather than just as songwriters and journeymen – Mike & Steve & Mickey (organ sounding like a Theremin) are absolutely key to making this tune work. The DFM sessions saw them learn how to play as a band properly, and it was key.

A Tap On Your Shoulder
This is sweet and interesting, a reggae hangover from Richard’s honeymoon, distorted to hell in the name of… well, making it more interesting. The lyric seems to be about a boy having problems with an older girl, and the narrator is imparting some affectionate, fraternal advice.

And that is the END OF PART ONE.

Part Two will commence when I’m good and ready.


7/06/2004 11:00:00 am


Blogger HKM - 11:32 am

You are a brave man, Nick. I haven't read it all yet, but that much is clear!

Blogger HKM - 9:47 am

As if by magic, Wife Swap used 'Come Back to What You Know' as its final sequence s/t last night. Must be the first time I've heard it in six years.


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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com

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