Embrace – Refugees EP (Cooking Vinyl)
If you’re going to return after a long stint away – as might be the case with a reconciled relationship – yours is an obligation to demonstrate change, while also retaining the essence of what made love happen in the first place.
And so back into our lives stride Embrace, proffering a four-track bouquet of songs that seeks to atone for their seven-year absence. So what’s new, stranger?
Well, initially it’s Danny McNamara’s falsetto impersonation of bollock-free imp Jimmy Somerville, as Refugees initiates our reconciliation with a prodigal-son version of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy – almost note for eunuch-toned note.
However, the difference here is that Danny has rarely sounded so confident in his own vocals – always a bone of contention with his detractors – as he produces a velvety pitch that hovers liltingly over an incessant melody rumbling beneath, creating an ethereal preamble to a chorus that smacks you right in the face.
Richard McNamara has always played second fiddle to his brother, but here he takes centre stage with a skybound vocal performance that evolves the idea of a chorus into another dimension. Always the absolute masters of vertiginous, mountain-range refrains, here Embrace notch it up to Heaven’s eleven – the sound of a phoenix from the flames, still on fire. If you’re going to return from hibernation, shredding the very fabric of the sky and having it rain like volcanic larva from on high is a pretty effective way of saying ‘Remember me?’
Following that, Chameleon is a darkened vision of love with a schizophrenic bent, overlain with an insistent, wide-awake, tangled-in-the-sheets melody that won’t let you rest, and is possibly one of the best songs Embrace have ever made – the most incredible aspect of it being that it didn’t even make it onto the album.
In fact, every track here could have made it – Decades is a roller-coaster of a melody that lurches and falls with a dizzying grandiosity that somehow manages not to induce nausea – a stadium-bound track that sits humbly in the confines of this neat little EP.
As was always the case with Embrace, their EPs almost felt like albums in themselves. This is the first one since the powers that be overseeing chart regulations stipulated four-track EPs were not to be eligible for chart entry (fellow EP specialists Mansun also felt the sting of this jelly-brained ruling). This defiant return to those gallows reads like a great big fuck-you to the chart regulators – precisely the action that should be made. The EP needs to come back, and this four-track journey is a potent and provocative piece of evidence that could support such a case.
Closing with aptly named Bullets, which hits you point-blank with its open-hearted, tender brutality – containing one of Danny McNamara’s most haunting vocal performances, and the virulent lyrics “If you cut me open, bullets fill my heart – your name’s on every one” – Embrace not only manage to atone for their prolonged absence, they also look and sound more beautiful than we remembered. Absence has indeed made the heart grow fonder… erm, and more lethal.
Seven years may have been too long a wait, but if you’re going to make amends, this is the ultimate charmer. But this is no bouquet of flowers; this is a heart on a stick. And how can anyone stay mad at that?
* Album review to follow shortly.