Lead singer Danny McNamara tells ANDY SYKES how trusting his instinct has helped create a lasting album set to delight the band’s loyal fans.
Twenty years ago this week, Embrace had been saddled with the ‘next big thing’ tag by a music media desperate to find post-Britpop heroes.
Danny McNamara was 27, had written a Top 10 single and had already had a spat with Liam Gallagher.
Their debut album, The Good Will Out, released in June of 1998, went gold on the day of release and became one of the fastest selling debut albums by a British artist in history.
That dreaded tag seemed justified. Now, two decades on, after three number one albums, two million album sales and a career longer in the limelight than the wilderness, they are back with their seventh studio album, Love Is A Basic Need.
So what would McNamara, who has barely aged in the 20 years since the band’s thrilling emergence, say now to his younger self?
“Don’t worry,” laughs the 47-year-old. “It all works out in the end. You will meet the woman of your dreams, maybe not any time soon, but don’t worry...and enjoy the ride.”
And what a ride.
Commercial and critical acclaim with The Good Will Out was followed by modest success with their next two albums, before an astonishing return to favour with Out Of Nothing (Ashes/Gravity), their best selling album yet.
A hiatus followed This New Day and 2014’s beat-driven eponymous album, which was a departure from their normal sound, yet thrilling live.
Now they are back with Love Is A Basic Need, a collection of 10 songs that manage to capture the uplifting anthemic power of Out of Nothing yet reflects the band’s tender and emotionally wrought brilliance of their debut LP.
It’s the sound of a band finally, after all these years, comfortable in their own skin.
And McNamara, who has got married since the last album, sounds as relaxed as he ever has, ahead of a new tour which visits Manchester later this month and a host of summer festival appearances.
“We are enjoying it more now, we know each other a lot better, we’ve been together for more than 20 years. There’s a genuine sort of love.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot more instinct now. We waited until we had the songs before we went in the studio. The song was in charge and as soon as you accept that then the happier you instantly become. In the past we’d get two or three really strong songs and then go into the studio. If you haven’t then you move on.
“I’m not going to worry whether it’s going to get to number one. We wanted to make an album that we’re really proud of. That if this was the end - which it isn’t - then we’d be going out in a high.”
The launchpad for the album is Never, a duet with Scottish singer Kerri Watt, which has already won impressive radio airplay.
McNamara counts it as one of his finest songs, taken to another dimension by Watt’s soulful vocals.
“Kerry was in the studio with Richard recording the album,” recalls McNamara, whose brother Richard, guitarist, produced Live is A Basic Need. “His daughter sang those parts originally but she was only 15 but me being her uncle and her singing those lyrics, it was just a bit weird! So we said ‘let’s ask Kerri’ and she loved it. We’re really pleased - she sounds so pure and I’m all murky and dark. It’s up there with All You Good Good People and Ashes and is one of the best lyrics I have written.”
So what does success look like now?
“If the album is successful like Out of Nothing or The Good Will Out then great....but I just want to enjoy it better than I ever have. When we were successful with the first album we were more worried about what happened next and we forgot to enjoy it. We were up the mountain but didn’t look at the view.
“And our fans help us - they are amazing. To sell out Manchester in such a short time after being away for four years is fantastic.”
This summer marks 20 years since The Good Will Out - but a nostalgic trip down memory lane may have to wait.
“Many of the other bands from that era have split up, got proper jobs and come back,” he observes, correctly.
“But we’ve never really been away. We don’t really have time for nostalgia and we’ll have to put it back a year as we’ve got a great summer ahead. But I’m really proud of that album. “They were songs about a time in our lives that resonated with a lot of people.”
And if the creative buzz continues, there’ll be future records.
“It’s all about the songs. The next time we have an album full of songs we will put them out. If I feel inspired I will write them.
“I want to write songs that when we play them, no one uses that song as an excuse to go to the bar!”
* Embrace play Manchester Ritz on March 31, sold out
* They also headline Saturday night at the Highest Point festival in Williamson Park, Lancaster on May 19. For tickets go to www.highestpoint.co.uk
* Love Is A Basic Need is out on Friday March 2 on Cooking Vinyl. Go to www.embrace.co.uk.
Album - track by track
The Finish Line
Mickey Dale’s tender piano provides the enthralling launchpad for the album before a soaring orchestra gives a tantalising taste of the album ahead.
Fans were given a snippet of this song back in the Autumn - it stood out then, and still does today. Classic Embrace sound, epic with the extra dimension of Kerri Watt sharing vocals. At just over three minutes, it’s short by Embrace standards and builds to a short chorus, but a live monolith already
Wake Up Call
Crashing guitars soon give way to a subtle riff on a lament to a lost love, a defiant Danny not in the mood to offer forgiveness. A fitting end to the opening triumvirate.
This album’s Someday, a looping sound effect ripples through as the album settles down into its defining rhythm, another lament to a toxic past relationship
Where You Sleeping
Richard takes centre stage on another track that comes alive on the live stage. A bedfellow of last album’s Refugees
All That Remains
A masterpiece, the track that lifts the album from good to great. An exhausting emotional roller coaster in keeping with fans’ favourite Retread, as you are left hanging with ‘have you ever had a photo, something you won’t let go, filling you with false hope’ after a near perfect five minutes. Magnificent
Like Finish Line but after a gallon of Ribena. Low-fi intro builds into a crashing soundscape ala Wake Up Call.
Horsheshoe in My Glove
Mickey Dale in minor key melancholy mode on a soothing track akin to That’s All Changed Forever on their debut album. A fitting pause that gets better with every listen
My Love Comes in Threes
An earworm of a song complete with singalong chorus, a trimphant wall of sound that could easily be an album closer
Love is a Basic Need
Already a staple in live shows for the last two years, the choir lifts this from previous recordings but still falls short of previous final tracks on Embrace albums. But hardly a stain on a fine return.