Review Summary: Criminally underrated, Out Of Nothing is one of those rare records that aims to affect the listener at every single opportunity and succeeds with both consistency and brilliance.
Pseudo-hipsters under the impression that Radiohead are underground will tell you that British soft-rock quartet Embrace were better before they hit the bigtime - that the understated and inefficient pop-rock of the days when they were unknown was somehow more sincere or edgy, and that 2005's Out Of Nothing saw the band sell out. Sell out" This is radio-rock, folks; there's pretty much no such thing. In radio-rock, when people tell you you've sold out it only means one thing: you've finally gotten it right, and people are going to start taking notice. The UK took notice of Embrace's fourth full-length, propelled by lead single Gravity (penned by Coldplay's Chris Martin) and the shiver-inducing Ashes, but the group's best effort sits four years on as a criminally underrated and almost-forgotten example of a workmanlike set of musicians striking absolute gold and finding their identity.
That identity" Guitars that seek out the rafters of packed arenas, layered and interesting but never dense enough for their effect to become masked; pianos that max out the heart, whether that be in search of a massive crescendo or a gentle introduction. These are the foundation-stones of a sound rooted in evoking gut-level emotion at every opportunity; excitingly, though, the musicianship on offer is more than above-par, and brings to the lighter-waving direction something genuine and honest. Not a moment is wasted as Embrace cover as much ground as time will permit in search of that one gripping last chorus or fist-pumping lyric, and they succeed with alarming frequency. The bridge to Spell It Out employs lofty back-of-the-stage strings but still manages to sound hollow and expectant, while the title-track and closer builds to an enormous climax of schizophrenic and unpredictable guitars that lead the record back into the nothing it came from.
Vocalist Danny McNamara gets a lot of stick and to a certain extent it's easy to understand, but only if you think with your head and not with your heart. So he doesn't possess the most original or distinctive tone seen in pop music this millennium - that's putting it mildly - but he certainly holds a convincing emotion which has its peaks. On Ashes he's euphoric and celebratory, but A Glorious Day is easily where he shines brightest, carrying a fragile melody which teeters on a cliff's edge all track long, threatening to plunge but maintaining to the close a tension and tenderness that renders the song a huge hit despite its potentially clichéd piano-ballad format. Put simply, he sounds like he's singing to his audience, which is never a bad thing - there's not a misplaced note or a freakish twist in his voice to be found, and though that renders him perhaps the least technically intriguing aspect of Embrace's music, that's totally fine
since he sounds f**king awesome when he sings, "And you just don't matter too much to me!" in the passionate chorus of Someday.
What's more, late-album curveball Near Life features screeching guitars (it's not exactly metalcore, folks, but it's at the very least experimental) and is more of a 6-minute jam session where the idea of a song finally seems less of a necessary construct to the band, managing to stay interesting despite its lack of convention. And the closer explodes into life as a spirited final push sees McNamara deliver the record's best lyrics in a way which manages to close the album and leave a cliffhanger at the same time. To call Out Of Nothing a straightforward album would be to miss the complexity of its arrangements and the diversity shown by a band with so much aplomb in the pop-songwriting department that it would be easy to just crank out record after record of MOR nonsense. No, Out Of Nothing is not the most ambitious release the genre's ever seen, and yes, it does rely heavily on huge sentiments that have been touched on since forever, but it's really, really good at it. It's easy, it's captivating and - best of all - it's ridiculously consistent. It's excellent.