There is little to Embellish that brings to mind kind words. I strained, but failed. This is quite possibly the least appealing record of 2000 I’ve heard. Tired old pop cliches, worn out in both lyric and music, are patched together into stale, vacant pop tripe—even with boy/girl vocal harmonies, generally a saving grace on any record. For fans of the label, you might be forgiven for thinking March Records had done some sort of global outreach, feeling perhaps that the Danes had been woefully overlooked for far too long. Misplaced philanthrophy or indiepop volunteerism does not a good label make, however. Certainly, March has been keen to push the Europop envelope over here in North America and the likes of Sweden’s Cinnamon, the UK’s Cherry Orchard and Clientele have lately become darlings of indiepop fans the world over. Embellish, on the other hand, seems a gigantic misstep, a glitch in the pop rostermaking formula (let’s hope March’s Human League covers album is the corrective).
From start to finish an unending chore (which some license and given Embellish’s penchant for obvious rhymes can here be made to rhyme with ‘bore’), Wake Me Up! is an awful mess. Guitar fireworks that seem ripped from some faceless hairmetal band circa ‘85, with drums whose sentiments seem in tune with the same spandex set, brushing up against nostril-funneled vocals and empty keyboard tinkling, it all seems so wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Hasn’t the pop recipe become standard form by now? We can do these things by rote, in our sleep even. But pop isn’t supposed to puncture our dreamworlds with nightmarish clunkers. It’s the fresh, soothing mental balm in our life, hardly the bane One must strive long and hard only to be enfeebled by a good dose of earnestness to land this far off the mark. Maybe we can just read Embellish as further proof that the pop machine doesn’t extrude—and they are extrusions—a seamless stream of candy-coated music.
Wake Me Up! is paint by numbers pop gone askew. From the first cut “Water Lung” to “Ambivalence” (to which no amounts of reverb, echo or flanging could lend their otherwise curative properties, failing to even ironize the title effectively). And as for the epic closer “Sea Monster”, what sort of conjuring do we have to do to ensure Embellish disappear Jonah-like down the gullet of said beast? Wishful thinking, but that might prove the only drama they’ll leave us with, as this album is just plain devoid of it otherwise.
With this album Embellish have rejigged the formerly positive kitsch value of Eurotrash in such a way that my world’s been turned upside down. What does it mean when sugary sweet somehow seems less appealing than low-cal saccharine? Where’s my Eiffel 65 album? There’s a sour taste in my mouth that needs to be rid of….