Anybody who still holds onto the naïve notion that music isn’t a commodity need only look at the current state of British rock for proof that it is, in fact, a nifty way to plan for retirement. Ever since Coldplay hit it big with “Yellow” many British bands have used the Coldplay sound as a formula: slow intro followed by lofty and epic chorus followed by melodramatic instrumental. In fact, the formula has become so synonymous with Coldplay that many forget they lifted it from Radiohead (before, of course, Thom Yorke went creatively bonkers), who lifted it from U2. To their credit, Coldplay did alter the formula, but only to substitute substantial lyrics for easy rhymes and self-help couplets. Now bands like Keane and Snow Patrol are getting airplay writing watered-down Chris Martin tunes—as if they aren’t watery enough. Yaaaaawwwwnnn… Starting a band in Britain has become the equivalent of opening a McDonald’s franchise; here’s your sappy lyrics, here’s your soaring chorus—go make some money!
Even bands who arrived before Coldplay are getting in on the scheme, the latest being Embrace, a quintet led by brothers Danny and Richard McNamara. On Out of Nothing, the band’s fourth album, all the ingredients of the recipe are here, right down to the lazy rhymes, cornball lyrics, “uplifting” choruses, and all manner of inspirational platitudes. Since when did the Brits get so damned chirpy? No wonder Morrissey had to jump the pond; even the notoriously shallow folk of Los Angeles are keeping it more real these days. And keeping it real is exactly what Embrace specializes in—real banal, that is. The entire album has a decidedly contrived and boringly obvious feel, as if the band stopped just short of writing how you’re supposed to react to the songs underneath the lyrics. Even the cover is insulting, showing the band members locked in an embrace, as if you need a diagram to comprehend their name, which is also oh-so-precious.
But the real crime here is the music, which is so paint-by-numbers it probably arrived in a kit at the studio. “Gravity”, the first single, is actually a Coldplay song that Martin and company passed on, opting to give it to the McNamara brothers because it sounded more like an Embrace song. Let’s get this straight: Coldplay writes a song and decides to give it to their relatively unknown buddies who have a band that imitates Coldplay. The musical inbreeding at work here is bewildering. As for how the song sounds, take a guess. Does it contain: a) a cuddly melody; b) an embarrassingly simple drum beat; c) a plodding bassline; d) predictable rhymes; e) a life-affirming chorus; or f) all of the above? How did you know?
The original compositions on Out of Nothing fare no better. “Ashes” is currently getting airplay on both television and radio, which is fitting given its Oprah-fied lyrics; the chorus is so reaffirming you’ll want to restart your diet now: “Now watch me rise up and leave / All the ashes you made out of me / When you said that we were wrong / Life goes on…” You go girl! Um, guys. “Keeping” is a love tale that begins with a recurring instrumental melody, then builds to a lofty chorus, spacious guitars, and really pretty crescendos. And this description applies to the next song, “Spell it Out”. And also to the song after that—“A Glorious Day”. Well, that description pretty much applies to the whole album. This lack of experimentation might be forgivable in a novice band, but this is Embrace’s fourth album. Isn’t a band supposed to be into the drugs and pointlessly-long guitar solos by this stage? The only hint of such adventurousness comes at the end of the album’s last song, “Out of Nothing”, when the band throws down one schizophrenic instrumental. Of course, by then, you’ve already stopped the CD to go buy pretty stationary.
Out of Nothing is the sound of music being super-sized and stuffed into a happy meal. There’s plenty to enjoy here, if you don’t mind being filled with junk. Extra large chorus? Check. Grandiose lyrics? Check. Towering instrumentation? Check. All that’s missing is a toy. Oh wait—the album comes with a screensaver!
// Notes from the Road
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