EP REVIEW: Embrace ‘Refugees’

It’s been a while since we heard from Embrace; eight years to be precise.  Things started stirring with a secret show last year, followed by Facebook announcements that work had begun on the band’s sixth studio album. This self-titled long-player isn’t due out until the end of April, but in the meantime the band have put out a whopping four new tracks on this new EP. Time to find out what the boys have been up to all this time – is it any cop, and what expectations should we have for the album?

‘Refugees’ opens with a fast yet muted bass drum, soon joined by some nice ballady piano and a falsetto vocal (looks like Chris Martin’s influence has been a lasting one).  Before long we’re into a soaring and appropriately epic chorus – one thing Embrace always knew how to do well. The surprising thing about this track is how synth-heavy it is. Keyboards have always been a part of their sound but this track really pushes them to the forefront. The second half of the track is dominated by a lush instrumental section, starting with plucked violins before developing into a synth-drenched wave and the occasional rush of jangling guitar. Danny McNamara has said in recent interviews that the band were trying new things, and it’s definitely working for them here.

Next up, it’s ‘Chameleon’, opening with a simple strummed acoustic guitar line underpinned by more piano and synths. We’re back to the deep-voiced Danny McNamara of old, but the song is definitely more melancholy – and perhaps even sinister – than you might expect, with lyrics that sound increasingly like one side of an obsessive love affair. There’s another big chorus, this time of the heavy, pounding drums and loud, distorted guitars persuasion: still epic, but with teeth. This new-found rock edge continues into third track ‘Decades’, and it seems like one decade has had more influence than most; the reverb-heavy guitars wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack of a John Hughes film, and the chorus melody has more than a touch of Joshua Tree-era U2.

Lastly its back to basics with ‘Bullets’, an emotive ballad of the type that Embrace diehards will know well. This is less bombastic though; thoughtful, but just a touch more restrained (crashing chorus cymbals aside, that is). It plays out on just McNamara’s voice and one last acoustic guitar chord – a long way from where we started four tracks ago, with just the slightest nod to where they started 17 years ago.

All in all, this EP is a welcome surprise. The Embrace who waved goodbye eight years ago seemed a bit tired, a bit out of step, and trying too hard to emulate past glories. These tracks still sound like Embrace (and they still know how to nail an epic chorus), but with a bit more drive, a bit more edge, and a bit more willingness to step out in new directions. Put simply, they sound like they’re enjoying it again – like they’ve got the hunger back.