Embrace If You've Never Been

This is pure Embrace: epic ballads, sweeping orchestration and rousing sing-along choruses. Although it sounds clichéd to say so, this is definitely the type music that you either love or loathe. For those in the former camp, get out your lighters and prepare for some good old-fashioned arm waving, because If You've Never Been finds England's more sensitive brotherly music group in top form. That said being, there's something troubling about this album. Sure, the formula is intact, and you get everything you could want in an Embrace album, but it feels a little guilty to derive such pleasure from something that is precisely what you wanted and expected - there is no weird musical experimentation or challenge. Perhaps they sensed that their fans didn't want too much meddling - the shocking use of kazoos on the first single from their last album is a prime example of what can go wrong. Nope, the McNamara brothers took their own advice from a title of one of their early singles, "Come Back to What You Know." Ballads are their forte and most of this album (their third) focuses on their standard sad, romantic melodies, centred around singer-songwriter Danny McNamara, whose nasally voice is at its best here. These are definitely great heartbreak songs dripping with real emotion. Although the first three tracks standout somewhat, the album is consistently good throughout. In a nutshell, if you've heard Embrace in the past then you get the idea. Should you crave more, this will satisfy. Embrace rookie? Try their outstanding debut, The Good Will Out, first, then go from there. (Virgin)