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The Embarrassment

When asked to place their sound within a unique stylistic rubric, most bands come up with something hokey or contrived. During the lifetime of their band, the members of The Embarrassment were frequently asked these sorts of questions -- are you rock, pop, New Wave, punk, or what? -- and succeeded admirably in coming up with an epithet both general enough not to tie themselves down and specific enough to get at the essence of what they were: "blister pop." It may not tell the whole story, but it gets you somewhere close to the core of The Embarrassment.

The Embarrassment began playing together in the Midwestern town of Wichita, Kansas in 1979, at a time when a new wave of intelligent underground rock bands inspired by the punk explosion (The Feelies, Pere Ubu, The Au Pairs, The Raincoats, The Fall, Mission Of Burma) had begun emerging in both the U.S. and Europe. Like those bands, The Embarrassment made arty, edgy music deeply indebted to punk but not quite punk in and of itself. Like those bands, multiple angular guitars and a biting intellect were the centerpieces of The Embarrassment's sound. But while The Embos' fuzzy, somewhat dissonant, keyboard-laced style placed them alongside their post-punk and New Wave brethren, they also possessed an exuberant, wholesome garage rock accessibility, perhaps best evidenced by their terrific loosely melodic covers, which include Roy Orbison's"Pretty Woman," The Seeds'"Pushin' Too Hard," Buddy Holly's"Maybe Baby," and The Beatles' "No Reply," among others.

The Embarrassment toiled in relative obscurity from '79 through '83, worshipped by a small cult of Wichita State students and college radio geeks across the nation, but unknown to most listeners. By the time the group was finally beginning to garner some positive reviews in major publications, it had split up, with members going on to play in The Del Fuegos and Big Dipper. The Embarrassment did reunite for a time in the late '80s, releasing their one and only proper full-length album, God Help Us. In their aftermath of their second breakup, two definitive Embarrassment retrospectives appeared. The first, Heydey 1979-83 (Bar/None Records), collected nearly all the recordings the band made during its first five-year tour of duty. The second, Blister Pop, brings together the miscellanea: outtakes, live performances, demos, interview snippets, and the like. Predictably, the recording quality is fairly poor, but the energy is vital and the songs are fantastic.

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