Sports Team have been, up to this point, defined by their live sets, crammed as they are with wilful freneticism.
Whilst the songs themselves are not exactly disenfranchised youth anthems, they’ve given a voice to a jaded and confused (and salivating) generation. Their gigs have been testament to this, Alex Rice flouncing joyfully around the stage like the lovechild of Jagger and Morrissey.
Meanwhile, along the way they’ve released a string of relentlessly upbeat, catchy singles, all of which have reflected their modus operandi in some way or another. As such, this debut album is both successful before it’s even released, and sometimes suffers from over-familiarity (despite the mystifying omission of M5).
The paradox is very apparent; chirpy, guitar-led pop that takes its lead from the art and Brit genres is a formula that rarely fails. The music doesn’t break any new ground, yet is driven by an enthusiasm that only youth can provide. Here It Comes Again features Coxon-esque guitar work beneath the snappy, ever-so-slightly distorted vocals, while Going Soft leans heavily on a lick that echoes The Jam’s English Rose. Meanwhile, on Feels Like Fun they go full on Strokes, the crunching guitar lending itself well to the rolling bass, only some quiet mellotron adding sprinkling to the indie noise. The band’s uniformity of spirit is best reflected on opening track Lander as the sextet fly out of the traps as one, while on Camel Crew they go full glam rock.
It’s in the lyrical realm where Sports Team differentiate themselves: songwriter Rob Knaggs has an observational eye like Messrs Turner and Cocker, yet unlike those two giants his experience is one as a member of the middle class rather than the working. Though the band are surely loath to be viewed through a class prism, kudos to him for not hiding from this fact, as it’s no less valid an experience than relying on Universal Credit. Through singer Rice, Knaggs laments the boredom of chain pub The Slug & Lettuce, for example. The only real moment for pause on the album, the piano-led Long Hot Summer, contains passionate vocals and the timeless lyric: ‘There’s nothing for me in this town’.
Knaggs’ lyrics drip with cynicism: Here’s The Thing is purely a list of soundbites delivered by society from both the right (‘If your parents worked to earn it then it’s yours’) and the left (‘the world will be OK if we stop taking flights’), where only on the middle eight is the truth spoken (‘I’m growing bored of condescending chit-chat’). The Races is a pithy but relatable experience of engaging with the peculiar breed of British gammon (‘wants to talk about the war, the way he’s going on you’d think he’d fought them off alone’) who now seem to dominate conversation.
The album’s opening and closing tracks finish on the age-old promise of fulfillment that is ‘moving to London’, and best represent where Sports Team operate: moving to the capital isn’t everyone’s idea of success, yet is designed to be the most direct route to it.
But for all their youthful enthusiasm, there’s little naivety on show. Fan favourite Kutcher, whilst successfully conveying the first feelings of unrequited love, perhaps speaks best to an older generation (‘I just wanted to be your mid-00s MTV star’ would surely be meaningless to anyone under 18), and there’s a double nod to Bowie on the itchy Stations To The Cross.
Having earned their chops on the live stage but now being denied the opportunity to reach a bigger audience at festivals, Deep Down Happy should do enough to ensure Sports Team don’t lose any momentum.