Sports Team – Deep Down Happy

It's when the brakes come off that Sports Team really excel.
Label: Island
Released: 5th June 2020
Rating: ★★★★★

Sports Team are the greatest band in their own universe. A big statement for an us-against-the-world gang who specialise in them, it’s also more nuanced than it reads at a glance. In a scene where too many can appear bland and tasteless, Sports Team have long felt like a liberal pinch of firecracker seasoning – all swagger and gob, full of self-belief and no fear of ruffling feathers along the way. To some more beige souls, it may seem tiresome. To the rest, it’s a lightning rod that channels something electrifying – genuine, unabashed excitement.

Because that’s what Sports Team command in their disciples. The antithesis of growing old and boring, there’s no doubt their highly-stylised, coach party indie-pop will leave those concerned with high art and even higher purpose thumbing their nose – but those voices don’t matter. Not here, where they’re pitted against a critical mass of youthful exuberance, happy to throw down with a band shot with adrenaline and ready for a good time.

‘Deep Down Happy’ is – first and foremost – an album soaked in teen spirit. That heady belief that everything is shiny and new, discovered for the first time, better than whatever came before. It’s nostalgia never lived, romanticised into a uniquely British world of bad roasts and bores down the local pub. It’s a hall of fame of indie icons past, cut up and sewn back together to make its own reanimated Frankenstein’s nonsense – a sassy, eye-rolling triple threat ready to cut through a sea of poseurs and has-beens. If you’re willing to buy into the complete package, it’s nothing short of glorious.

From the no-mucking-about-here-then explosion of ‘Lander’, Alex Rice drawls and muses over a crescendo that grabs hold and shakes for dear life. Skipping from character to character, often sarcastic, never entirely straight down the line, he’s part Jarvis Cocker, part 00s art-pop-provocateur Eddie Argos. But while Rice may find the limelight drawn his way, it’s the collective that provides the platform upon which he struts. While lyrically Sports Team may live in a world of perfect one-liners and faded vignettes, musically they’re a well-oiled machine. The swell of ‘Camel Crew’ or the woozy heat haze of ‘Long Hot Summer’ – where songwriter Rob Knaggs takes vocal duties – show a band with far more depth than the bombast alone might initially suggest.

It’s when the brakes come off that Sports Team really excel. At first listen, ‘Here’s The Thing’ may sound like a joke – like a Reliant Robin driving down cobbled steps, it’s a song hanging on to believability by the skin of its teeth. And yet, once that initial ‘what the fuck’ subsides, it’s also riotously great fun. An earworm to end all others, imagine being dull enough to try to suppress that involuntary grin. Life’s far too short.

With no shortage of confidence, Sports Team are the complete package. A band beyond just their music alone, there are no half measures here. When the battle lines are drawn, you’ll either be with them or against them. We know what side we’re on. You wouldn’t want to look boring, would you?

Stephen Ackroyd

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