Released: 23rd September 2022
Oh, big whoop. You don’t like Sports Team? They wind you up by being big, brash and bombastic? They challenge your carefully considered acceptance only of things that show so little fizz or frazzle someone might believe you cool through a lack of personality alone? Forgotten how to have fun, have we? Sucks to be you, you absolute fucking bore.
The battle lines were long ago drawn on indie’s Marmite marauders, but here’s the thing (sorry – Ed), ‘Gulp!’ is absolute proof that, for those not so tired of life they’ve given up, Sports Team are a band built without a brake pedal. Is it a perfect album? No. Should it be? Also, absolutely not. That would totally defeat the point.
Rattling through at pace, never making perfect the enemy of the good, their second full-length is proof of a band perpetually in motion. The development from debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’ is obvious. Opener ‘The Game’ shows perma-baiting frontman Alex Rice at his ramshackle, Grating-est Showman best. Crackling up against the spitting gobs and smoking ears of the mob, you can almost hear him furiously gyrating like any pause for thought would result in instant death. ‘Dig!’ is a weird, wandering groove – the kind of earworm that comes out of nowhere – while ‘Cool It Kid’, featuring Sorry’s Asha Lorenz, hits with a lilting, treacle-thick gloop.
‘Gulp!’ isn’t as immediate a record as ‘Deep Down Happy’. There’s a nagging feeling it could have used one more big Sports Team moment – between-albums single ‘Happy (God’s Own Country)’ might actually have done the job – but with time invested, it’s a full-length that shows the depth the six-piece have always possessed. The razzle-dazzle of ‘The Drop’; the potential lost 80s sitcom theme of ‘Getting Better’; ‘Finger’ and its ramshackle parade – they all drip with sass and swagger unlike any of their peers.
It’s closer ‘Light Industry’ that adds the pleasing salt to ‘Gulp!’’s sticky caramel. With Rice taking a back seat and Rob Knaggs shuffling into the limelight, it’s the crystallisation of the pair’s nascent Albarn/Coxon style duopoly. While not quite up there with previous job-swap ‘Long Hot Summer’ from their debut, it’s a perfect closer for an album that refuses to cater to critics and cynics. Fuck ‘em. None of them are having the slightest bit of fun, anyway. Sports Team are still dancing like everyone is watching. That’s the way they like it.