Sports Team have proved to be a difficult band to love. Sure, they seem to have a dogged ragtag army of fans, but the past few months have seen a persistent online backlash against the group, one that focusses on class, privilege, and the lingering feeling that they’ve had it all too easy.
Clash undoubtedly participated in this. We reviewed their show at London’s Kentish Town Forum just before Christmas, and gleefully dropped a few barbed remarks into their stocking, a review followed by a now somewhat notorious Guardian piece littered with poorly worded and borderline offensive quotes from singer Alex Rice.
Indeed, musician, author, and left wing commentator Alex Niven probably summed up the case for the prosecution when he wrote online: “Everything about this band is unspeakable…”
Debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’, though, is actually hard to hate. Shorn of the context of their frontman’s rent-a-gob interview technique, it zips and fizzes with a precocious energy, while the lyrical landscape they operate in – the strange realm of Middle England – certainly has its antecedents in the Great British Literate Pop Tradition.
But, truth be told, ‘Deep Down Happy’ just doesn’t go far enough. ‘Long Hot Summer’ is a fun post-punk blaster that fails to linger in the memory, while the rattle and rush of opener ‘Lander’ raises the pulse without every truly coalescing into anything more profound.
‘Kutcher’ remains a fair enough Pavement pastiche intermingled with memories of Mid 00s MTV, and ‘Feels Like Fun’ goes a long way to living up to its title, all swooping Rob Knaggs guitar riffs and rattling drum attack.
That said, there are still aspects that simply stick in your throat. ‘Camel Crew’ pocks fun at their peers, bemoaning the avant-garde who “go to Goldsmiths and they dye their fringes” before “they sign the rights to Sony”. It’s all a bit much from a group of Cambridge graduates who are also signed to a major label – the living embodiment of that Spiderman meme.
It’s a record of too few peaks, its anaemic path littered with songs that fail to stand out from the crowd. ‘Fishing’ simply doesn’t go anywhere, while the inexorable, tuneless ‘Here’s The Thing’ has been crushed into dust by its endless, endless mid-afternoon plays on 6Music. Hell, Lamacq even uses it as an indent now, ratcheting up the plays still further.
[SIDE NOTE: Does the repetitive nature of 6Music’s playlist spark the regular backlashes against rising indie groups? We love Squid, but honestly if ‘Houseplants’ comes on one more time…]
Ultimately, ‘Deep Down Happy’ aims for its inclusion in that Great British Literate Pop Tradition while falling somewhat short. It lacks the charm, grace, and wit of Pet Shop Boys, it lacks the sexuality and grime of Suede’s opening salvos. In short, it sounds like a group of people who unironically think ‘The Great Escape’ actually is the best Blur album.
It’s been a horrible week, in a horrible period for far, far too many people. It’s hard – genuinely, truly – to muster hatred with Sports Team’s debut album. Performative social media posts about Oxbridge graduates isn't going to change inequality in this country, no matter how attractive that seems.
We want to be positive, we really do. But it’s a fairly middle-of-the-road indie record. It could do with a little more depth, a little more humanity. They could do with letting drummer Al Greenwood do more of the interviews. It’s not unspeakable – but it’s not worth shouting from the rafters about, either.
Words: Robin Murray
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