Sports Team: if you’re unfamiliar with the Cambridge six-piece, you can gage most of what you need to know about them from the lyrics of their debut Deep Down Happy. They love London and “old bands” on ‘Goin’ Soft’, hate suburbia and Goldsmith wannabes (‘Camel Crew’) and eschew playing by the rules – trendy lefties with all the cynicism of the last round of punks living under a pale-skinned, blonde quiffed PM.
In short, they’re everything naysayers hate about pretentious indie music – and that’s exactly why Deep Down Happy is so good.
The album isn’t a far cry from their last two releases, 2018’s EP Winter Nets and its follow up Keep Walking!, only with the sustained energy of an over-caffeinated pub rant. ‘Lander’, a two-minute riotous outburst choking with British references like fox-hunting and “the Slug and Lettuce” starts the album with the tongue-in-cheek style fans of the band have grown to love: “Maybe in a while I could become a doctor/ The ambulances don’t run anymore but it’s ok!” It’s yet another Sports Team song devoted to obscure British culture, joining ‘Fishing’ and the love-song for the South-West main motorway on ‘M5’.
‘Goin’ Soft’, a track you might be forgiven for thinking is about an inability to stay aroused, crashes in with similar reckless abandon, except the band mockingly make fun of themselves and the indie culture they both borrow from and lend to: “I only listen to old bands”, frontman Alex Rice sings in the chorus. It’s hard to tell if they know they’re being ironic.
The band’s songwriter Rob Knaggs is happy to mock everything else, too. ‘Here’s The Thing’ lists every depressing reality you realise once you grow up, scorning idioms (turns out life isn’t fair, say the Cambridge University grads) with the air of grizzly millennials – all wrapped up with their trademark upbeat sound.
They’ve tried to beef other pretentious indie bands, too – they’ve slated HMLTD and they literally made an entire t-shirt with the phrase ‘Why can’t I be indie and from London :(’ plastered on the front just to piss off The 1975’s Matty Healy.
This perennially upbeat outlook does get a little grating, at times. The more vulnerable ‘Long Hot Summer’, the closest Sports Team have come to an explicit breakup song, is a welcome break and one of the album’s gems. It’s refreshing to see the band’s cockiness replaced with some uncertainty (“Oh I’m not sure what I’m waiting for”) without relinquishing their punny humour – “Love needs glue, but you need Pritt-Stick”.
‘Stations Of The Cross’, another highlight, also turns down Rice’s vocals and the frantic guitars to a jittery reverb (until the string slamming chorus, of course), whilst he voices his discontent with the monotony of suburban Britain. As if hand-crafted for their teenage fans, the song bemoans small town ennui and its boring neighbours whilst dreaming of finding “love” – in nowhere else but London, of course.
Deep Down Happy also features fan favourites ‘Kutcher’ and ‘Camel Crew’ – a nice touch for those who remember their earlier EPs. It also harks back to their live shows, inarguably the band’s most beloved element: “People want something that feels a bit heroic on stage”, Rice told The Guardian back in 2019.
It’s true – Sports Team are exhilarating performers. From Rice’s self-flagellation and mad gyrating to keyboardist Ben Mack’s strangely hypnotic shaking of his Wrigley gum tub, it’s an intense two hour set of sweating, crowd surfing and Robbie William’s ‘Angels’ for an encore.
Sports Team may have not been sure what they were waiting for on ‘Long Hot Summer’, but in 2020’s seemingly never-ending version of the hottest season, for any indie fan looking for a new obsession, it’s certainly this. Deep Down Happy is a record well worth the wait.
Words by Cerys Turner