Cambridge-based indie rock sextet Sports Team’s long-awaited debut album; Deep Down Happy, was released on Friday the 6th of June. Proclaimed by the band themselves as the “best album in the world”, it seems to have followed through on such grandiose promises by reaching number one in the charts, somehow fending off challenges from the likes of Lady Gaga to maintain that top spot. Alongside such commercial glories, the band also received the usual, but nonetheless overwhelming swathe of ecstatically supportive messages from the now-infamous “Sports Team Community” group chat; a group which has become a key part of the band’s identity.
Through a combination of consistently outstanding, unique live performances (Alex Rice’s moves are enough to make even Mick Jagger nervous), and an incredibly close relationship to their fans, Sports Team have rallied an impressively devoted following. Deep Down Happy is a culmination of Sports Team’s artistic maturation thus far, but doesn’t sacrifice the band’s original, idiosyncratic appeal.
The highly anticipated album opens with “Lander”, proclaiming “oh, you’ve been waiting for a while”; and indeed, we have. Between the fact that the lead vocals are provided by Rob Knaggs (one of the band’s guitarists) for the first time, and the bold choice to open the song with the sound of him screaming, I was certainly taken aback by this first song. “Lander” is a success though; it’s exciting to hear a new source of vocal talent from the band and despite Alex Rice rightfully reprising his lead role over most of the rest of the album, I think the switch-up really works in this case.
Next up is “Here It Comes Again” followed by “Going Soft”. These two songs had already been released as singles and constitute for me a really strong part of the album. With the catchy tune and typically wry lyricism of “Here it Comes Again”, and the mosh-ready crashing instrumentals of “Going Soft”, “Deep Down Happy” begins as well as it could have done.
The track most likely to prove controversial is the band’s new take on an old favourite; “Camel Crew”, originally released on the “Winter Nets” EP in 2018. Fans are tentative regarding the more polished and refined new version. I sympathise with this; the charm of the original lay in the EP’s distinctively scruffy, rough sound (suggesting a Middle-English cousin of The Pixies or Pavement). However, despite what many say, I don’t think the new version loses much of its original allure. Despite the neater, cleaner sound, the much clearer vocals and the somehow improved-upon climax to the song maintain its original value.
“Camel Crew” is always going to be a hard act to follow, which I think explains the second and final presence of Rob’s vocals in “Long Hot Summer”. Calmer and more restrained, this song represents a tonal shift from the rest of the album. This stark contrast – from garage-band raucousness to woozy melancholia – reduces the pressure of having to compete with “Camel Crew”, and provides a welcome breather in the middle of an often frenetic, busy album. The more sedate mood also seems to suit Rob’s voice better, with his abilities coming across better here than in “Lander”.
But the fast-paced social critique kicks back in full force with “Feels Like Fun”. The distinctly Strokes-esque guitar which opens the song and returns throughout is superb and could perhaps point towards an influence of the band on this album. The song’s bright instrumental exterior belies a darker message, though; of shallow snakes in suits and the false exteriors people put up.
“Here’s The Thing” continues to comment on conformity and superficiality, while sonically exploring yet another new direction; a duet of sorts. Another song which was released already, this song integrates well into the album. So much so, in fact, that I found myself enjoying it more when listening through the album than I did when I heard it as a single; something about its placement after “Feels Like Fun” really works. The Rice-Knaggs combo, more than anything else, makes this song, although the whistling which crops up halfway through is a really nice touch.
“The Races”, another single, is undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the album. Oli Dewdney’s bass guitar takes a starring role like never before and to great effect. As for the many fans who looked on in dismay as “M5” was left off the album, and I count myself among such fans, the “lalalala” section could serve as a sort of substitute for that song’s iconic Barbara Streisand-esque vocalisations.
“Born Sugar” is the best new song on the album; mixing Sports Team’s typically sarcastic lyrics blared out in Rice’s inflected tones with some of the best and loudest instrumentation the band have done. The fact that this is followed by “Fishing” and “Kutcher” makes this section of the album my favourite.
“Fishing” is contagiously catchy, and despite being one of the more poppy tunes the band has delivered, it still feels distinctively like a Sports Team song; and a great one at that. “Kutcher” was certainly a surprising inclusion on the album. Released in 2018, and a live performance favourite since, I do not think anybody expected this to be included; particularly not when this spot could have been filled by “M5”. Nevertheless, it does serve as a good reminder of how far the band has come while retaining their original appeal. I wouldn’t have put this on the album over “M5”, but I understand the choice – perhaps nostalgia got the best of the band this time.
Music Video for Fishing
Following “Fishing” and “Kutcher” really raised the stakes for the album’s closing track, the grandly titled “Stations Of The Cross” (given the presence of some obvious Bowie allusions, might we take this as a nod towards “Station To Station”?). Fortunately, the song delivers. I’m unsure if it bests either “Fishing” or “Kutcher”, but that’s not to say it isn’t still fantastic. Some creative use of guitar pedals leads to some really interesting instrumentals, and the chorus is undoubtedly one of the best to date in the band’s considerable repertoire. Despite perhaps being inferior to the songs it comes after, I’d say it was the right pick to close the album. It’s a big and energetic song to close an album of the same nature, and the guitar which fades out to nothing brings the album to a neat finish.
Overall, Deep Down Happy delivers on the high expectations Sports Team have set for themselves. As a big fan of the band myself, I can say assuredly that I was not disappointed, and the confusing lack of “M5” was more than made up for by the presence of songs (chiefly “Born Sugar” and “Stations of the Cross”) which far outstripped my hopes. This album is frenetic, as Sports Team always have been, but it’s a more polished effort than the band have ever offered before. In spite of what some may say, though, Deep Down Happy doesn’t lose the unique charm associated with the band. Deep Down Happy is a success story; and if you don’t believe me or even the charts, then have a listen yourself. Even better; buy the album and help keep Deep Down Happy at number one. In the midst of this ridiculously long, but not-hot-enough summer, Sports Team have come through with a real gem – perhaps not the best album in the world, but not too far off either.
Deep Down Happy is out now and available to purchase here