“Oh, you’ve been waiting for a while” is the very first thing you hear when you press play on Sports Team’s debut album, Deep Down Happy. They’re not wrong. It’s an explosive entrance to what is perhaps the most anticipated album this year in indie circles. Self-awareness runs through Sports Team like lettering through Blackpool rock; the band will happily ridicule both themselves and their subject matter at any opportunity. Maybe it’s this that has given rise to their success – at a time when every band acts as self-appointed voices of a generation, the truly radical thing is to not take yourself too seriously.
For the most part, Deep Down Happy sounds exactly how you would expect a Sports Team album to sound. Post-Pavement guitars, frontman Alex Rice’s distorted yelping, lyrics littered with references to English suburbia. So far, so Sports Team. But, there are a few left turns over these 12 tracks. The most immediately obvious one is that Rob Knaggs (usually rhythm guitar) fronts 3 tracks here, notably album opener 'Lander', and an incendiary verse in 'Here’s The Thing'. It’s a tactical move, putting anyone even mildly acquainted with the band on the back foot from the word go. It’s also worth mentioning that we’ve heard 8 of these songs before in some form, and this might have easily been seen as some kind of cop-out. However, it actually lends the album the feeling of a retrospective: I’ve not known another band with a career so perfectly formed as Sports Team. Up until now they’ve barely put a foot wrong, and so this almost feels like a look back, with tracks from every stage of their journey.
So, did they pull it off? Have Sports Team justified their own hype? I think so. With albums like this, where the buzz around the record is as loud as the tracks themselves, it’s often difficult to separate the music from the narrative. But Sports Team have pushed enough boundaries, been just caustic enough in places, and at the end of the day have enough bangers to satisfy anyone. There’s tracks here for both the dedicated fan (of which Sports Team have more than most – I needn’t even mention the Sports Team Community) and the casual listener. There’s experimentation here and there, although perhaps less than I would have liked, and a few mid-album cuts are less memorable than others, but at the end of the day I’m not sure it even matters. Sports Team are a band so in control of their own narrative that they can quite happily own up to moving their album forward a week so as not to clash with Bob Dylan. They were always going to pull it off, even if it is by the skin of their teeth.