Music Reviews
Deep Down Happy

Sports Team Deep Down Happy

(Bright Antenna Records) Rating - 8/10

Sometime in the mid-2010s, British guitar music turned angrier and less tolerant of lad culture and rising against political and social injustices. It's a sentiment that directly affects bands like Shame and Idles, whose rabble-rousing, anthemic punk is antithetical to the values of middle-class working stiffs and right-wing causes. Though this argument against the new class of, well, white British musicians proving their authenticity is too convoluted to discern—just recently, Idles' Joe Talbot and Sleaford Mods' Jason Williamson were feuding with each other when they probably have more in common than they might think—another subset of middle England bands don't want to get involved. West London six-piece Sports Team find their politics a little bit trite, but most importantly, they feel like they're directly speaking to their generation and not the older, socially-conscious crowds those other bands attract.

But let's be honest here: rock music is about playing to very specific affectations no matter how you spin it. Sports Team already has a compelling frontman in Alex Rice, whose preening looks and shouty, sprechgesang singing is a modern refashioning of David Johansen and Eddie Argos. There's some posturing behind Rice and his bandmates' glam-meets-proto punk approach, but it's all in good fun. Their debut studio album, Deep Down Happy, proposes an alternative manifesto to their peers that directly relates to their experiences while they were students at the University of Cambridge. Maybe it's not as exciting as wanting to rile against the system, but the band does understand their audience: bored suburban kids who have something to say but can't properly articulate their feelings.

Rice's words tumble against each other over triumphant—sounding chord progressions on album opener Lander, contemplating his futile career prospects as he goes for a stroll at his local municipal garden. He's sharp and not overly verbose or ironic with his self-monologue, which emphasizes the band's straight-ahead performances rather than letting him succumb to any meta-like gimmicks. But Rice does like to ramble, as Going Soft attests, bragging nonchalantly about his musical taste: "I've been sleeping in Thumblands/ I only listen to old bands/ I pray the CD don't skip." As you'd expect from any young student of the arts, his pretentiousness is tender and relatable—especially when he gets hyper-specific with his imagery—backed by a band that plays with great musical versatility.

Sports Team are very adept at juxtaposing those feelings of ennui and undergraduate anxiety with urgent, driving songs. On Here's the Thing, Rice has had it up to here with hearing other people's advice over a crisp, Buzzcocks-like melody. Fishing is humorous and witty, where tries to make sense of his object of affection's mixed messages in his well-educated, young-angry-man ways: "I can't make sense of all the letters you write/ It's like your pen doesn't work/You're so much better in type." Rice is clearly bothered and can't catch a break, but Deep Down Happy moves along with such exuberant energy (thanks to lead songwriter Rob Knaggs) that we can't help but feel amused and entertained by his petty annoyances.

Rice has said in interviews that he wants to capture that old fashioned sound you don't hear from mainstream British bands anymore. What he's trying to say is that Britpop isn't dominating the charts anymore, of course, but he's young and has the opportunity to do it his way—and besides, doesn't Fontaines DC skew more on the more traditional side than post-punk, anyhow? Early single The Races" does share a resemblance to Franz Ferdinand with its "la la" refrain, and the tongue-in-cheek delivery of Long Hot Summer has Damon Albarn written all over it, proving that they do know their music history. But to Sports Team's credit, they do touch on many familiar touchstones without sounding necessarily "British." Most of Knaggs and rhythm guitarist's guitar work directly points to the fried guitar chug of Johnny Thunders and Ron Asheton, albeit, with a Brit-pop sound at its core.

With that in mind, it's perfectly normal for Sports Team to feel somewhat nostalgic and want to pursue an era that brought many bands to achieve permanent "Godlike" status. Now that the Arctic Monkeys have shot into space, and the punks are too busy fending off each other, that leaves a less-crowded field for them to bring their poetic references and tales from the pub to larger audiences. But Sports Team does have the tunes to match their swagger, and having a sense of humor certainly doesn't hurt like in Kutcher: "I just wanted to be your Mid-Noughties MTV star." The band is coming into their own, romanticizing the more humdrum aspects of the everyday with both joyous celebration and sulky dissatisfaction. But hey, if all else fails, at least they're pretty good at this rock n' roll business. [Believe the Hype]