While their Cambridge University education may fool some, the members of English indie rock band Sports Team seem to think they connect with the suburbs of England better than some of its own inhabitants. On the band’s debut album Deep Down Happy released June 5, the lyrics spin tales and critiques of day-to-day English life, with all the struggles and concerns of its working class. Famously competing with Lady Gaga’s latest record Chromatica for the No. 1 spot on the U.K. albums chart, Deep Down Happy also taps into the special wistful, but angsty atmosphere woven by turn of the century indie musicians, and thankfully so.
Sports Team prides itself on romanticizing Middle England, and it stays true to this notion throughout the record. Deep Down Happy is punchy and nostalgic with harsh, electric vocals, constantly convincing both the listeners and the band itself that when you look past the mundane nature of life, the working class of England really is happy, deep down.
The band bursts out with “Lander,” a brash and raw track that sets the tone for the rest of the record as a chronicle of lower-class suburban English dwellers. Traversing through hills and valleys of dreamy fuzz juxtaposed with powerful drum fills that won’t quit, “Lander,” coupled with “Here It Comes Again,” is an excellent example of Sports Team coming into its own as part of the British indie revival. The lyrics are entirely spoken rather than sung, rambling through the thoughts of those who have ambitions but lack the socioeconomic status to achieve them. “You can get an Uber there for four pounds fifty-five/ And if you can’t afford that/ Well it only really hurts when it rains,” sings frontman Alex Rice.
The theme of Middle England is unwavering throughout the record, but halfway through, the lyrics begin to lose some of their sincerity. “Here’s the Thing” is a short revival of the charm that started off the record. Drawing slight influence from ska for its beat, the tune is a satirical song doubting old wives’ tales. “You can trust a man who wears a suit and tie/ It’s all just lies, lies, lies, lies,” sings Rice.
“The Races” and “Born Sugar” attempt to hold on to the lifeline “Here’s the Thing” has thrown them, almost elevating the album back to the glory of the first few songs, but still falling somewhat short. Apart from a great bass line intro and modern classic rock vibe from “The Races” and nostalgic tone of “Born Sugar,” the rest of the record isn’t as memorable.
The lack of substance in a few songs is an unfortunate flaw in an album that’s intended to be raw, real and relatable through and through. Pointed lyrics give way to half-baked attempts at being a true middle-class citizen. The record loses the steam it picked up from the first few catchy, engaging songs, inserting niggling doubts of one-noteness into listeners’ minds.
But for fans of the 1990s to 2000s Britpop and alternative sound, the monotony may not be as big of an issue, as each song harkens back to this age in textbook manner. Every song on the album is easy to like and fun to bop along to. Deep Down Happy has a strange dreamlike quality that allows listeners to get lost in the yearning that comes with early indie music, despite blasting ears with driving guitar and drums.
Evoking the same longing frustration one feels when listening to cult ’90s bands such as Pavement, Sonic Youth and Weezer during its Pinkerton sessions, Sports Team proves it’s a force to be reckoned with. Good-natured humor with scathing societal commentary has always been a winning combination, and Sports Team knows how to use its wits to craft an amiable and energetic album that leaves a lasting, primarily positive impression on listeners eager to jump back into the pit of fresh indie music and of the swirling crowd.
Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].