ALBUM REVIEW: Sports Team - Gulp!

8/10

Sports Team - Gulp!

The Rolling Stones couldn't cut it as a six-piece, yet this sextet's debut album Deep Down Happy entered number two in the album chart and was nominated for the 2020 Mercury Music Prize. For this alone, Sports Team deserve credit for successfully challenging acceptable norms for bands and artists.

While Sports Team don't present themselves as revolutionaries seeking to make change, who acquiesce to being part of the system, they are passionate defenders and crusaders of guitar music. Gulp! is loaded with ten guitar-based tracks of new material with a more mature approach than their previous work. There are no diss tracks about Sony-signed bands who went to Goldsmiths like on the 2020 single, "Camel Crew".

As lead vocalist Alex Rice delivers Gulp! opener "The Game," it's notable how similar his voice is to Maximo Park's Paul Smith. Rice's tenacious energy perfectly fits the instant rhythmic rock and almost punk intensity of this song's sound. Performed live, it's sure to provoke dancing and audience participation. The social commentary and observations of the lyrics, such as, "Passed the empty office space in the half-filled business park," are accurate and suggest not surrendering "to that old monotony" as a means of coping.

Opening with synth keys, the album's second track, "Dig", offers the melodic, energetic joy of The Stranglers' "No More Hero's". "Dig" is heavier, though with additional cacophonous guitar riffs before leading into "The Drop", which has a Franz Ferdinand-style intro and verses which are sung with the same cockney authenticity of Squeeze's "Cool for Cats". "Unstuck" espouses the even more tenacious energy of the early Libertines material with the injection of clear, melodic 1950s rockabilly guitar riffs.

The instant guitar earthly rawness of "R Entertainment", especially in the bridges, most resembles Maximo Park. Whilst not spiritual, "R Entertainment" talks about not needing food or drink to survive. Rice emphasises this as he sings, "I do not need the air that I breathe, the blood or the wine, the bread that I eat". However, Sports Team don't reject all earthly pleasures with references to vices from "A little whisky crush" to "fucking in pairs". A high-paced, raw, intense punk energy is then found on "Kool-Aid" about "sleep(ing) with the daisies and keep(ing) a close watch on the skies…" Gulp! 's penultimate track ", Fingers", is the rawest song where Idle's influences can be detected from the outset. It's not the most original, but it is a marked contrast to the other nine tracks.

"Cool Lt Kid" is the most intense of the album's ten tracks and is the only song to consciously borrow from American artists. The line, "Living with you is making me sick," synchronises well with the distorted guitar riffs reminiscent of songs by Bush and Presidents of the United States of America and adds another layer of complexity not just to this LP but to Sports Team as a band.

Sports Team's lyrical quirkiness peaks on "Getting Better". Rice asks, "What's a burning bush on a burning planet?" then describes his surrealist vision of worms "singing love songs" and birds "saying grace". The final track, "Light Industry", is the only acoustic-led track. It's calmer and more sanguine but nonetheless continues to induce the same intense energy of the previous nine songs until two and a half minutes in, when there's an abrupt key change reminiscent of the late Buzzcocks material.

For an album that is just over 33 minutes long, Sports Team pack in a lot of musical variety and bizarre subject matters, and Gulp! doesn't lose momentum. The influences are many and easy to detect, but Gulp! belongs to Sports Team and Sports Team alone.

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