Photo via @sportsteam on Instagram
Sports Team, man. It’s funny, it’s catchy, it’s maybe one of the best band names in the history of band names, and it belongs to a bunch of English dudes with the record for potentially the most grueling album rollout of all time. Sports Team, a Cambridge favorite, the band that Clash magazine described as not quite able to “shake off their entitlement,” the band that had everyone and their mother break a bone in the pit, released their sophomore album Gulp! this past Friday, September 23- an album that took so long to come out, I didn’t hear about its actual release until two days after the fact. Is it a good album at least? Did they just take their sweet English time to get it all right? Eh, sorta kinda.
After the release of their first album, Deep Down Happy, in the summer of 2020, Sports Team went nearly radio silent, save for one single that didn’t even make the final album cut, before releasing their “first new single” in nearly two years, “R Entertainment.” The oddly melancholic tune served as the lead single for the beginning of their album rollout, a March single release for a July album, which turned into an August release, which as you’ve seen turned into a September release. The first single, as the lead singer Alex Rice described it to Apple Music, sought to capture “ that thing where you try and draw a lot of meaning in your life, where cathartic moments often get reduced to the same platform as stuff that’s just meant to be very blunt entertainment in a way, that sense that nothing’s holy anymore”- kind of heavy for a couple Brit’s who have historically sang about pubs, fishing, flip phones, and other posh English things. Following it up, they released their second single, “The Game,” back in May, another single with a subject a little out of their usual subject range, a high-energy, catchy song about the rat race, about holing up in cubicles, and the pursuit of something more.
“The Game '' ended up as the album’s opening track, with “R Entertainment” settling in at track six, rounding up the first half of the album, which would also be the end of the singles section of the album. Leading up to its eventual September release, Sports Team released five singles- FIVE! That’s half the damn album! If every song were a banger, then that could’ve been just a passing remark, but unfortunately, past the singles, there’s a significant drop in energy and substance. We started off strong on the first half of the album, a big heavy opener with “The Game,” followed by September 2nd’s single, “Dig,” all the way through two more previously released singles until we hit “R Entertainment” again. After we get through the singles, which seem to go on forever at times, we get “Kool Aid,” which is a strange mix of an old school pub shanty and a Parquet Courts style riff over some eye-for-an-eye, the-ship-is-sinking, we’re-all-a-rolling-stone wallowing from Rice.
The next two songs, “Getting Better” and “Fingers (Taken Off)” slip a little into the ether. They’re pretty good songs, strong instrumentals, good solid technical rock shiz, but they leave much to be desired. They feel rushed, and sound it too in places, and don’t quite live up the quality of the singles on the first half of the album, let alone to their Deep Down Happy predecessors. “Light Industry,” however, the outro, wraps the album up nicely. Lead guitarist Rob Knaggs took the mic from Rice for the closer, accompanied by a big, swelling acoustic to electric guitar, and a massive performance from the rhythm section. Lyrically, it’s probably the least coherent of the album, and with that, maybe the strongest. “It had a meaning when we wrote it, but I think it’s more the feel than the literal lyrics in this one,” Knaggs said to Apple Music. “Rather than close it with a song that really felt like it did a big trumpet fanfare and can-can and bow, it felt nice to close it with something quite open-ended.”
Did this album get old fast? Yes. Was there some really good stuff in here? For sure. Is it still pretty empty? Unfortunately, yeah. It’s indie rock, and what it lacks in the rock department, it makes up for in indie, but Gulp!’s biggest problem was pacing. Packing the high-energy tracks in the beginning isn’t necessarily a bad idea, there are lots of albums with slower second halves, but it can’t be all heavy, all heard in the beginning, and all new, all slow in the end, it makes for a loss of attention, and just a generally boring listen. It was a valiant effort from the Cambridge four and Bristol one to step out of their lane and take a deeper look at their chosen genre’s working class roots, albeit from a prestigious and Middle English set of eyeballs. This doesn't make Gulp! a bad album necessarily, Sports Team just isn’t really in tune with the roots is all. If you want a good fun listen, or just need something different or uptempo for your walk to your biochemistry lab, give Gulp! a listen.